Student/Parent: Comparison

In amongst writing my dissertation, writing essays, and going to my Zoom classes, my son learnt to crawl. He first crawled on Valentine’s Day. Soon after, I celebrated my first Mother’s Day as a parent, and he could recognise people’s names and some words, he had learnt to drink from a cup and pull himself onto his feet. He blows raspberries on my stomach to make me laugh. He loves looking at books and he now lifts up my shirt when he wants milk.

But when I log on to social media, I see other parents who have babies the same age as mine, whose babies sleep through the night and sleep in their own rooms. Babies who are starting to walk or have teeth already. Parents who cook more than I do, or have their baby on a stricter routine, or parents who find time to exercise or who have perfect hair and make-up. Every time I compare my parenting or my baby to other people’s, I feel like I’m not doing enough.

The same thing happens with my work for university: I remember once in first year I went to collect an essay and find out my grade. I saw over the shoulder of the person in front of me – they got an A. I had never gotten an A before, so I assumed the markers had been lenient and maybe I, too, would get an A! 

I got my essay back and… I got a D.

I had worked hard on my essay and had felt really happy with it when I’d turned it in. The feedback was fair, I understood why I hadn’t done as well as I’d hoped, and I learnt from it. But comparing my grade to someone else’s made me feel so much worse about it.

For the last three months I’ve watched other babies my son’s age get their first teeth and I worried about when he was going to get his. I watched as babies younger than him started to get their teeth before him, too. Eventually, I found out that I didn’t get my first tooth until I was 14 months old. Knowing this, and knowing that teething patterns are hereditary, gave me reassurance. I stopped worrying and thinking of my baby as though he was getting his teeth ‘late’. And, by the time I finished writing this, my son had two teeth. 

I try not to compare my parenting to other people’s, and I know that I shouldn’t compare my baby to other babies. My son sleeps best if he’s being held by me or touching me. He falls asleep easiest if I nurse him to sleep. These are things that are constantly touted as ‘bad habits’ and things that I need to train him out of. When I see other babies online who sleep in their own rooms and in their own cots away from their parents, who fall asleep without being nursed or using a dummy or being held, I feel pressure to change the way I parent. 

If I stop looking at other people’s parenting and I stop reading advice online, I don’t feel stressed by our sleeping arrangements. Or whether or not my son has teeth. I like holding my baby while he naps, I like being a source of comfort for him when he needs it, and I know he’ll grow out of it in his own time. I know he’ll stop waking in the night – in his own time. Just like he got his teeth in his own time.

I used to spend a lot of time looking at parenting accounts on Instagram and I found myself getting stressed about my baby’s development and doubting myself as a parent. And it isn’t just that: I’ve talked about body image before, as I’m aware of how my perception of my body changes when I’m comparing myself to other people online. I’m anticipating that seeing other people celebrate their degree classifications on Twitter will make me feel like that, too. 

I’ve heard it said that ‘comparison is the thief of joy’ and I never really understood until I took a step back from social media; I paid more attention to how the images on my Instagram feed were making me feel and unfollowed the accounts that impacted my mood or my confidence. It’s the simplest form of self-care, and it allows me space to celebrate my own achievements. I forget to celebrate myself when I’m comparing my life to other people’s. The hard work I put into my uni work is diminished when I compare my grades to others’, and I forget to slow down and enjoy parenting when I am constantly comparing myself to other parents. And I forget that my son is his own unique person when I compare him to other babies. 

[Jasmine Yancey – she/her]

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