Community Question: What Do You Do When You Feel Inferior to Other Parents?

Every once in a while, I get a letter from a friend of this blog that touches a tender place in my heart. Usually a place that’s been well worn or is still a little sore or takes me back to the desolation that was there before the consolation. This is one.

Hi Beth,

I am an avid reader of your blog and really enjoy your writing.

I have a weird question. I feel a sense of community on your blog because you talk about the insanity of parenting and about crazy kids who do crazy things.

My kids are a very lively bunch. One has special needs but all of them are loud, crazy, messy and don’t really know the meaning of the word quiet or neat. They throw, scream, tussle, hit and seem to run on endless energy.

Sometimes we hang out with our siblings and their kids are just so darn calm and quiet. They actually sit at the table and eat, they don’t randomly whack other kids or jump on couches or spill out a million toys.

It often makes me feel badly, like I am doing something wrong, or I am the only one who has crazy kids, while they all have perfect angels.

I may be exaggerating a bit but any idea about what to do with these feelings of inferiority or jealousy? My husband says lively and energetic kids are more interesting and will go further in life, but that doesn’t really do it for me….

Thanks in advance for your thoughts,

Not Rebecca

Of course, our friend didn’t sign the letter Not Rebecca. That’s just what I’ve named her. Not Rebecca. Like we named Not Evan back in the day. It’s practically a tradition around here.

So here’s what I thought we’d do. I’ll answer Not Rebecca’s letter with my thoughts, which will be a piece of the answer but only a piece because it seems that’s all any of us ever has — just one, tiny piece — and then you’ll share your pieces and together we’ll see more of the puzzle than we can on our own.

Here we go.

Dear Not Rebecca,

My mom-in-law tells a story for which she has my undying gratitude. It’s similar to my own mom’s story, which goes like this: “I always wanted to have 4 kids. Then we had you, and I thought maybe I could handle 3. Then we had your brother and we decided 2 was the perfect number.” In other words, my brother and I were punks. So much so that our parents’ friends used to threaten their children with us. “You’re acting like Beth and Jeff,” they’d say, and their children would settle right down, thoroughly ashamed of themselves. It was like our public service to the neighborhood kids. We were givers, even then.

My mom-in-law tells this story: “When we had Greg, we were very confused about why people found parenting so difficult. ‘If only they were as good at parenting as us,’ we thought as we told Greggy it was time for bed and he jumped up to put on his pajamas, arrange his stuffed animals, brush his teeth and settle in for another quiet night.” Here she pauses and smiles conspiratorially. “And then we had Jeff,” she says and laughs and laughs. Because, of course, Jeff wasn’t wired like Greg, for calm or quiet or obedience. And suddenly my mom-in-law understood that kids are who they are. We may channel them and champion them and provide bumpers and boundaries and rules and reassurance, but kids are who they are who they are.

Greg and Jeff are both brilliant. Both accomplished. Both flawed and perfect, like all of us. But they were different than each other and required different parenting and different encouragement and differently crafted explanations to teachers.

Having the kids they did gave my mom and my mom-in-law two gifts: a) kids they love to infinity, and b) compassion for moms like me.

I know you love your kids to infinity, Not Rebecca. I don’t doubt that for one second. Just like I love my 2 kids who are easy peasy like Greg and my 3 kids who are, um, not so easy like Beth and Jeff and Jeff. 

Here’s what I think: When our kids are calm rule-followers, we want to take credit for our exceptional parenting. Of course we do! This is normal. We all desperately seek confirmation that we’re doing right by our kids, so kids who follow social conventions are easy validation. And when our kids are wild or loud or rule-challengers, we on some level want to take the blame because then there’s a problem that can be identified and fixed, and, at our core, we still want to fit in, just like we did when we were kids ourselves.

Somewhere along the way, we get the message that it’s better to be people who don’t rock the boat. And to be people who are always polite. And to be people who are calm and quiet and the same and blend in with the herd. This is a good message for those of us who are boat stabilizers. Great message. Very reassuring! For the rest of us, though? This message bites.

At the beginning of July, I sat on a hard wooden bench under a canopy of evergreens watching a campfire while my friend Heidi delivered this message to 100 elementary school girls:

If I could plant one message in your hearts and heads this week, it would be that you are not too much of anything.

