2 November 2009

Child Development is NOT a Competition

Overheard in the Co-op:

Granny 1 "Our Hannah does all the animal noises, she's only just one."

Granny 2 "She's not walking yet though is she? Our Sophie has been running around since she was 9 months."

Granny 1 "She's nearly there. Our Sharon won't toilet train our Harry. He's two now."

Granny 2 "I know. They don't bother these days. They're so lazy."

I didn't need to hear the rest of the conversation but I knew it would include the words 'in our day'. I pushed my boys to the tills and left them to their gossiping.

I appreciate it is only natural to compare your children to their peers. As a parent you like to know if your child is in the right ball pond. You want them to develop within the normal range. Incidentally, I dislike the word 'normal', but couldn't think of a better choice of word!

What isn't helpful is when other people compare your children, especially within ear shot. My boys are constantly compared with their cousins. Part of it is bragging and pride. I'm delighted when my boys reach a milestone or achieve a first, but I know it's only really of interest to us. I wouldn't, for example, tell the parents of a child that doesn't yet speak that my child had a vocabulary of 1000 words at eighteen months. I wouldn't ask them if they spoke to the child or read books to them. If they asked me for my advice I would gently reassure them that there was nothing to worry about.

Children develop at different rates. There are some exceptions, but generally they all walk and they all talk before they go to school. Some clatter about from an early age, others are cautious. Some are outgoing and some need reassurance. They all have their own little developing personalities. Leave them to it, I say.

I dread to think what it will be like when they go to school, a whole new ball game I expect.

I do apologise, this is turning into a rant!

Please don't get me started on parents that think their way is the only way. If I hear one more time, from a certain person, how easy they found X I'll scream!!!

Can you tell I didn't get enough sleep last night? ;-)

This post was written as part of the Sleep is for the Weak writing workshop. This week I chose prompt number 1: Write about an over-heard conversation.



  1. I was always compared to my step sister who not only had the same name as me but was only 6 months older.

    Yep I'm in therapy now!

    Oh, and I can't rant about this on my blog, but my mum compares my little girl to my nieces, they are small for their ages but as they are girls this is deemed good and Isobel is deemed 'chunky'! My mother has even weighed them to compare...

  2. I really hate the whole competitive thing and the way some parents seem to get there jollies out of going on about there wonderful child.

    My eldest has always been a late developer and was not walking till 20 months , people always use to say oh its fine they do it on there own time but what do i know my child was walking by 9 months. Whatever.

    I do remember a conversation with a new mum a few months back , Ru was about 11 months i think and her daughter 2 weeks older. She asked me if he was talking yet and i said not really , said mum and dad and that was really it and she seemed to get really bitchy over it and started going on and on about all the words her daughter was saying . I just bit my tounge and refused to get into the game but was dying to point out that her daughter was just starting to crawl while Ru was running already .

  3. Yes, it's very annoying. I notice that grandparents seem to do this more than parents. My mum was always comparing Rosemary to her (second) cousin Rupert, who started a lot of things later. I kept reminding her that a) boys generally developmore slowly at first and b) all children develop at different rates and it's not a competition. She still does it, though at least now she's recognising that he's better at quite a few things than Rosemary (sitting still for lengths of time, will probably be reading brfore her, etc.)

    My mum also used to compare my sister to me, unfavourably, despite a 12 year age gap and quite different dispositions. I think this has really hurt my sister. Oh, and my mum's competitive nature was shown when she told everyone I was going to study in Oxford (without mentioning it was Oxford Brookes Uni)!

    I think sometimes I go too far the other waym, though, and can play down Rosemary's achievements too much.

  4. As a parent I think the competitive streak is there even if you don't want it to be. Like you said pride falls out of you when your children do something before other peers do. But whilst one may be talking fluently at 18 months, the other will probably be doing something like sleeping much better at night. We will never have it all and I don't think it's healthy to want it all.

  5. I usually just let other parents prattle on when they do this. Or I try to end the conversation with "Well, they all get there in the end don't they?" I do remember one embarrassing moment when the Queenager was little. She started talking really early (and didn't stop). By 18 months she was doing three word sentences. One day we were in the park with a dad who bragged that his 18 month old's favourite thing to do was go to the Art Insitute (!?) and that he had a vocabulary of 50 words. Not thinking this out of the ordinary, I replied "Oh, dear. Never mind, he'll get there". Gulp!

  6. I once caught my aunt and uncle (brother & sister) almost comparing how big their grand children's boogies were...I'm not kidding. I assume it's some kind of sibling rivalry that never ends? Dunno I'm a only child so I don't really get it, but it's super annoying!

  7. Competitive parents are very blindsided of course, they never, ever say what their child can't do, for instance, 'oh my boy was walking at 10 months but still in nappies at 3'.

