The Pitfalls of Parenting Comparisons

Insights from the Playground

by Jennifer Elyse Wilson
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I was at the playground this evening when a woman in her late forties came strolling along the grass. She had her toddler, golden retriever, and husband in tow, and was full of playful energy matching her son’s adventurous nature. I was so impressed by how well she was managing her toddler, dog, and pregnant belly. Funny how even though we had something in common (I too had a toddler, husband, and golden retriever in tow), we were worlds apart.

I couldn’t help but overhear her conversation as it looped around the complexities of parenting later in life. The woman was describing her insecurity to her husband. She must have said something with a motion towards me because her husband reassured her that there are lots of moms in their forties. Her husband was describing how jaw dropped his coworkers were to hear that she was pregnant again at her age. The whole time at the park, I could almost feel her insecurity.

We exchanged some pleasantries and connected over helicopter parenting avoidance, and upon walking home with our son, my husband mentioned that the woman in the park was very friendly. I revealed that I had overheard the couple’s conversation about their age, and my husband looked tickled pink with his insight as he detailed how from the moment they entered the park he could sense their insecurities about their age.

The conversation was a funny parallel to how I sometimes feel as I’m a good ten years younger than most of the mothers I meet in my neighborhood. I often feel insecure that people are looking at me as a ‘young’ parent (comical since I’m 30!) but true. I have to deal with a lot of “oh when you’re my age” or “you’ll learn over the next decade” in day-to-day conversations with my mommy friends. I often feel like everyone notices my age.

I couldn’t help but think about the society we live in if the forty-something mom is walking around feeling too ‘old’ to parent and the thirty-something mom is walking around feeling too ‘young’ to parent. Then at what age do we get to just walk around feeling good about being parents? Everyone is walking around insecure about how they stack up against others. From what snack we pull out for our toddler at the playground to who’s up on the current research of toddler behavior tactics, I think we should all stop worrying about how we measure up.

We have been raised in such a competitive society that it seems only logical that as we parent, we compare and contrast, self-loathe, and criticize, but what is the impact of this on us as parents? We all have areas of parenting that we excel in, and those that we’d like to work on, but the constant comparison can leave us all feeling less than adequate. I find myself constantly worrying about how other mom’s perceive me, and I don’t think I’m alone. Something as simple as noticing when I pull out a packaged granola bar next to a mom that pulls out homemade bran muffins probably has a much more significant impact on my self-confidence as a parent than I realize. I think many of us focus more on our weaknesses as parents rather than our strengths, and half the time what we perceive as our own weaknesses might be perceived as strengths by others.

We can spend all day noticing our similarities and differences, but perhaps what we need to start doing is thinking about what makes us happy, what makes our kids happy, how we can grow as people, and what messages we’re sending when we live on the hamster wheel of constant comparison. I want off the hamster wheel and I invite you to join me, so the next time you overhear a mommy comrade touting off her insecurities, share one of yours with her, reassure her that we’re all doing our best, and try your best not to judge, after all we’re all on the playground of parenthood together.

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