The Danger Of Comparing Yourself (& Your Baby) To Others
People love knowing what others are going through so that they can compare their experiences and figure out whether they are “normal” or not. New mothers are no different. We compare not only our own experiences, but also our babies: their birth weight and height, their Apgar scores, the number of times they wake at night, when they first smile… the list is endless.
This tendency is not all bad. In fact, it can help us to realize that something is not quite right if we hear that our baby is considerably different to several others. In this way, comparisons can serve an important purpose. However, making comparisons doesn’t always yield positive results; it can often lead to self-doubt and unnecessary concern.
Every baby is born with its own unique temperament. Much of how a baby behaves or responds to you in the first months depends on this inborn temperament. For example, some babies sleep more or fewer hours than others, cry more or less often, are more or less fussy, regardless of how they are tended to. Differences between babies are to be expected; they don’t necessarily mean that there’s anything wrong. (Again, if your baby seems too different and you are concerned, consult a paediatrician.)
Many new parents tell me that their expectations of parenthood are quite different from the reality. Holding a baby in your arms may be magical most of the time, but you may not be as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as the new mom holding her baby in the parenting magazine advertisement. (These are definitely not the best images to compare yourself to!) New moms, especially, are often hard on themselves. They expect to bounce back from pregnancy or to transition into life as they once knew it very quickly. This is especially true for those who measure themselves against others’ yardsticks. For example, if your sister went back to her pre-pregnancy weight and mastered the art of breastfeeding within weeks of giving birth, and your best friend barely missed a beat as a freelance designer after her baby was born, you might worry if you feel blue and overwhelmed or unsure about when or whether to return to your career.
It’s normal to feel vulnerable and afraid and to look for reassurance that what you are doing and feeling is okay. It’s also more difficult to trust your gut to guide you in the best direction. Parenting is not always intuitive or something we can adequately rehearse for in advance, so you need to learn and develop your parenting skills. That’s why, instead of looking only at friends and family as mirrors of how you are doing, it may be best to consult with professionals, either as part of a group or one on one.
The Internet can yield a vast amount of information about parenting and infant development, but it’s very important to make sure that the resources are reputable and credible. Reading a blog by another parent may be entertaining and relatable, but it may not be the best way to determine how well you or your baby should be doing.
Try to be patient with yourself, and remember that you too are a unique individual with different needs than those around you. And rest assured that although you may not be responding to being a new mother like your sister or best friend, you’re sure to meet others along your journey who are more similar to you. It’s comforting to know that you’re not alone. Above all else, remember that personal best is most important. If you feel that you know more and are doing better today than yesterday, that’s a good thing.
Sara Dimerman is a Toronto psychologist who has provided counselling to individuals, couples, families and parents for more than 25 years. She has written four books and is a columnist for various North American and international media outlets. Sara is a regular guest on radio and television shows and is frequently interviewed for newspaper and magazine articles. Sara is married and has two daughters. Contact her on Twitter.