I was not a comparative type of person...until I became a mom.
One of the first things I noticed after birthing a child was that all of a sudden—POOF!—I became both comparative and competitive. What percentile was my child in? Where did she fit in the developmental and growth percentages my pediatrician was always talking about? Was she an early walker? Does she sleep through the night? Was she smart and confident? Does she play instruments and speak multiple languages?
This sudden sense of comparing took me by surprise. I was disgusted with myself when I would think of stories to top my friends’ when they would talk about how their kids were such amazing eaters-of-spinach or rain-man-like-geniuses-at-puzzles. As I tried to get to the bottom of this ugly side effect of parenthood, I realized that part of it came from the fact that I knew that my parenting was a huge part of who my children would become. The choices I made FOR them would undoubtedly help or hurt them. This was the most important job I have ever held.
Since that time I’ve tried to let go of this awful tendency to let comparison inform my parenting. One example: My daughter was not completely potty trained until the age of 5. I brought my best hard-core-potty-training game to the table at age 2 (when all of my friends started potty-training). Never have I parented worse or disappointed myself more. When I met with my pediatrician (after feeling more depressed than I’d ever felt in my life as my daughter stood in her 32nd puddle of pee and said—yet again—“What’s THAT??!!”), I realized she wasn’t ready. I was only potty-training because everyone else was doing it. We didn’t wave good-bye to pull-ups until halfway through kindergarten (and I think my daughter and I have a healthier relationship for it, thank you very much). But all of the comparisons I drew in my head made it a much tougher road than it could have been.
I happen to think that the city of Chicago breeds an environment that struggles more with comparisons. And for good reason: We have so many incredible choices for our children! Take schools, for example. If you’ve researched schools in Chicago, you know that it’s harder than getting your Masters degree to wade through the public schools, private schools, parochial schools, neighborhood schools, magnet schools, lottery schools, etc. IT. IS. OVERWHELMING. Everyone chooses differently and it’s hard not to compare.
Just like letting go of my expectations about when a child should stop peeing in a pull-up, my husband and I had to sort through the school decision and determine what things were most important to us.
We get asked about our school decision very frequently because we chose a private school called Christian Heritage Academy (CHA). The educational environment is completely geared toward cultivating a love of learning by doing the opposite of what much of Western education emphasizes—time sitting at a desk going through worksheets. It’s different from many schools in Chicago.
Now, don’t get comparative on me—it’s different, not the best. Christian Heritage Academy also integrates Christian faith throughout the school day. This is my favorite thing about the school. When the kindergarten girls got catty, the teachers intervened in my daughter’s class and reminded the kids of a school rule: We Do Not Exclude. Why? Excluding hurts people. If we want to love people well, we include them.
In conclusion, I love this city, with the array of choices and comparisons. Comparisons with other Chicago parents, kids, and even siblings can destroy the true joy of parenting.
I am reminded by my 8-year-old daughter’s wisdom: “Mommy—I was reminded today that each of us is like a snowflake: Completely beautiful, and uniquely gifted with our own special sets of abilities.”