    Competitive grandparents are worse - they just point blank lie about what their grandkids can do, my MIL's best friend has a grandson the same age as Joseph and she swore blind that he could sing pitch perfect at 18 months - makes me giggle when I hear Joseph's lovely but tone deaf little songs.

  8. Having a child in our extended family who has learning difficulties (not severe) is a great leveller. So right from when our son was small, his father and I have made a conscious decision to be what we call 'quietly proud' at his achievements. He knows what we think, and that's all that matters.

  9. I'm an identical twin, so I know all about comparing. Thankfully my sister and I are very different. But I remember hearing my ex-mother-in-law comparing my child to her friend's granddaughter.

  10. Oh Very Bored Housewife you're spot on with the grandparent thing! My father in law is like that, I just let him get on with it! Every child is different, they all go at their own pace. My toddler was able to count before he was 2 and understood the concept of counting and recognising numbers. I am proud of him however when he started displaying his skills to friends they started comparing their kids to him and I didn't like it.

  11. What is truly irritating is that whatever behaviours these kinds of parents/grandparents have found to be especially easy about rearing a particular child (the kid is great at settling for a nap, or is toilet trained by 2, or can recognise 50 different varieties of broccoli or recite the unabridged works of Shakespeare by preschool age), they will always point out their belief that this is specifically down to SOMETHING THEY DID. The unsubtle implication is, of course, that since your own child doesn't do likewise, you have somehow failed them in this respect. Twaddle!

  12. How true is this, sadly in my experience it is not just down to the older generation, but also first time mums too. I was made to feel so inadequate when maximad was born as he had colic and didnt sleep, that I thought I was the worst mother in the whole world.

    It is so hard for my mum not to compare as my neice is 12 weeks younger than maximad. Also in the olden days they used terry nappies and had a reason to potty train early as it was awful washing and drying them!!

    I love that you blog just hits the nail in the head

  13. Oh no - now I'm really scared. My little girl is 18 months and has a vocabulary of five words not 1,000 and they're all related to food. I'm naturally a competitive person who always had to be the best at everything.
    But since becoming a mum I've let go of all that. As long as my children are happy then so am I.
    Every day, I read, play and chat to them - as well as help with the dreaded homework and tell them to tidy up their mess - but the most important times are the cuddles and kisses. As long as we all laugh together then my children don't have to worry about being the best at anything else. Because they're already the best at everything to me.
    PS Thanks so much for your comments on my blog Sandy, it means so much to hear that you're enjoying it! x

  14. I sooo remember this from when my boy was small. It happens. But what I have realized is that children develop certain skills at different ages. Rest assured, they will all walk, talk & "go potty" well beofe they hit college!

    And no, it doesn't really go away the older they get.

  15. I think the challenge is, when you are a first time mum you are looking for developmental milestones. It's not about bragging rights, it's about being attentive to appropriate levels of development so you can address anything that may not be quite right early enough. As you have all said - this is a really challenge because the development window for talking, for example, fills about 18 months. Anywhere within that time your child can be making simple noises or talking in sentences. Whilst we read books and articles that say things like 18-24 months isn't it a natural tendency to hit the 18 month marker and go "so, why aren't they talking??"

    Once you have a couple or have interacted with a few kids you realise that these milestones happen at different speeds for different kids. It's an emotional rollercoaster for sure!

  16. I'm with EJ - the thing that gets me most is the not-so-subtle suggestion that your baby's development is down to YOU, so if their little one is walking/talking early then they are obviously the most accomplished mother in the world and we should bow to their greater wisdom.

    This kind of attitude is pretty rife in my town and driven me away from a few playgroups. Drives me crackers. Kai walked late, is only just starting to say words, and doesn't sleep well, and I am spoken in patronising, arrogant tones about how 'motherhood is hard' and how they're 'sure you're doing your best'.

    To be honest I've stopped listening. I'm too busy watching my bright, vivacious boy do everything in his own time, with a flare and fun nature that makes me so proud. He may not be applying for Mensa any time soon but he has more personality in his little finger than some of these super-mums' offspring!

    Great post Sandy!! as always :) xx

  17. Oh what a hilarious conversation between the Grannies - I can just see it now! I never realised how annoying the whole comparison thing was until I gave birth to two girls who couldn't be more different if I'd planned it that way. Now I know for a fact that it doesn't matter if one walks at 9 months or 15 months - they all catch up eventually. And I hate it for my second child when my parents compare her to the first one - (number one never did that, etc). I get all protective. But that's they way of the world. You just have to take it on the chin I think!

  18. I think the 'bragging' in some cases is down to insecurity. They are feeling the same way the rest of us do (or at least I do) - that they are winging it and they are looking for reassurance that they are getting it 'right' - so when their little ones do something early its almost a relief...

    Similarly I think we all see our little ones' personalities much more those of other people's children, because we spend more time with them and know their quirks and foibles much better so I'm not sure comparing personality is any better than comparing developmental milestones...

  19. Good post. There's a part of me that feels that comparison leads to competition which isn't that far removed from childrens beauty pageants. Probably just me though!

