What we lose when we compare

A boy was sitting at the back of the car and telling his mother that he scored a 98 for his math paper.

His mother asked two questions. Where did you lose the 2 marks?

Then, how many marks did so-and-so get?

It was initially a celebratory moment, for the boy at least. But the parent, rather unfortunately chose to focus on the lost marks.

The world is moving at a break-neck speed, and parents all around the world are rushing their children to the next level of academic or social excellence.

As I read reports about how children are requiring mental health beds and how teen suicide rates are rising globally, I worry. I worry about my own kids, and how stress from their school, their peers, and even sometimes from us parents ourselves, will affect them later in life.

Performance stress comes from all fronts, but the worst of them all exudes from within.

The feeling that I’ll never be good enough…

As parents, we often wonder if we’re doing enough for our children, if they have enough to occupy their time and curious hands, if we’ve purchased the latest gadgets and technology for them to be able to keep up.

But our children’s grades are not a measure of our performance as parents.

And life isn’t one big race.

Since when did the human generation move forward by simply pitting ourselves head on with another one of our kind?

What happened to those good old values such as collaboration, helping the weaker ones among us, and leveling the field so that even those from less privileged backgrounds can rise to the occasion?

What really happens when we’re busy comparing ourselves (and our kids’ achievements) with others?

  • We miss out on the opportunity to be grateful for what we have.
  • We miss out on the opportunity to celebrate how much we’ve grown (relative to a year or two ago).
  • We also miss out on the opportunity to truly connect with, and make new friends.

If we the supposedly wiser ones, are unable to clearly differentiate between the things that matter and the things that don’t, how do we expect the young ones to do the same in their later years?

Here are some tips on how not to get caught up in the comparison game.

  1. Know what’s essential, stop focusing on what’s not. Character is more essential than grades; attitude is more important than ability. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that we allow our children to slack in their work, or not give two hoots about tests and assignments. Of course we still encourage them to give their best in every endeavour.
  2. Look at your child as an individual, appreciate her strengths and be honest about her weaknesses. Focus your energies on growing her in her strengths, build confidence from there, and then help her along in the areas of weakness.
  3. Recognise that academics are just one part of her personhood. Academic excellence doesn’t automatically make one successful. (Many of the most successful people I know did not ace their studies in school / did not even attend university.) Focus on building her character, self-esteem, emotional intelligence, and help her cultivate a passion about something – these are important factors to achieving success in life as well. This will help you raise well-rounded and secure children.
  4. Don’t parent from a position of fear. Don’t focus on your fears or your own failures. Rather learn to be secure with yourself and where your child is at. Focus on growth and learning; these will serve you and the generations after you, for life.
  5. Communicate that your love is not dependent on her achievements. Your love is unconditional. Knowing this will help remove the fear of failure from your child’s life.
  6. Build the soft skills too – like building friendships, teaching empathy and encouraging creativity in daily life. In this article on creativity, the author wrote that “Engaging in the creative process is a great confidence builder, because you discover that failure is part of the process.” That says it all, doesn’t it? Creativity is truly a gift that never stops giving.

When we compare, we lose the moments that are worth celebrating.We lose the opportunity to affirm our child for who he is and a chance to grow a grateful heart.

When we compare, we hinder our ability to rejoice with a friend’s success and to build stronger relationships; we forget to be teachable and humble.

When we compare, we create an atmosphere of insecurity, a culture of comparison. Our children grow up thinking, I’m not lovable, or I’ll never be good enough…

I don’t think that’s what we truly want for our kids.

What do you do to remind yourself not to compare?

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  1. says

    Very well said, June.

    I do believe all this too, and I think what really helps is surrounding oneself with like-minded parents.

    For academic assessments, it has been said that scoring 70% means that 30% of the subject matter has not been grasped/learned/comprehended. So if the paper was really pitched as such, then remedial action is needed. But if all that is taught in class makes 90% of the paper, then scoring 90% is 100% to me. 🙂 Spending crazy time and energy to chase that last 10% that is over and above… time can be spent to do better/more fun/more meaningful things, surely!

    • June says

      That’s such a wise approach, Lyn, to keep the big picture in view always. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  2. says

    Nice sharing and a very good reminder! I know I don’t want to be caught in situation like that, but sometimes, the pressure around just surpasses the conviction I hold. Must be mindful.

  3. says

    A great reminder! Especially like pt3 and 4. Indeed academics is not equivalent to the personhood. And parenting out of fear will only breed fear. We really need to unlearn and be growing together with other parents.and children towards success not competition. Goes back to our values.ay we press on in God’s value.
    Sharing! : )

    • June says

      It does boil down to values, doesn’t it Angelia? So often we get caught up and forget our values, and the values we want to pass down to our children…

  4. says

    What a timely and well-written post in today’s competitive society. I think at the heart of comparing in the fashion you described is a deep seated refusal to acknowledge how precious, significant and unique our children are.

    • June says

      I love what you said, Jin Ai. We need to remember to acknowledge and affirm our children for who they are! 🙂

  5. says

    I was so sadden to read about the news of the student committing suicide over her grades and it grieved my heart to know that such is our society now. I do pray that I will not fall into such mentality when Sophie enters Primary school and value her only for her academic success.

    • June says

      Hi Susan, thanks for sharing. Yes I was heavy-hearted to read the news about the suicide too. We need to care for our children’s esteem (and give credit when due, etc) while also taking care not to over-inflate their egos. Let’s encourage and remind one another, to focus on the important things. 🙂