baby

“You’re much bigger than my friend...” The moment I realised parenting is one huge contest.

When I was in my twenties and imagined myself one day with children (which, to be honest, was rarely ever), I saw myself raising tiny free spirits. They would have long, tangled hair, and always be covered in dirt and paint. We’d kind of ‘make up’ the rules as we went along. I’d talk to them like adults. They would be raised vegan (which I was, in my twenties – now, breastfeeding, I am mostly-vegetarian-but-inhale-any-food-in-sight-because-MAKING-MILK). Above all, my kids and I would give NONE OF THE F*CKS about what people thought because our lives were our lives, and we lived as we want to.

Oh, you sweet, naïve girl.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I started to realise that people liked to make comparisons.

“You’re much bigger than my friend. She’s six months pregnant too and she’s TINY.”

“When did YOUR baby start kicking?”

“I wouldn’t touch anything from a take-away store when I was pregnant with MY baby. I wouldn’t want to take that chance.”

“How are YOU planning to give birth?” (Um, either from my vagina or, failing that, from a big cut in my belly, thanks.)

My baby wasn’t even here and already I was starting to feel like maybe I would excel in one area and fail in others.

Parenting contest
I was starting to feel like maybe I would excel in one area and fail in others. Image: Supplied.

Birth, too, was definitely a competitive sport.

“TAKE ALL THE DRUGS. That’s what they’re there for!”

“TAKE NONE OF THE DRUGS. You’ll enjoy it more if it’s natural!”

“I had the hardest birth because I was in labour for so long, it was exhausting!”

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“I had the hardest birth because it was too quick and intense! I didn’t have time to process!”

Hang on, for a bunch of women, this sure sounds like a lot of d*ck-measuring.

When my son was born (from my vag, if that matters), after I had emerged from my post-labour love-bubble and emerged into the real life world of expensive prams, organic purees and baby seats that ROCK THEMSELVES, I realised… this will never end. Even our health system, for all its usefulness, in the first few months of a baby’s life compares them on a scale. They are bigger than other babies their age. Their head is small. They have teeth too early (sorry, nips). They haven’t rolled yet. Breastfeeding is too hard. Formula feeding isn’t good enough.

In the early days, I joined a mother’s group – and I was lucky to get a good one. The women I found myself surrounded with were from all ages and all walks of life, but we were able to bond through the love for our children and willingness for them to thrive. But even we weren’t immune to the pissing contest of parenting – and it definitely wasn’t intentional, but we were so proud of our children’s achievements that we would want to sing about them to the world! We would compare milestones and moments; who was toilet trained and who wasn’t, who was speaking full sentences and who wasn’t. So our intentions were nothing but pure, but what happens when these comparisons occur is that someone has to ‘lose’. Someone is the one whose child is last to do something. Someone has to live with that worry that maybe their child will never crawl, or go to school in nappies, or always be the one biting other kids.

Parenting contest

The truth is, kids don’t know we have a calendar for them. They just do things instinctively, because that’s what helps them move onto the next stage of development. And they might crawl early. Or they might never crawl, and just shuffle on their bum. But we’re so hell-bent on our babies either fitting in or exceeding the norm, that we’re gunning for them to do stuff, maybe before they’re ready. And it’s not necessarily good for kids.

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Now in the throes of raising a three-year-old, I’m trying to get him into all sorts of extra-curricular activities. Sometimes he’s awesome at them. Sometimes he throws a tantrum so big I have to hoist him under my arm like a bazooka and march out of the recreation centre with sweat dripping down my face, trying to pretend like I give no f*cks about what other parents think.

Of course I care. It’s hard not to. But the reality is, comparing our kids to others means that they might disappoint us sometimes. It can stop us from focusing on what is good about an individual child, instead of what they’re not doing. So by all means, let us celebrate what is awesome about our kids, but let us not get caught up in the game of constant comparisons, for it’s a game that no-one will win.

My son is three. He’s averagely intelligent. He probably watches too much TV. He has so much energy that he becomes unmanageable if he doesn’t let it out. He was later than a lot of his friends to toilet train. He goes to bed after 9:00 most nights. He only eats about 2 food groups and asks you to remove the chicken from chicken nuggets. His farts smell like dust.

But he’s kind. He is the world’s most amazing big brother. He looks into my eyes and tells me he loves me. He has an amazing memory. He is so. Damn. Funny. And I’m the first person he wants to tell when something exciting happens in his life.

And at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

 

MMSurvey

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