Friday, December 20, 2013

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's parenting.

Comparisons are the mainstay of conversation amongst new parents. (I think comparisons are probably just as rife throughout all of life, we just don't discuss them openly.)

"Is little Jane doing this yet?" "Will Jonny do the other?" "How much do they cry / nap / eat / seem advanced beyond their tender weeks?" "How did you manage to get yours to do that?!"

Somewhere lurking behind all this is is the ultimate question - which of us is the 'better' parent / person, capable of producing 'better' children?

For some strange reason, little people give us a sense of permission to vocalise this envy and insecurity. I have blogged before about the way passers-by think it's okay to pass comment on your life and decisions once you are pregnant or in the company of a dependent child. This mystifies me. But perhaps it is a subtler way of saying 'I'm better than you' than would be saying 'I'm better than you'. Even the apparently innocent 'is he sleepy?', which might be a well-meaning question, often means 'He's sleepy. You, as a bad mother, haven't spotted it. But I, as a better sort of person, can tell.'

Why get angry if you see another parent doing something you wouldn't? Is it genuinely because you care more for their children than they do? Or are you angry because you're jealous to see them being so carefree? Annoyed their child is inconveniencing you in some way and wanting to apportion blame? Wishing you had been that careful with your own offspring?

I don't know. But I will be careful not to pretend my hatred of others (and we all have that darkness in us, somewhere) is really something else by diverting its expression towards their children. Children cannot challenge us, so they're an easy focus for jealousy, insecurity and self-obsession. But we do them a disservice to use them thus.

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