Not too tall, not too big, not too loud, not too quiet, not too fat, not too skinny, not too emotional, not too reserved, not too stuck up, not too grouchy, not too young, not too old, not too poor, not too immature, not too ugly, not too pretty, not too shy, not too dumb, not too embarrassing, not too new, not too anything.

You are not too much of anything to be wonderful and lovable and LOVED.

And when she said “not too loud,” right at the beginning of her list, I became very still and, ironically, very quiet. My stomach clenched and so did my heart, and I drew a quick, stuttering breath that found its way to my soul while my eyes filled. I was stunned by my instant reaction to you’re not too loud, Beth. Stunned by how deeply at age 39½ I needed Heidi’s words. Stunned by how riveted I was, alongside all these beautiful young women, to a message that was the opposite of the times I’ve felt explicitly or implicitly shushed or silenced or like my words and my personality and my thoughts and my doubts and my convictions and myself were too loud, too big, too much, to be wonderful or lovable or loved.

photo 4 (28)Later the same week, the girls at camp made baked clay pendants for necklaces. Aden’s looked like a glob of squished, overripe banana with some hearts pressed into the goo. She gave it to me as a gift. I adore it.

I thought it was so cool, in fact, I went to craft class and made my own pendant.

photo 3 (47)It’s red with a butterfly and says LOVE. But then I saw one girl whose pendant said WEIRD, and I was jealous. I wished I’d thought of a cool word like WEIRD to wear around my neck. So I did what any mature, grown-up woman would do in that situation and I asked the 9-year-old to trade necklaces. She said no and indicated with her look of disgust that she was not at all willing to trade her rad WEIRD pendant for my gaggy LOVE one.

That’s when my friend Christy, who was in charge of Crafts and Protecting Kids’ Pendants, suggested I make another one. I grumbled a little about how there’s no word as cool as WEIRD so all the good pendants were already taken, but Christy, remembering my reaction to Heidi’s message, said, “Really? What about loud?”

photo 2 (69)

Loud.

Oh, yes. 

This is my word. The one I long to claim with pride instead of shame. 

Because I am a very quiet, introverted person, shy in new situations until I’m comfortable, and then… WATCH OUT; it’s going to get very loud, very fast, and also probably very honest and inevitably inappropriate.

I write from my loud place. Obviously.

Now, I know you were asking about parenting and somehow this letter became all about me, but I’ve found that a lot of my discomfort with my kids’ behaviour is, instead, discomfort with what others will think. With how they might judge me. With how I’ll be found wanting. By them… and also by myself. It’s when I secretly wonder if I’m somehow failing my kids that I feel inferior or jealous. It’s when I secretly wonder if I’m somehow too flawed or not enough — not disciplined enough, not a good enough teacher, not a good enough rule follower — that I become unsure that I’m fit for this job. 

It’s an active process to let that kind of thinking go. To champion our rule-challengers. To cheer for our loud kids. To believe they have something incredibly valuable to teach us about living a free and full life when they run around the dinner table in their underpants. Or without them.

What if this is true: what if our kids — calm or wild, quiet or loud, compliant or nonconforming — are exactly who they’re meant to be? What if they’re already exactly right? What if they’re already enough? What if we are, too?

Does that mean we stop teaching our loud kids to quiet down and listen sometimes? Of course not. We encourage them to stretch themselves and learn new skills, and we likewise teach our quiet ones how to get out of their heads and be silly and spontaneous and stick up for themselves.

But what if we — all of us — are becoming? As in, “Oh my goodness! She’s so becoming!” and also, “Look what a wonderful person she’s becoming.” Both definitions: already lovely and still in process. What if we believed that down to the depths of our bones? 

As the years have passed, it’s become easier for me to release my feelings of inferiority and jealousy. Do they resurface from time to time when a friend mentions what great table manners her 3-year-old has? Sure. Do I think uncharitable thoughts about what great table manners my kids would have if they enjoyed a 2:1 parent:child ratio like her baby does? Alright, fine. Am I deluding myself about my kids having good table manners under any circumstances? Almost definitely. But these thoughts are more and more rare as time goes on, which I attribute to 2 main things:

1. I’m very tired, and, unfortunately, feeling inferior and jealous takes energy I can no longer muster. 

2. I have actually come to believe that our loud, crazy kids have as much to offer us, themselves and the world as our quiet, calm ones do. After all, we can’t all be unconventional like Galileo or Mother Theresa or  Martin Luther King, Jr. or Einstein or John Lennon or Ghandi — but thank God someone was. 

