Recently I squealed and hugged my way through an intimate crowd of old friends at a baby shower. I’ve known the mom-to-be since she and my sister were babies. I had my 11-month-old in tow. I was so excited to see my sister and nephew, who came to town for the affair. My nephew is 8 1/2 months old. My mom was happy to have her two baby grandsons crawling at everyone’s feet.
Well, my son was at everyone’s feet. He was at their feet, playing with their shoes, on their purses, reaching for their cell phones, pulling up on their chairs and generally causing a ruckus, albeit an adorable ruckus. Most at the shower didn’t seem to mind him. My mom could help me by holding him or entertaining him while I ate or played the shower games.
My nephew mostly sat pleasantly with my sister. He laid quietly next to her smiling. Yes, he can crawl too. He can also pull up. He’s about the same size as my son. But, he sat and mine squirmed.
My mom and her friend heard me quip to my son, “Hey, you see how your cousin is just sitting there? Why can’t you be like that?” My mom said, “Amy! You shouldn’t say that and compare them like that!” Her friend agreed. I felt my face get hot. I held my little guy tight against my flushed cheek. I whispered, “Sorry buddy.”
On the way home from the shower I had an epic crisis of conscience. How could I have done that to my baby?! Just because the cousins are close in age, it doesn’t mean they need to be compared. They are individuals. I need to watch the comments I make, even in jest. I need to talk to my sister about guidelines for how we will treat the boys equally but as individuals. I drafted a heartfelt blog post in my head as I drove.
I got home and told my husband what happened. I explained my intense shame and how I was damaging my son’s psyche. He said, “Are you kidding me?! Please! Amy, the amount of time you have spent worrying about this is too much. They are babies! He will never remember you said that.” True it’s not like we’re going to line them up and have them crawl race at family gatherings. He laughed and hugged me. “Seriously. It was a complement to your sister on how sweet her baby is. Don’t sweat it.”
Here’s the thing. They’re both right. I need to watch what I say to my children. I need to understand that jokes and off-the-cuff comments can hurt. But, I also do NOT need to have guilt ridden meltdowns for every parenting faux pas I commit. Let’s face it, I know I will say or do something insanely insensitive and stupid again. Then I will write about it on the Internet.
In all seriousness, how do families quell comparisons between children close in age? Cousins, siblings, or even good friends with kids the same age. It’s very natural to compare. How do you either avoid it, or compare with compassion if that’s possible?