Pride And Prejudice And Siblings
“Comparison is the thief of joy,” I tell my kids. If I had a nickel for every time I say it, I would have a lot of nickels. Other nickel-worthy phrases in my arsenal: “Fair isn’t equal,” “You don’t have to be the best, you just have to be the best you,” and “If you were already perfect, what would be the point?”
Honestly, I’ve become a walking Hallmark card. I’m proof that parenthood is a cliche despite the best of intentions.
One thing I’ve always managed as a parent, I think, is to make it clear to my kids that the only person they’re in competition with is themselves. Strive for excellence, of course, but compare yourself to others? That doesn’t have to be part of the game. What’s more, it shouldn’t be, because there is always someone who is better/smarter/funnier/prettier/more. That way lies madness. You do you, and let everyone else do them, and don’t worry about whether you measure up to some mythical standard set by others.
This notion goes double when it comes to siblinghood. As painful as it may be to feel you don’t measure up to another kid in your class, the sting of feeling that your sibling is “always better” is a sharp and lasting one. My kids are less than two years apart, and now they’re only a grade apart in school—comparison is inevitable, you might say. Except I choose to believe it’s not. I don’t compare. Most of their teachers see them as so different from one another that we’ve been lucky to escape classroom comparison, as well. Even the challenge of watching them share a class has—thus far—been relatively smooth sailing in the comparison department. All kind, reasonable humans know better than to say, “Oh, but your brother always…” or “But your sister managed…” or similar. Their teachers haven’t said it to them. We parents don’t say it to them.
No comparisons! No making anyone feel bad! It seemed so reasonable and logical. It was. I mean, I was sure it was.
And that’s how I managed to screw up big-time and almost not even realize it.
I share because I care! Also because 1) confession is good for the soul and 2) maybe you’ve done something similar, inadvertently, and can use a friendly reminder to be a little more aware of how the best intentions can go askew…?
It’s all good and well to challenge your kids to be their best themselves and not compare and all of that, but it’s also (I think) human nature to swing a little too far in the other direction. To wit: I would never, ever, if faced with my teens’ rather disparate midterm grades (which arrived over the weekend), tell the kid with the lower grades to be more like their sibling. That would be terrible, obviously. But here’s what I did do, without even realizing it at first: I totally downplayed the hard-won achievements of the kid whose grades were awesome. I just… didn’t make a big deal about it. Or any deal, really, lest I make the other kid feel bad. And I didn’t just stay quiet in front of both of them, I just… didn’t react at all. For several days.
And then I realized that in my quest not to make one of my kids feel bad, I was robbing my other kid of well-deserved praise, and that wasn’t right, either. After this shameful realization, I waited until we were alone in the car one day and said, “Hey, I don’t know if I told you this before—” (lies! I knew I hadn’t, but I was trying to be casual) “—but I am really proud of how hard you worked last semester. I hope you’re proud of yourself, too. You pushed yourself and rose to the challenge and it paid off. Nice work.” The teen in question just shrugged and said, “I guess,” and immediately changed the subject, so I wouldn’t characterize it as an after-school-special-worthy moment, or anything, but I’m still glad I took the time to be very clear about my pride. Hard work is something to celebrate, full stop. Whether my kids think so or not, I don’t want to be the kind of parent who just skips that out of fear of making the other kid feel bad.
As for the other teen, well, we had a conversation about working up to potential, and—as you might expect, when having such a conversation with a teenager who, y’know, didn’t—it involved a lot of sighing and eye-rolling and “I get it, Mom”s. But what it didn’t involve was “you expect me to be just like [my sibling],” at least. I think they both know that’s never the case. And I tried really hard to emphasize that it’s fodder for motivation rather than despair. It’s just one tough semester. Live and learn; make this next semester a better one.
I don’t know if you know this, but if you have more than one kid, it’s hard to make sure they each get what they need without feeling like they’re being compared or otherwise impacted by their sibling(s). Who knew?? I’m still working on it. But I’m really glad that I caught my mistake here.
(Turns out I’m still working on being my best me, too.)