This has been on my mind such a lot lately. It is the one thing about parenting that hurts more than anything. The one part of parenting that makes me feel sick. It makes me embarrassed to be a parent, even in the special needs environments. The one thing that doesn’t help us as parents, or our children in any way. And it is this:
Parenting is not a competition. So why do we make it so?
Everywhere we go as parents we are subjected to it: parenting magazines are rife with it, online forums are immundated with it, shops promote it, even the humble mother and toddler groups are at it. Everywhere we go as parents we are faced with it.
Yes, there are milestones that are set for child development. Yes it is good to boast in your child’s achievements. Yes, I am all for buying children lovely clothes and cooking home made meals. We all want our children to have great opportunities, stimulating toys, the best in life that we can offer. What parent does not want the best for their child?
But it isn’t a competition! Your child’s new bike does not HAVE to be better than any other child’s in their class or street. Their school uniform will look just as smart bought from the high street chains as it will have from designer shops. And you know what? Kids grow out of expensive clothes just as quick as they do supermarket clothing. You really do not have to go into debt to buy your child the most amazing Christmas presents they have ever had. This year my children had many of their gifts second hand, and loved them. Sending your child to an expensive school does not mean your child is better than another child. You are not a bad parent if your children have to walk rather than go by car.
As parents we have so much in common, yes, even parents of special needs children like myself. We all want our children to feel loved, valued, respected. We all want our children acheiving the best they can in life. What parent would not wish for thier child to grow up happy and content? We want our children healthy, to have compassion for others, to live independently one day, to have enough knowledge of the world to be able to cope on thier own, to believe in themselves and others and to be a responsible citizen. Our role as parents is to teach our children about life, educate them on values, feed them physically and emotionally, to care for them until the day comes when they learn to care for themselves.
There will be times in life for us, and our children, when life will be a competition. But neither we, nor our children, can possibly always win every competition. They won’t always be the best. We need to establish in our children enough self belief and self esteem that our children can cope with this fact. They won’t always be ‘star of the week’ in school but they can be ‘star of the day’ at home sometimes. Even in a large family they can be rewarded for caring, sharing, helping around the house or behaving well. As parents we need to motivate our children to be the best they can. But we need to remember they are children too.
I was not a straight A pupil at school. I was average at university. I didn’t pass my drivers test on the first attempt. I don’t even own a house. And as a parent I can not compete with others either. In fact, if you were to judge my parenting on my children’s accademic and developmental achievements I would be classed as a failure. My 5 year old son can not speak a word let alone read or write. He still does not even respond to his name when it is called every time. Neither of my 5 year olds are toilet trained. If parenting is a competition then my score would be very low.
But can I tell you something? Something that has been a revelation to me this week? I don’t need to get my self-worth from my children. I love them, support them, fight for them, provide for them, nurse them, teach them but I am not perfect. And neither are they. It would be wrong and cruel of me to try and make them perfect. Or make them compete and deem them to failure.
God made me me. A unique individual who He says is fearfully and wonderfully made. He made my children perfect too. And while I will strive to make them the best Naomi and Isaac they can possibly be, I will not compete with other parents in doing so.
Because to make your children the best ‘them’ they can be has nothing to do with your neighbours, your child’s class mates, your friends, or ideal families in magazines. To make your child the best ‘them’ they can be means loving them unconditionally, supporting them, encouraging them, preparing them for the future, educating them, looking after thier needs, praying for them and being there for them. When they reach goals and milestones to celebrate with them, no matter when that is. Does it matter if my son does not learn to write his own name until 7 or 8 or even older? Does it matter if my children do not grasp toilet training until 6 or 7 or never at all?
When I am out on the road driving every other driver (other than learners) have passed thier driving test. But does it matter if that was last week, or last year, or forty years ago? Once you can drive you can drive. Has anyone asked you as an adult when you grasped toilet training? I doubt it. Because when a skill is achieved you celebrate, move on and look to the next goal.
Fellow parents, please enjoy your children for all they can do and all they are as wonderful, precious, unique individuals. Give them the best you can in life but do it for your child or children NOT to be in competition with other parents.
Let us teach our children how beautiful, amazing and special they are for being THEM, not just for being the best at everything and beating everyone else. Competition has it’s place and can be motivating, but when every family is unique and every child different there is no place for competition in parenting. And that goes for competing for the ‘worst’ or ‘most disabled’ child too. It hurts. And it achieves nothing.
So let’s support each other, encourage one another, love each other’s children and pray our children grow to understand that they are winners every day.
And here are my two winners. Naomi showing her twin brother how to dance. I don’t care what you think but I told them both they were fantastic! Because it wasn’t a competition.