Love, 
Beth

……….

photo 1 (62)

Good grief, I’m wordy! That was LONG. Loud and LONG. This is why I suck at Twitter. 140 characters? I guffaw.

So now that I’ve shut up (for now), what’s your take on this?
Do you ever struggle with feeling inferior or jealous of other parents?
If so, what do you do?

……….

Next Post
Previous Post

ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
52 comments
  1. Good question, Beth. I’m 63, the youngest of my five kids is 28, and I still KNOW that I am inferior to other parents!

  2. This is beautifully written! I am a parent of a calm, quiet, “well-behaved” daughter in social settings. Ironically, I’ve been wondering/ worrying about what to do to make her come out of shell & have more “personality” in social situations. Now I understand– she has the perfect personality. She’s not too quiet or too reserved– she is just how God made her & she is perfect. I needed this!

  3. I feel like Not Rebecca. A lot. I have four kids. I needed to hear your response. I appreciate your long and loud words. I heard them! 🙂

  4. You have wise words. I question my parenting ability all the time when my kids are loud, don’t listen, and are so strong willed. I just commented to a friend yesterday that I haven’t learned how to get the kids to do what I want them to do. I was a quiet follow-the-rules type kid and I think my kids should be the same. My brother’s first kid is quiet, calm, and mosty obedient. He has the kid I thought I would have and I couldn’t figure out what he’s doing “right” and I’m doing “wrong.” His second one might not be quite so cooperative though.

    Although I’m coming to accept that my kids are not going to be like me, I still find it really hard to have so much noise in the house. It goes against my need for quiet which irritates me and makes me a cranky mama. I’d love to hear advice about how to reconcile these opposing comfort levels to make a livable household for everyone. Any other quiet mamas with loud children have any practical advice?

  5. I love this. My 2nd is one of those children who is just ‘more’. And I struggle with it because I am such a rule-follower, don’t-make-waves kind of a person. I despair when he is yelling out all of his feelings and telling me that he hates me and I’m an idiot. I think that I MUST be doing something horribly wrong.

    And I have one of those friends who has 3 relatively well-behaved children and she seems to do Everything right when it comes to parenting. She tells me that SHE just has long talks with her children about how that isn’t acceptable, etc. So I tried it. And tried it some more because obviously it’s not a one time deal. But guess what? So far it hasn’t worked. So far I still get ‘no, I really DO hate you, my brother, the world in general.’ It has always made me feel like I must be doing something wrong to not end up with the same results as she did.

    Lately I’ve had to start telling myself that she is herself, parenting HER children and I am ME parenting MY children and it just isn’t going to look the same. We’re all this wonderful mix of temperaments and abilities and feelings and…STUFF, how on earth could we possibly think that we can get the same results from our parenting as everyone else?

  6. Beth, thank you for your well written words. Much needed for this Mom of a 16 year old daughter who has stretched me beyond my comfort zone. She is nothing like the child I was..shy, quiet, blend in kind of girl. Tattoos and piercings are on her to do list for her 18th birthday! Her hair has been every color of the rainbow. Your article was a wonderful reminder that we are all a work in progress, turning out to be the person God has created us to be. We all have a purpose and different personality types to help fulfill that purpose. My daughter’s strong will and individualism will hopefully serve her well in her life.

  7. I have that quiet, introverted, shy kid. She is generally pretty agreeable and easy. And I sometimes feel inferior. All of my friends’ kids are busy, loud and non-stop active. And on many occasions, these friends ask things like “what are you doing to expose her to other kids?”, or “don’t you think she’d benefit from a little day-care a couple of days a week?”, and my favorite, the one set of parents who talk to my child slowly and with big smiles and simple questions because she is quiet and does her own thing. Amongst my group, the stay and home mom is slowly disappearing, and as those mamas go back to work and put their little ones into daycare, my situation is becoming the exception. So I am frequently put on the defensive and have to list the gym class, swim class, playschool, etc, etc we do and say that she’s just a naturally shy, introverted kid. I come away from these discussions feeling judged and found lacking. I also think sooner or later, all of these kids; this extended pack of little people who love each other and spend a lot of time together, are going to absorb those ridiculous labels “quiet”, “shy”, “busy”, loud”.

    Truth is, we’re all different (adults and kids), but this whole mommy-war business has extended to judging parents for their kids instead of simply saying “we’ve made different choices, aren’t we lucky to live in a time when we have those options?”

