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Pride And Prejudice And Siblings

Pride And Prejudice And Siblings

By Mir Kamin

“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.)

Published January 13, 2015. Last updated July 15, 2017.
About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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  • Kate

    January 13, 2015 at 10:30 am

    It’s good that you realized this and did what you could to correct it. My parents did this to me, so as not to make my brother feel bad. It basically just led to me no longer including them in my accomplishments, since they didn’t really seem all that interested. On the plus side, I learned not to do it for them but rather for myself, and that kind of internal motivation is really powerful. But I think part of teaching non-comparison is being able to freely and enthusiastically praise strengths that one kid has that the other might not. It is an important lesson, too, to be able to rejoice in the success of others.

    • Mir Kamin

      January 13, 2015 at 10:53 am

      I think this has only become an issue recently, now that they’re so close in school and share so many teachers/activities/similar experiences. And I was horrified and did my best to repair my mistake, because yes, that’s not what I want to have happen!

  • The joy of siblings | Woulda Coulda Shoulda

    January 13, 2015 at 10:49 am

    […] have another—less violent!—sibling story for you today, too. It’s over at Alpha Mom, and it’s about comparisons and […]

  • The Domestic Goddess

    January 13, 2015 at 11:06 am

    I try soooo hard to offer compliments and criticism without sounding harsh or overly praisy. Is praisy a word? It is now. Seriously, though, my kids couldn’t be more polar opposite. I’m complimenting one on building his Cobra robot and programming it to his and snap and I’m complimenting the other one for learning to zip his coat and for letting me floss his teeth. It’s so strange…

  • Sarah A.

    January 13, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    This is food for thought! I have 18-month-old fraternal twin girls, so I’m still kind of new at this, but I am trying to figure out how to make sure they’re not always being compared to each other. They are two different people, but they’re at the same stage of development and so far they’re always together, doing the same things. I want to praise them each for their own strengths and accomplishments without leaving the other one out. Obviously this will be a very different ballgame as they get older. 

  • Lucinda

    January 13, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    Unfortunately the best of intentions can backfire.  When I praised my son for doing something really well, especially since he faced extra challenges, my daughter got all huffy about how I praised him more than her even though 1) I hadn’t and 2) she hadn’t worked as hard to achieve a similar accomplishment.  She just didn’t remember the praise.  While I don’t compare them, they still eventually compare themselves.  Drives me crazy.  (Yes, mine are close in age too and only one grade apart.  This year my son is actually ahead of my daughter in math.  Fortunately she doesn’t care.)

  • Brigitte

    January 13, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    Glad you caught yourself!  My own parents never expressed any interest in my grades, which were usually good.  Only the siblings flunking out of school got any attention.  Unlike Kate (above) it was a factor in helping me to be a slacker, since accomplishments got the same notice as none, ie. nothing.  🙂

  • ali

    January 14, 2015 at 10:07 am

    I’m glad you are making an effort in that direction and I am trying to do the same. My parents were of the comparative type and I believe it has hindered my adult relationship with my brother to this day. His adolescense was black diamond river rapids, school struggles while I sailed through a zero entry pool… Something my parents reminded him of daily. He resents me still and we cannot have a civil conversation.