Posted: Jul 29, 2013 9:00 AM
 
We're often told not to compare our children, but is it really that bad? A mom of two explains why she frequently compares her sons and how that helps her become a better parent.

From the earliest stages of pregnancy on, we're bombarded with recommendations and guidelines. Everyone has an opinion on how to be a good parent. One guideline that always stuck with me was not to compare kids. It was never really clear to me why that was bad, but I hung onto the notion stubbornly. I felt guilty every time I compared them — until I discovered the merits of making comparisons.

Comparisons can't be avoided

At that moment, as he latched on instantly and more easily than his brother ever had, I began comparing my kids.

My first son was an easy newborn. He was difficult to breastfeed, but he slept well and he was generally easy going. It wasn't until early toddlerhood that he started to skew toward high maintenance. Suddenly I was dealing with a severe peanut allergy and unsettling behaviors that eventually led to an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. I spent my entire second pregnancy stressing out about my 2-year-old. It wasn't until I put my second son to breast directly after delivery that he felt real. At that moment, as he latched on instantly and more easily than his brother ever had, I began comparing my kids.

Comparing is natural

For a while, I compared my kids in superficial ways that felt harmless. I'd line their baby pictures up side by side to see how similar they looked. Years later, I recognize this behavior as a natural way of differentiating between my kids, of discovering their unique personalities and traits from the start. No two children are the same, and comparing them helps you build a framework to make distinctions. As my second son developed, I couldn't help but define him by the ways he differed from his brother. Darker eyes. Softer hair. Easier to feed. More reluctant to speak.

Comparing doesn't mean competing

Siblings don't need encouragement to develop rivalries. It's not unreasonable to worry that drawing comparisons might foster a sense of competition. As you think about your kids in terms of how they are similar and different, avoid sharing those observations with them. When I drop my younger son off at school and acknowledge how much easier it is to parent a kid with no allergies, I don't say that to my older, allergy-ridden son. I don't tell my younger son that his brother learned to recognize letters and words at a much earlier age. I recognize that natural observations could be perceived as judgment by my kids.

It took a while, but I've learned that it's OK to acknowledge when one kid is more challenging than the other — just as it's OK to admit when aspects of parenting are hard or downright suck.

Comparing makes you a better parent

When you compare your kids, it helps you see their strengths and weaknesses. My kids are very different. My experiences with each shape the way I understand parenting. I don't take for granted the ways in which either of them is “easier.” At times, each of them has presented unique challenges. It took a while, but I've learned that it's OK to acknowledge when one kid is more challenging than the other — just as it's OK to admit when aspects of parenting are hard or downright suck. In light of those low moments, the everyday routine isn't so draining and the especially good times are more joyful. Life is more vivid with contrast.

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