Baby Comparisons: Infancy Is Not a Contest!
I attended a lecture last week that was very interesting. It was given by Michael Thompson, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who has written several parenting books, including The Pressured Child, the main theme of the meeting. While Dr. Thompson is not an infant specialist, he made a closing remark that I think is relevant for parents at any stage: “Your child is on his or her own journey, not yours.” He urged parents to do two things:
- Let your children have a childhood.
- Don’t use your child’s life as a way of proving your own effectiveness as an adult.
“Easier said than done,” I thought. After all, parenthood is also a journey, and we are learning as we go.
Besides, new parents should get a reprieve for their ego-involvement during Baby’s first year or so of life; it is the parent’s responsibility to guide, protect, and yes, direct the child. If we did not do our job, babies would not thrive.
As we make our way through infancy, we do turn to others for help, and next to the pediatrician, we probably turn most frequently to our friends. After all, they are in the same boat, trying to get to the same destination. And in the innocence of our social circles, we discover two things:
1. What works for one child does not work for another. Whether it’s the challenge of sleeping all night, eating at regular intervals, making developmental milestones, or calming down after being upset, you will benefit from having options to explore. And it’s still fun to talk and piece together what might work for you and your baby. BUT (and this is an important but), Your baby has a unique pace and path for learning and adopting new behaviors, even in the first year of life.
While the course of development is predictable, each child progresses at a different rate. And it might not be the same for all dimensions of development. Your infant may progress very quickly with motor skills, like coordination, and that has no bearing on sleeping through the night or having picky eating habits. What settles colic in one infant may not work for yours (maybe not even Dr. Karp’s swaddling cloth!).
Of course, if your baby’s developmental progress is more than a month behind on the first year milestone charts or if you truly feel something is wrong, consult a pediatrician for a diagnosis and see your friends for emotional support. If something is really off track you will soon be expanding your peer group to include other developmental specialists.
2. The second discovery in sharing with our friends is that many parents tend to inflate their children’s successes and minimize the problems, even during infancy. We can’t help but be exuberant about the progress of our little ones. Babies make us happy, and their monumental efforts to communicate and explore deserve ample praise. But sometimes people cross the line. They use the little successes of their infant to prove their superiority as parents.
I call parents who embrace this practice EELs: Enhancers, Embellishers, and plain old LiarS. Obviously I know plenty in the first category, and more than a few in the latter two groups. Just remember this: when your friends use their children to imply yours are “less than” you have “less use” for their input. If anything, you can use this peer example as a reminder of what you do not want to do to your own little one.
From infancy to adulthood, children need your love, leadership, and guidance. But they also need to be their deepest selves as they grow up. If you can balance your contribution with their temperament and abilities, you will ultimately find the truth in Dr. Thompson’s statement: Our children are truly on their own journey.