  20. Surprised and Excited Mum, feel free to rant here! Oh dear, 'chunky' indeed. I wish my boys were chunkier!

    Laura, I hate it too, even more so since I really thought about it this week! Some people are totally thoughtless!

    Tasha, yes, grandparents definitely spend far too much time competing vicariously through their grandchildren. Very funny about Oxford Brooks. My Mum still tells people I applied for Oxford. I didn't get in, so it doesn't really count!

    Aingeal, you're right, of course we are proud of their achievements. Like you say none of them do everything early, it would be a bit freaky if they did!

    Expat Mum, Art Institute? Oh dear. My boys like digging in the mud, perhaps I could say they're into archaeology!

    Liz@VP, OMG!

    Very Bored Housewife, you're so right. It's rare to hear anyone say their child isn't doing something!

    Liz(LWK), yes, I wonder if the braggers would be so keen to talk about their child if they had learning difficulties? I think quietly proud is the way to go.

    Lulu's Missives, I hear you!

    Laura C, yes, every child is different - thank goodness.

    E-J, brilliant! You are totally spot on. Parents always seem to take the credit for their child's development. Presley has always been a good sleeper, Cash not so good. We did exactly the same with both of them at nap times and bedtime. They are just different. Presley is a late talker. Our friends (with a chatty child three months older than P) asked if we spoke to him and read to him. The effing cheek. Of course we do and have done since he was a newborn!

    The Mad House, yes you're right about first time mums. Some will think it's all down to them. Sorry to hear about the colic. Cash had reflux and he cried a lot too. By the way, I still can't get on to your blog to comment (did you see my DM to you on Twitter)? Needless to say I am reading your posts via Google reader and I'm glad you are home x

    The Real Mama Diaries, the 1000 words at 18 months is one of my friend's children. Presley sounds similar to your little one. For ages all he said was 'no'! You're right about the love and cuddles. PS you're welcome x

    Gigi, thanks for the reassurance! :-)

    The Moiderer, yes, you're right. We all want reassurance that our children are developing 'normally', that's only natural, but it's so not a competition. It is a rollercoaster!

    Josie, I agree, E-J is spot on. These Other Mothers are the pits. What a shame you had to leave playgroups because of them. Kai is a gorgeous, fun-loving little boy. There's nothing wrong with him or you (but I don't need to tell you that)! Presley walked at 15 months, six months later than most of his cousins. One of his younger cousins can sing Baa Baa Black Sheep the whole way through. P and C both sing 'Baa Baa' and that's it. It doesn't matter. Obviously I'm jealous, but it doesn't really matter! x

    Emily, it was funny. I always eavesdrop in the Co-op! I heard one man say that if he won Euromillions he would give his wife half and tell her to 'get lost'. The other man said he would kill his wife and keep all the money. Charming! I try to ignore the comparisons, but it's difficult sometimes. x

    Mum of One, how perceptive. We're all just muddling through this parenting business. It is such a relief when milestones are reached!

    Kim, thanks. No, not just you. Comparison is very close to competition. Thanks for adding Baby Baby to your blog roll :-)

  21. It's so frustrating and a reason why I'm glad I haven't got into the whole playgroup scene. Sam walked about on time, at 13.5 months but at 16 months only says hiya, 'Emma' & occasionally 'Creg'if he's in the mood. A guy at uni has a son 2 weeks younger than Sam and he delights in telling me all the words he is using, and how he'll only put his sippy cup on a coaster. Sam prefers to tip his sippy cup upside down, pour water on his head & then throw it across the room. Whatever. At their 18th birthday parties I can't imagine their parents will be there saying, 'well I knew he'd turn out well, he was talking at 10 months. He was the first out of his peers to walk you know'.
    Like it matters in the long run. Phew, rant over!

  22. I wrote a lovely long comment a couple days ago and then my internet crashed :(

    I just wanted to say that sometimes the comparisons can be good. My MIL compares Piran to Paul at that age and she remembers what a handful he was, and says that Piran at times is even harder work. This has the effect of her being extra nice to me, offering to help out and gives me someone that I know understands what I am going through at times. It is nice.

  23. :-) and of course only proud mummies (and others) bring it up - so you only hear the 'best', which adds to 'new parent' stress!!

    of course MY daughter......no wait - this is where we came in.

    Great blog!

  24. Not Such a Yummy Mummy, you rant away! You're so right. That child with the coaster, I fear for his mental health - how uptight is that?! Presley would much rather play with water than, well, anything! x

    Kelly, *shakes fist the the internet*! How lovely to hear about comparisons from the other side. x

    Tattooed Mummy, thank you. Yes, you don't hear much bragging about how quiet people's children are! :-)

  25. It doesn't matter who gets there first. No one will remember if your child was first to do ___ and it doesn't mean they are better at it.

  26. Amy, yes, you're so right.


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