Comparison is the thief of joy

At the park this week, there stood a father with his son. The son can’t have been more than 5 years old and was asking his daddy if he could have a go on the roundabout. His dad’s reply: “You can have a go on the roundabout if you tell me what force is created for that roundabout to go round.”

I couldn’t quite believe my ears!  I mean come on, he’s barely 5 years old and you’re asking him questions like that. I’m not sure if it was for the child’s benefit. Perhaps it was… but my suspicions were that it was very much for the benefit of all those in ear shot as well.
I have a competitive streak. I can recognise that at times, to be competitive is a good thing. Like back in the day when I was auditioning, wanting to be the best was absolutely a good thing. When playing ‘Mr and Mrs’ with my family this Christmas, getting cross with Chris because he did not know my ‘ideal holiday destination’ or what ‘I wore on our first date’ is perhaps taking the whole competitive thing a little too far.
When Oscar was a baby, I used to compare him to his typical friends. Was he rolling over as quickly as them? When did they sit up compared to him? How many steps had he/they taken and at what age? The answer for the most part was that he’d taken longer than them and although it took me a little while to accept, I soon realised that it was irrelevant what they were doing and my focus should be only be on Oscar. I can honestly say now, I really don’t compare him to his typical peers. When I gave his friend Effie a lift to nursery the other day and we had a detailed conversation about what she’d done the day before, what she’d got for Christmas and who her best friends were, as Oscar sat there and listened unable to join in, I didn’t at all feel sad. When my niece Bella (who will be in the same school year as Oz) whizzed past him on her scooter the other day, I thought about the fact that Oscar had only just mastered using his feet to push himself along on his trike and I was fine. And even when his friend Ethan who, at two and a half, has taken to potty training like a duck to water, I don’t feel sad that Oscar’s lagging behind. I accept that Oscar will get there in his own time. Some things might take longer than others, but with every milestone that we wait with baited breath for, my boy will do it.
So why is it, that just recently I’ve noticed I’ve become bothered about how Oscar’s doing in comparison to his peers that have Down Syndrome. It’s frustrating me that I compare, for I know that it’s wrong, but for some reason it’s happening
I can only draw conclusion that it’s because when you have a child with Down Syndrome, every single developmental step is scrutinised. If Oscar manages to even attempt to move his mouth when doing his jolly phonic sound cards, he is met with a yelp of delight by his speech therapist. If he manages to pick out the blue card when asked, when faced with blue and red, well its the best news since sliced bread. Things just happen naturally with a typical child (I asked friends this morning if I should be teaching Alfie, Oscar’s little brother, any words and they said he’ll just pick it up… It’s baffling to me, when I’ve had to teach Ozzie every single step).
And what I’ve noticed most, is that I’ve become all the more aware of other parents of a child with DS around me and the way THEY act. Recently we’ve not only been to our local support group, we’ve gone to Speech and Language groups, therapy sessions, meetings, met up with new friends, all of whom have included children with DS and I’ve found it interesting listening to other parents address their children and hear what expectations they have of them.
Why is it that my heart sinks when I hear a mother ask their child, who is just a few months older than Oscar, to sign a three word sentence to ask for something? Oscar is only just signing one word at a time. Why is it, when a little girl, roughly the same age as Oz, walks in to the room and says “hello” do I feel sad that I haven’t heard Oscar say hello yet? Why is it when a therapist asks the group to do something, and Oscar sits there having lost interest, do I want to shout from the rooftops: “he can do this! I’ve seen it! I promise you, he totally knows what he’s doing!” For the record I never do, instead I sit there quietly and perhaps try to coerce him to join in gently… But then you get some mums who are literally shouting at their kids across the room to “do this, do that”, trying to prove to said therapist, along with everyone else in the room that their child is the winner! Is it an inbuilt thing that we’re all competitive? I kinda think it is but I do everything in my power to suppress this because I really really don’t want to be THAT mum!
Someone else once said to me that it’s very easy for us as parents to see our children as projects. We put every ounce of energy and enthusiasm into making them the best they can be, by teaching them their colours or religiously counting to 10 in front of them so one day they’ll magically pick it up, but actually, if you’re too busy working on them so much, you’ll miss the little person they are today.
She is wise, that lady! I must try to hold onto that.
Am I most bothered about the over enthusiastic parent who almost seems as though they’re trying to compete with everyone in the room by saying “look what MY child can do”, or is that I’m most bothered with myself for caring so much whether or not Oscar can do what they’re saying their child can. I’m really not sure. Probably a bit of both.
When people message me on my Facebook page and ask me when Oscar started walking for example, I always tell them the truth but am mindful not to leave it at that. I always say although he may have walked earlier for a child with DS, there are other areas he’s struggled or is struggling with. What I mean is, I am conscious not to worry the parent unnecessarily as all our kids progress at different rates.
And I guess that’s the point. All our children really do excel in different areas. Just because a child might be signing three word sentences or using a few more words in context than Oscar is, I mustn’t feel disheartened. I must stop seeing him as a project but most importantly I should take no notice of the odd parent that may be a bit over zealous in their approach to showing/proving what their child can do. I am certain their enthusiasm comes from a good place and they’re just willing their child to do well… But I should try not to listen. It’s not good for the soul.
Back in the day, children born with DS were labelled as either having mild, moderate or severe learning difficulties. In this day and age it is frowned upon and considered very un PC of us, to pinpoint our child somewhere on the spectrum. You either have DS or not, there is no mild or severe. It’s a question people often ask me about Oscar. “So, do you have any idea yet how he’s doing/development wise? I mean, has he only got mild Down Syndrome?” Yep, people actually ask this from time to time. I try to educate them politely and reiterate the above so they have a better understanding. But the more I go through life with Oscar and his peers it’s obvious to me that like any typical child or adult, there’s going to be varying abilities both intellectually and physically. I guess what I’m trying to say is that all children learn and develop at different rates, because for children with Down Syndrome the window in which they might first reach a milestone, is so much bigger than that of a typical developing child. With that in mind, as parents we do have a harder task in hand. We want our child to succeed as early as possible in those windows. We must be mindful however that every child will develop at their very own rate and the next time we want to shout from the rooftops that our own child can do this or has mastered that, we must remember that their are other parents there, willing and wishing their child to succeed just as much as we once had.
And Oscar? So he might not be signing sentences yet and he might only just be getting the odd word here and there. He IS however, picking up different signs all the time, he understands so much more than ever before and his communication and vocalisation is really coming on.
And as for me? Well, I just need to remember the title of this piece today…. “Comparison is the thief of joy”… it’s as simple as that.
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  1. Kirsty   •  

