More than once I’ve said the phrase, “my parents didn’t give me a sister, so God did.” Just like that, my best friend became family. The rest is well- known history. I’ve always been so thankful for our relationship. Most days I wish she really was my sister; that we’d had each other since birth. Other days I trust that ‘everything happens for a reason,’ and this is exactly how it was meant to be.
One day a group of our friends were laughing about how differently a pair of biological sisters looked in our school. One was really, really attractive. The other.. Had a great personality? We quietly laughed along with them, but as the group dispersed my sister said, “maybe it’s good I didn’t have a biological sister. I would have died if someone told me I was the ugly one.” (Trust me, she wouldn’t be. She’s gorgeous.) Those words never left my brain. At first it was a bit of disappointment that something could take away from our desire to be actual sisters. Eventually it became fear. As I grew to raise my own children I always wondered how they would feel about each other. I never want any of my children to feel like ‘the ugly one.’ I carried a lot of anxiety into parenthood. You can’t control what others will say about your children, so how do you prepare them for the future comparisons?
It took approximately 32 hours into my niece’s life for someone to compare her to my kid. I wouldn’t have ever been hurt by the typical “she’s the most beautiful newborn ever” comment until this girl stopped to specify that “Jacen looked like a grumpy old man” and “Anna was sick.” Yep, now I understand that ugly sibling comment.
I feel the same way when people compare Jacen and Arielle in their intellectual and physical development. He’s a much stronger reader, she’s more athletic. They’re definitely cut from two different types of cloth. When others compare my kids to their face, it might make the stronger kid feel special for a moment or two. After that conversation ends, they end up dwelling on the area where they fell short. They feel inadequate, and those feelings last much longer than one fleeting moment.
My absolute BIGGEST problem is the comparison in metabolism. All three of my kids are built differently, and it’s never okay for someone to point out their body type. The only people who should care about a child’s weight are their doctors, their parents, and themselves.
Rebuilding a hurt child is so much more difficult than preventing damage in the first place. I can only do so much to reverse mean words. Bullying is usually associated with peers at school, but some of the most hurt comes from backhanded comments by adults. It ends up causing resentment between siblings, and turmoil at home.
The comparisons and competition are starting to take a toll on my children. They ask a lot of questions, and I see self confidence issues building. I’ve recently adopted that old algebra term, apples and oranges.
If your compliment builds one person up, and puts someone else down, rethink it. Children should be incomparable, and be able to focus on being their own, personal- best selves. As adults, we need to support those individualities. Each child is unique and different. They all have strengths and weaknesses, and they’re all working on getting better in some area. They’re apples and oranges.
The last thing I want to deal with at home are ‘Marcia and Jan’ complexes. Jacen and Arielle compete enough in social milestones, games, and sports. They don’t need to compete in personal characteristics. Comparative compliments only result in bitterness, and they drive siblings apart.
Let kids be kids. Let them grow and develop on their own. Let them forge healthy relationships where they can celebrate differences instead of competing or conforming. Choose your words wisely, and focus on supporting each child individually. The hurt will linger, and it isn’t healthy. Just be kind.
Kate and the Kids.