Most days, I believe my seventeen-month-old is doing just fine.
He seems to be on track developmentally. He’s discovering the freedom of walking, giggling at his mommy’s silly songs, playing with his toys, and conversing with my husband and me in various consonants, diphthongs, and the occasional semblance of a word. He’s growing taller, eating well, and thriving. In fact, all is well … until I take him to play group. In a room full of little people, I measure my son against his peers and feel the capabilities comparison monster emerge within me.
“Simon recognizes his letters,” one parent’s chest swells as little Simon-smarty-pants walks around the room saying “cat,” “dog,” “mouse,” “house,” and other cutesy English words. As I watch Simon, I wonder why the only recognizable word from my son is a repetitive “this, this” in the form of a question. This thought leads my mind on a spiral toward future reading remediation and speech therapy. I better drill the alphabet tomorrow and read the current research on how to teach your toddler to read.
As my eyes scan the play center, the comparison monster festers and digs his razor claws inside my mind.
Across the room, Fanny-figure-out-all-toys stacks all the rings on a pole, puts puzzle pieces in the right places, and sorts all of the blocks — all within a matter of minutes. Meanwhile, my son repetitively bangs a stacking ring on the hardwood just to hear the loud sound. I watch as one ring flies across the floor and lands with a loud WHACK.
I’m now positive all eyes are on my boy and his improper use of this toy. Worse. All eyes are on me and my inability to teach. Or parent. I feel blood rush to my face. I wipe my palms against my pant legs.
“Put the ring on the pole,” I tell my son in a taffy sweet voice, but inside I feel like a ship tossed on a boisterous ocean. The emotional storm’s rising.
My son looks up and smiles, but instead of doing what he should, he shakes another ring in his hand and throws it down again. “Is that a crashing wooden ring or your son’s future S.A.T score?” The monster jeers.
I am going to demonstrate how to use these toys properly. I make a firm resolve.
As I continue to watch the other kids, and hear parent’s describe their abilities, I feel the comparison monster taunting me. Soon I am measuring every kid against my son. Susie-sign-language says “please,” “thank you,” “more,” and “all done” with perfect gestures, while I still have to help mine do the actions. Tony-throw-and-catch-the-ball runs around the room, while my son teeter totters around my leg, tripping and falling down many times, or so it seems.
Today I compare simple vocabulary and dexterity, but tomorrow I see reading levels and athletic ability. And so what if he can’t stack blocks, at least he’s the cutest boy present — or is he? The list is endless, and soon my mind is a spinning top. In a matter of minutes, my son’s future crumbles like the Roman Empire.
“Why can’t your son do this?” I hear the comparison monster’s voice echo through my mind. “Is he normal? Is he developing properly?” The voice is relentless, and I go home feeling like I have been fighting a defeated battle.
“Honey, is there something wrong with our son?” I flop down beside my husband. His quizzical brow and questioning eyes encourage me to share my comparisons, and I find myself emphasizing all of the things our son is not doing at this time. After a few moments of silence, his answer surprises me.
“We tend to focus on the capabilities of our children, but how often do we focus on character? Let’s teach our son character — it’s far more important.” His gentle wisdom astounds me.
“Character vs. capabilities,” I whisper under my breath, and truth begins to fill my mind. Suddenly I remember these words from Proverbs: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (22:6). I have a feeling this verse is not talking about counting to ten or singing the alphabet, but perhaps about teaching a child to obey his parents and ultimately his God. Perhaps it’s about teaching him discipline, integrity, contentment, and love by praying greatly, and relying on the Holy Spirit. As I let this truth sink into my heart, I feel the monster lose its grip.
My husband reminds me that by the time our son is eighteen he will most likely be able to talk, read, write, solve problems, run, and heck, even dance if he wants to, but what about his character? Will we have modeled love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self control — the abundant fruit of the Spirit? Will we have taught him a passionate and obedient love for Jesus by our example? Will we have instilled in him a desire to give and serve? Perhaps asking these questions before God is the path towards training our son in the way he should go.
Later, I sit down to play with my son and he surprises me. He puts a puzzle piece in the correct spot. I jump up and down, clapping my hands and cheering him on. We play a game of “where is this or that,” and he responds by pointing to the various things. As we interact, it dawns on me how God created this boy with his own unique personality, special talents, and gifts. He isn’t a clone, or a machine, but he is a dynamic person, and he will learn at his own pace. I feel so blessed to be his mother, and once again I realize, that by God’s grace, my son is growing well.
I am certain that the comparison monster will strike again, maybe even tomorrow. And perhaps next time he’ll tempt me to compare spiritual growth and Bible verse memorization? Whatever the case, I will cling to God’s truth and grace to develop my character.