The primary challenges I face in raising my almost-7-year-old can be broken down into two major categories:
- Things He Does Because He’s A Normal Kid
- Things He Does Because He’s My Kid
Confession: I can’t always recognize the things he does because he’s a normal kid!
I’ve written before about the insidious effect both my genes and my proximity are having on Detective Munch. We butt heads a lot, because we’re very alike, and because my personality is not always well-suited to parenting. But not everything is my fault.
Unfortunately, I can’t always draw the line between those two categories above.
I don’t hang out around with a lot of other kids, which gives me tunnel vision. I only see my kids, and I have few points of comparison, especially for the older one, who, as far as my parenting experience goes, is in undiscovered country.
This can be a good thing, as everyone knows, especially those of us with children, the pitfalls of comparing your kid to someone else’s. But mostly that lack of kids to compare him too is a bad thing, because it tends to make me overreact to Detective Munch’s most frustrating behavior. Comparison can turn toxic, but in some cases, especially for parents of young kids, it can be helpful.
When Detective Munch misbehaves, or throws a fit, or is unable to do something that in my 30-years-removed-from-being-his-age wisdom I feel like he should be able to do, I’m quick to decide, with little supporting evidence or context, that he’s an outlier. I’m quick to assume that he’s behaving in ways uncharacteristic of his peers, that he’s behind in some way, and that his behavior evidences some kind of bigger problem.
This is likely, hopefully, more of a function of my anxiety and negativity and less a result of him being behind, or a problem child. But I can’t tell, and my tendency to go the negative route can’t be having a positive effect on the kid.
In reality, most of the stuff he does is probably perfectly in-line with his age group and I’m just being a paranoid jerk, raising a kid who thinks his dad is perennially disappointed in him. This is not what I want to happen, and I’m trying to find a way to calm down and let him be him at his own pace. This is where having a source of comparison might help me.
Yes, all kids are special snowflakes with unique, singular personalities, but at the same time, there are some broad strokes of comparison that we can make. If your kid is ten and still isn’t potty trained, that may be an issue. If he’s five and is reading The Economist, that may be an issue. This isn’t about judgment or superiority. It’s about finding yardsticks to help improve my parenting and better calibrate my expectations.
Comparison may be the thief of joy, but at its best it can also be the thief of anxiety.
On the flip side, I can almost always tell when his behavior is a result of my influence, be it a result of genetic carryover or learned behavior. And while I want him to become himself, I’m seeing him turn into me, and it sucks.
(Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty awesome – for an adult. My behavior is not appropriate for a child, and I’ve never felt more sympathy for my parents.)
The good news is, if I cross out the stuff he’s copying from me, I’m left with behavior and characteristics that are purely him (or that he got from my wife, but let’s be honest, most of that stuff is positive). Now I just have to find out if my son’s behavior is outside the norm or simply evidence that he’s a young kid still figuring things out.
If you need me, I’ll be hanging around playgrounds staring at other kids my son’s age. By the time you get there I could already be in jail, so maybe text first?