Comparing Your Children by Sharon O’Donnell
I know parents aren’t supposed to compare one of their children to another — and when it’s done, usually it’s comparing a younger child to his/her older sibling. But the reason for this is logical: our parental experience has been with that older child, so when a similar problem or life situation arises with the younger one, it is only natural to think back to what happened with the older one.
With my middle son, I was guilty of doing this when he was starting elementary school and I’d measure his progress based on what I remembered of his older brother’s progress at that same age. I remember telling the kindergarten teacher that it seemed like he should be reading better than he was for his age, but this concern was based not only on my older son but also because my middle son had gone through speech therapy from the time he was 3, and the speech problems he encountered seemed to have a detrimental effect on his reading (sounding out words, comprehension, etc.). The teacher would smile and say, “Oh, now, you can’t compare your kids.” And I knew that especially since my oldest son was deemed as an ‘academically gifted’ student and read books all the time. But I’d worked in his classroom enough to know what was on grade level. At the time, what my middle son was doing was not on grade level — but it wasn’t just him; it was his entire class. That class had three kindergarten teachers that year (the first one was a new teacher and after 9 weeks she decided she’d made a mistake and didn’t want to teach — just didn’t come back after a break, leaving the kids to wonder what had happened to her.
Actually, parents were glad she left because the kids had not learned anything in that first quarter of the year. The second one was good, but she was an interim for a few months only until a replacement could be found. When a major snow storm cancelled school for a week or so, I was so concerned in working with him that I ordered Hooked on Phonics from one of those infomercials. When my middle son had entered kindergarten, I had gotten him to what I felt was about the same point my older son had been when first went to kindergarten — but now my middle one had regressed, it seemed. The third teacher was okay, but the kids were so far behind, there wasn’t a lot she could do. I again expressed concerns – this time to the principal — and was told my concern was needless and not to compare my children.
Okay, so I stopped. Then at the beginning of first grade, my middle son was put into a program for readers who needed extra help. Hello?? Yes, this is what I was trying to say earlier. Long story short, we got my middle son a tutor, and he had some sort of tutor (just a math tutor in high school) throughout the rest of his school career. With his auditory processing problems, he needed some one on one instruction, which I gave to him when I could – -but a tutor certainly helped. My middle son has always been a smart boy, and he made the honor roll all the way through middle and high school and will graduate in June as a member of the National Honor Society. But school didn’t come easy to him, and I had to supplement with him a lot. Some of his problems ended up being possibly from a latent anxiety that made concentrating difficult. But comparing the situation (not necessarily him) to the situation of my first son helped me to know what the middle one needed, what he SHOULD be doing in school and how well. I see nothing wrong with comparing like this since that former situation is what I know best. Now, there were some times that my middle one would get upset when he saw the achievements that came so easily (seemingly so) to my oldest son, while he had to exert so much effort to achieve the same thing. But I always encouraged him by reminding him of his own strengths– some of them qualities that my oldest didn’t have. And both of them turned out fine.
Fast forward to recently when my third son, my 11-year-old, forgot his homework packet (lots of work) to do over the weekend. He’d missed one day earlier in the week due to allergies, and that meant extra homework. The first day of the weekend, he played with a friend of his and watched TV – I asked him several times about his homework, but he blew me off, assuring me he would do it later. So ‘later’ arrived, and I asked him again, and he then admitted to me that he had forgotten the packet at school. This ‘forgetting’ happened just a few weeks ago also. I was annoyed that he spent all day playing around, obviously not caring that the work he needed to do, he would not be able to do over the weekend as he was supposed to do. So I said he needed to sit down at the table and work on a grammar sheet that I’d asked him to do quite some time ago (I know that grammar/sentence structure is not where it needs to be so I supplement with assignments for them every now and then). He acted like I’d asked him to climb Mount Everest. He complained about doing it, but he sat down and did it. He was done way too quickly, yelled, “Done!” and then got up to leave.
“You’re done all ready?” I asked. I told him he needed to stick around and see how he did on it. We began to go over it, and it was clear that he hadn’t been concentrating when he was doing the sheet; he’d skipped over errors he should have corrected. And yes, it was frustrating. I then told him that each of his brothers had cared more about school work that he did, and it concerned me that he was forgetful about assignments and then did them just to get them done, not caring whether or not they were correct. I made the mistake of saying again that I’d never had that kind of problem with his brothers. Well, my son started crying, and he cried harder than he has in a long time. I wasn’t sure what the problem was. Finally, when he calmed down he told me that what I said made him feel like I loved his brothers more than I did him and that he had disappointed me and they hadn’t. Of course, I told him that wasn’t true at all, and then I started listed all the things I did that showed how much I love him. I also told him that his brothers aren’t perfect — that nobody is. He calmed down, and things got back to normal, but I still feel bad that I hurt his feelings by comparing him to his brothers. So I’ve made a vow not to do that anymore. It’s not my intention to use these comparisons to hurt him, but I guess it can come across like that. An older mom, yes — but I never stop learning.