There is a Powerful, Overarching Truth to Parenting
It is a truth that is imperative for parents to remember, yet it is all too often forgotten. Simply put, my experience is not your experience, and vice versa. Nor should it be. There is a vast array of parental and familial experiences that people encounter, So why is it that we sometimes act as though they should all be the same? Why are we overly concerned with the situations that other parents come across and their reactions to them? Why are we worried about what other parents think about our reactions? Why does it matter? It shouldn't, and that is the plain fact of the matter. Yet, we are human and it seems we just can't help it...or can we? I say we can and that if we do, our own lives will be much more fulfilled. There are three common mistakes parents make that I feel keep us from living the most fulfilling lives we can.
First, Don't Compare Your Child to Other Children
Let's face it, nobody's children are picture-perfect. Not yours, not mine. I shouldn't expect my child to be any more put together than yours. I also shouldn't expect your child to be something they aren't. Comparing our children to other children is not a good idea. Every child is unique. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses, interests, and abilities. It makes no difference if those are anything like anyone else's. Comparing our children to others can lead to feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, and a lack of motivation. Children may start to feel like they are not good enough or that they cannot measure up to their peers. This will surely lead to a negative impact on their mental health and well-being. Making comparisons with our children can create an unhealthy competitive atmosphere and a focus on external validation rather than internal growth and development.
It is vital to celebrate and encourage your child's individuality and to focus on their progress, instead of comparing them to others. Let's face it, some children are a bit more unique than most...and that's okay! Let them be who they want to be. They will be healthier for it and so will you.
Second, Don't Compare Yourself to Other Parents
As I visited with friends I hadn't seen in many years last month, I noticed how well-behaved their children were. Our kids all played and talked and had a great time together. When it was time to leave, my friends (their mother and father) stood up and said, "Ok family, it is time to go. Let's get in the van." As if by some magical spell, all seven of them stopped what they were doing, politely said goodbye, and followed their parents to the car. My sister and I looked at each other in disbelief. What kind of witchcraft was this, we thought. We're lucky to get just one of our kids to stop running in circles and listen when it is time to leave. At that moment, I made a comparison between my parenting and theirs. I felt like a failure because I seriously struggle to get my children to listen to me lots of the time.
Sometimes making upward comparisons can be beneficial and can lead you to try to be better, however for the most part, making frequent social comparisons proves to be detrimental. Two studies examined the relationship between recurrent social comparisons and destructive emotions which lead to damaging behaviors. People who reported that they made frequent social comparisons were more likely to experience defensiveness, envy, guilt, regret, and to blame others, lie, and have unmet cravings 1. Those kinds of emotions do not help us become better parents. They bleed over into feelings of inadequacy and give us a sense of being worse as parents.
It is imperative to understand that all parents make mistakes. We all have bad days. We all have more to learn (even the most seasoned parents). We all have parenting regrets. Shouldn't we all realize that everyone is different, no parent is perfect, and we don't have to try to parent like anyone else does? We are all parenting very different children, aren't we? So why would we all use the same parenting approach? Know that if you are doing the best you can, you are doing enough. And that should be enough.
Third, Don't Try to Live up to the Expectations of Others
Let me start by saying this goes both ways. Stop trying to live up to the expectations of others and stop expecting others to live up to yours. Because, believe me, it will never happen. To try to live up to the expectations of others is to discount both the unique challenges and strengths you and your family possess. It signals that you prioritize outward appearances or the impression of others much too strongly. The point of saying this isn't to say that you and your child shouldn't face challenges and set goals. But by dropping cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all parenting approaches and setting the goal of living with only our own expectations, we could see real positive changes in ourselves and in our relationships with our children. It's important that they are given the privilege to set their own goals and expectations, as you do with and for yourself.
Imagine a world where none of us felt the need to hold ourselves to the standards and expectations of people who have likely never met us or our children. Imagine a world where we simply support one another instead of trying to get others to live the way we feel they should. Imagine a world where we could feel comfortable knowing that everyone's experiences are different and the way we handle them is just that, our way. Imagine that world for a second. I can't speak for anybody else, but that sounds like a much friendlier, happier, and healthier world than the one in which I currently reside. How about you?
Journal of Adult Development, Vol. 13, No. 1, March 2006