Parents frequently hear that they should never compare children to each other. As a pediatrician, I can unequivocally state that this is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. Not only do we compare our children to each other, but we also compare them to other people’s children. Why? Because it’s instinctive for humans to compare things. We compare which apples to pick at the grocery store. We compare which shampoo to buy. We compare which clothes to wear to work.
So where does this “wisdom” come from? I think it’s derived from the difference between comparing and judging. Things can be different without one being superior to the other. When it comes to children, there is never one thing you are comparing. People are more complicated than apples or shampoo so most parents find they appreciate each child for different things. The flip side of this is also true. Namely, each child can make us crazy in different ways.
When this topic comes up in my office, I start by telling parents what I just said. I then expand on the topic by reminding them that what you never want to do is to compare your kids unconsciously and not be aware of it. It’s also a bit perilous to censure one child by invoking the more desired attributes of his sibling.
I have two teenagers who are very different. I horse around with and go to movies with my son, but have intellectual conversations with my daughter. I am proud of both of them, but in different ways. Sometimes I wish my daughter and I could do things like I do with my son and visa versa. That is comparing them, but neither one is a better child than the other. The flip side is that they each annoy me in different ways as well.
Comparing your kids to your friend’s kids is a bit trickier because you don’t have all the facts regarding someone else’s children. You may still find that you like certain aspects of your friend’s children more than your own. Just remember that most kids behave better with people other than their parents.
It’s also very important to remember that children have big ears. They love to eavesdrop on their parents because it’s exciting to hear what grownups have to say when they are alone. If my son heard me saying something comparing him to his sister, I am setting myself up for trouble. I can think it, and I can discuss it with my wife. But this should only be done when all children are accounted for.