Comparing Our Babies

You can say that in any groups of parents that you are comparing your kids to one another. That kind of has a negative feeling, right?

Well sure, it could have that feeling, but it doesn’t have to.

I read a lot of the feedback from parents in PEPS Groups and I’ve led a few of my own and participated in one as a parent myself. It just goes without saying that parents will compare. In fact, a few parents call it out as their favorite part of being at PEPS.

It’s in the design of a group to have babies all within a few weeks of each other. Sometimes only days apart. Line them all up on a blanket and everyone sees the babies, and yes, especially their own.

We know that babies all develop at their own rate and also that there are some good developmental milestones to keep in mind. So when one baby pushes up so strong on their forearms, all the parents applaud and are amazed. What I’ve seen happen in a PEPS Group is that baby who pushes up first, gets a lot of praise from a community of loving parents and then some good questions for the parents. “Wow, how long has he been doing that?” “He is so strong, do you do a lot of tummy time?” “What has made that work for you? Because my kid really hates tummy time.” So comparing, yes and also learning, and maybe most importantly the understanding that my child isn’t there yet and that’s okay.

When a good friend of mine’s first baby was pulling up, standing and taking steps at a very young 9 months, she was not exactly glad to be the “first” among her friends with kids. This was no false modesty. This is like that moment when you see your stationary and happy baby playing with toys and know that within a few weeks, he will be crawling. Everywhere. Like other parents of early climbers, early walkers, early explorers she knew that her child was developing at her own rate – fast – and maybe she wasn’t quite ready for it.

One of my absolute favorite moments in a PEPS Group is when the babies are put in a circle on a blanket together for the first time. They are so sweet and their little arms still wave around without a lot of intentional control. It’s almost inevitable that their little hands will touch and, very likely, grasp. The parents all ooh and aaah: Baby might be meeting their first friend – a peer, a playmate.

But what happens maybe at the next meeting, is even more amazing to me. The babies reach out and find each other – we have seen some ear pulls or batting hands too – and then they turn and look at each other. A week later, someone rolls from front to back. “How long has that been happening!?” Then a baby rolls towards their friend. And really by the end of 12 weeks, you see some reaching to get closer (which sometimes just slides them backward, but they are still working on this!)

Seeing babies so close in age means that you can sometimes see what’s just ahead for your child, or possibly offer an idea for what’s worked for you. We can celebrate all the babies’ efforts and achievements and feel better prepared if we have an early walker… or climber.

So maybe comparing isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all because it can help us to see a range of development and milestones.

To the man in the coffee shop

I pushed open the glass door with the usual trepidation one feels when entering a coffee shop with two small children. We had been here before and it had gone well, but scanning the sea of laptop warriors, I felt increasingly anxious.

Still, I decided to soldier on, shaking off the nervous voice in the back of my head that nudged me to cut and run. I had promised my girls a trip here and I was looking forward to that poppy seed muffin as much as they were.

Back at our table with our baked goods in hand and three water glasses, one filled to the brim and two with their bottoms barely coated, we settled in. My girls were sitting together in one chair, leaning against each other and giggling softly as they broke off pieces of their shared muffin and fed them to each other. I was there but not there, taking in their sweet sisterly moment with a half-smile on my face, but also scanning the room for signs of strife.

Is this just me? Am I the only mom who sits in panic when out in public with her young children, constantly searching the faces of strangers for annoyance rather than just enjoying my time with these sweet girls?

A few minutes later, my girls had finished most of their muffin and had moved on to slurping their water gleefully through their straws. My middle daughter was singing to the toddler and tickling her under her chin.

I rested my hands on her shoulders, a note of caution in my voice. “Remember your coffee shop manners.” Then a water was spilled. I rose from the table to get some more napkins, walking right by a gray-haired man who shuffled his papers and caught my eye.

“Excuse me,” he said.

Taking a deep breath, I braced myself for the criticism. Like when the woman in the bakery told me she couldn’t stand the rubbery sound of my daughter’s teeth on her teething ring, or the mom at the pizza place pointed out how nicely her children were sitting at her table in contrast to mine who had wandered off to look out the window. Like the hundreds of nasty looks and zillions of voices in my head that told me far worse things about myself and my parenting.

“I hope you don’t think I’m some kind of weirdo,” he said kindly. “But I just had to tell you how darling your daughters are. They are so sweet with each other.”

I stood there in shock, tears springing to my eyes.

“Do people not tell you that very often?” He asked, incredulously.

“No, they don’t,” I finally squeaked out. “But thank you so much for saying something. Sometimes I feel like I really shouldn’t be out in the community at all with small kids.

girls-at-zoo“I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying the sounds of happy young children,” he said, genuinely surprised.

I thanked him again and returned to our table. Looking at my daughters, I saw them through his eyes. Their rounded cheeks and tiny, breathy voices, their delight in everything that crosses their paths. I considered the possibility that many people were silently enjoying my kids, not wishing we would leave.

I asked myself how much of my anxiety really sprung from the judgment of other people and how much stemmed from my own wounded expectations.

For me, it has always been important to please other people. To be a good girl. To feel liked and wanted. I’ve been lucky enough to feel that way most of my life. I’ve maybe gone unnoticed at times, but I’ve never before experienced open hostility at my very existence.

Then I had kids. Well, first I had a baby, who seemed genuinely adored by the whole world as long as she stayed quiet. But right around the time your little one starts walking, the atmosphere around you suddenly changes. You start to notice people looking a little too pointedly, rolling their eyes, sighing loudly. You start to be judged for your child’s behavior, and for your parenting.

For a super-sensitive people pleaser like me, it’s been hard to adjust to people not liking me. To people not liking my parenting. To people not liking my kids. And I have three of them close in age, which certainly adds to the effect in this town.

It’s been hard to feel like parts of my community are now closed off to my family. Like most coffee shops, crowded buses at rush hour, the checkout line at the grocery store, the line at the post office and just about any building with an elevator in it.

People rarely say anything, but you can feel the atmosphere change when you arrive. Being a parent of young children is hard enough. Sometimes the additional weight of annoyed strangers can be too much to bear.

But are they really? For the first time in my seven years of parenting, I really looked around me, at all of the people who hadn’t registered our existence at all, at the handful of people who had smiled kindly at me or my daughters. And here, all I had hung on to was the man who sighed as my toddler bumped into him in line. The gray-haired man was packing up his things, and he approached our table on his way out.

“I just wanted to add that part of the reason I enjoyed watching your girls is because you are such a kind mother,” he said. “You’re doing a great job.”

His words released all of the hurt and embarrassment I had been carrying with me. I felt proud of myself and my daughters. I felt welcome in my community. I realized I always was. These days, when I sense some annoyance at my family, I just remember the man in the coffee shop.

I am doing a great job with these wonderful girls. Even if not everyone can see it.