    A really fantastic read for every parent, I have this battle most days, I guess we just keep needing to remind ourselves about your project analogy and realise everyone is entirely unique….and yes be proud to be one of the mindful ones and understand where other people may be at. Keep writing.xx

  2. Angela Bray   •  

    I don’t thing you comparing Oscar to others is anything to do with the DS. I think it’s because he’s your first baby. I have four now and used to get so paranoid that he wasn’t holding a pencil/dry at night etc. baby number four it’s like water off a ducks back. My daughter is 14 now and she has a horse. Even then there are a lot of parents who’s child can ride fast/jump higher etc. it never ends! Good luck xx

  3. Pat   •  

    You need to realize this is no different than the “normal parents” do with their children! Comparisons are a part of life. I have often said had I known what my oldest “normal” son would put me through I would have chosen to have 10 children with Down syndrome.
    They teach us and others around us the real simplicity of life by their achievements not by days and time but the real meaning of life (unconditional happiness, hugs and the need to make other people feel and enjoy their accomplishments). As a mom of a 27 yr old adult who works, skiis competitely, drives a golf cart with ease, travels through the US, and is very sociably acceptable, take your son for who he is. Just like his brother he is unique

  4. CB   •  

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. It’s made me cry with relief. See I, like you, have rarely been affected by my son’s progress in relation to his typical peers. But he’s now 18 months old and I’ve become acutely aware that at this age some children with DS are mobile either via crawling, bum shuffling or even walking, and some are starting to sign. My son is doing none of this. Yet. It will come. I trust him, have faith in him and am aware he is a very laid back boy, like his (typical) brother who also felt no rush or pressure to meet his milestones. But when every tiny step in their development is scrutinised it is so hard not to be hyper aware of how they are doing and therefore, in turn, how their peers with DS are doing. My son will walk. He will talk. And he will reach that place in his own time, and I know that. But thank you for identifying that fear parents feel of their children being left behind and letting me know I’m not the only one to feel this. It helps. Maybe more than you’ll know xx

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