Children . . . beyond compare

by Diane Masiello

In Kindermusik "Our Time" over the past few weeks, the eighteen-month to three-year-olds have been doing the "Tommy Thumbs" finger-play exercise, where the kids play with their thumbs, pointer fingers and pinkies on their heads, shoulders, and knees. And as I have watched the kids play an old nemesis has re-visited me: comparing my child's development to others'. Christa, at twenty-months old, is still having difficulty holding up her thumbs, pointer fingers and pinkies. But many of the other kids in the class can do it.

And so I hear my brain reciting the questions that, with my first daughter, became the bane of my existence: Should my child be doing that? Why isn't my child doing that? Is everyone else's kid doing that? Should I be worried?

I quickly stem these insane and inane questions by asking the parent of the other child how old they are. When I hear, "two" or "a few months past two" or even "twenty-three months" I sigh with relief. Nothing to worry about there, then, because between the ages of zero and three, a month or two makes a BIG difference.

Last month my child was barely saying a few words. Now her vocabulary grows by three to five words a day, maybe a week. Last month she didn't know where her shoulders or knees were. "Tommy Thumbs" has taken care of that. I know, in my mind and heart, that she is developing just fine for her age. Heck, she's already starting to jump, and my other daughter didn't do that . . .

Oops. There I go again. Comparing--this time measuring my youngest kid against the timeline of my oldest kid. Why do I persist with this? Why can't I stop?

I guess it's a natural impulse to compare things, and maybe also people, to one another. And to a certain extent it's a good thing to do, right? I mean, if we didn't compare our kids to other kids, we may not know enough to ask our pediatrician if there is a real problem. Putting our children in context, learning what a one-year-old should be able to do, then what an eighteen-month-old should be able to do, then what a two-year-old should be able to do, can help us diagnose a developmental delay early. So comparing our kids to one another can have a positive aspect.

Until it starts to make us competitive. I cannot tell you how many moms I know who refuse to go to play classes around town because they can't stand the way other moms (and dads) try to out-do each other by bragging about whose kid can recite the alphabet/sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star"/count to twenty/insert some other toddler achievement here. Granted, one thing I find most refreshing about Kindermusik classes is that I haven't met many competitive parents there. Most of the conversation about child-development is a genuine discussion of a child's abilities. Maybe it's because Aimee talks a lot about different stages of childhood development; maybe it's because the Kindermusik curriculum really focuses on teaching parents about those stages; maybe it's because like attracts like, and Aimee just draws in collegial, friendly, easy-going people who prefer talking to bragging.

All I know is that comparing children to one another, while it has some positive aspects, can get insidious and mean-spirited if done in excess. Every child is a special, beautiful and unique person and I have to focus less on comparing them and more on praising them for their individual talents and accomplishments. They will each achieve their milestones and their goals in their time.

So, every time I find my brain straying to that place where it seeks to compare my children to others' kids, or even to each other--or, worse of all, to myself or my husband at their age--I try to remember these wise words from "On Children" by Khalil Gibran, poet and writer of The Prophet:

"Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts
For they have their own thoughts. . . .

You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth."

And so I resolve to send my children forth to become who they will become--amazing human beings who are truly beyond compare.

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