  8. Love this! I am a loud one as well and have dutifully passed that along to most of my children…

  9. Reading your posts are exactly what I need just when I need them.

    Thanks for writing from your loud place.

  10. Love this! I have three girls and the oldest two (jury is still out on the baby-but she started crawling before she sat up, so…..) are pretty crazy. They run, they yell, they fight with each other and us, etc. They are great kids, very smart, and very loving, but a lot to keep up with. I don’t exactly envy parents with more well-behaved kids, but sometimes I feel like those parents don’t understand me or they think I’m a crappy parent.

  11. All 3 of my kids are hooligans. They are super polite and well mannered and such sweeties but they are also total animals. They climb on EVERYTHING, any bar/ railing that is passed must must be swung on, if there is a ball in their line of sight, it must be thrown/ kicked/ dribbled, and they are always talking. I am proud of who they are but I totally despair when going out in public because they always do something socially unacceptable. And restaurants – forget about it… The thing that saves me from mortification is that I think that one day they will have their own kids who will probably be just like them and give them a run for their money. Life has a way of coming full circle and it makes me smile thinking of them running after their own little monkeys.

  12. When I am complemented on my parenting for my well behaved, impeccably mannered daughter I respond by laughing and saying “I take no credit for that!” When people tell me that I should, I explain that if she were I raised her the same exact way and she were wild, rambunctious and LOUD (a wink to you as I am LOUD too!) I would take no blame for THAT. Children are who and what they are. When we think that we “make” them a certain way we are taking credit from God where we have no business taking credit…or blame. Children are a blessing and all we can do is set parameters and guide them. Lovely post Beth and not one word too long!

  13. I’ve been a lurker on your blog, never a commenter until now, but this post spoke so much to my experience. I have been in this situation many times, and the healthiest response I have ever come up with, is that those judgey parents are just ignorant. They have no idea what it is like to parent this child. And then I smile smugly, knowing that their next child will be the biter, or the contrary one, or the… Fill-in-the-blank… one. And I feel better about the parent I am being to my boys.

  14. Thank you, thank you for your blog, your honesty. I’m a foster carer and I get the award for feeling inferior. What a relief to read ‘that that is just who they are’. I often wonder if the expectations I place on children are too high, enough to set myself up for a fall? And reading about their behaviour being a reflection of your parenting skills is sooooo true! If I’m totally honest, 8, no 9 times out of 10, I take it personally and worry what everyone thinks. I’m not always conscious of this though. People telling me what a great job I’m doing, freaks me out! How will I keep this standard? Aaaaagh! I know God is working on this, I’m sure this is why I read your post today, just hope I remember next time I go to sit down at 8.30 at night and there’s a massive wee all over the lounge. I wondered why all those toys were in a pile?! I’m nearly over it! He,he! Thanks again.

  15. I think Beth did a great job answering Not Rebecca’s letter…But I have 2 things to add: 1) I saw a bumper sticker once that said, “well-behaved women seldom make history”–so maybe your kids are destined to make history 🙂
    2) Sometimes I try to remind myself when I am having a hard time, that God only gives you as much as you can handle…And maybe the women with well behaved kids just aren’t as strong, and can’t handle as much. So, good job momma–you can handle the wild ones 🙂

  16. I so needed this today. Thank you for making me feel like I am not alone!

  17. “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.” (Galations 6:4-5)

  18. We had 7 children—including a set of twins, but every one was an individual. They are all grown now, and I am proud of every one. We didn’t have an angel in the lot, but with the skills we both learned in our short 6 week child psychology course, the things we both decided to bring from our own childhoods, and leaving back the things we did not want from our own parents homes, we got them all reared successfully. I think the wisest thing we did, was think of our home, as a framework. ( my husband was, among many other accomplishments, a builder of fine homes.) So, I got the idea of building our home with ‘a fine accomplishment’ as the ending. (When all were reared and in their own homes.) We had rules that let everyone be comfortable, such as, Loud play and voices were for outside. That way, they didn’t need to be reprimanded for being loud. And no one had to listen to it, if they were having a quiet time of their own.
    To be in the house, they had to use normal, quiet voices. And were able to read, or study, or just day dream if they wished. It took some self discipline on my part to implement this, and it took a while, but it worked for us. Also, there were some things put into practice that made our home run smoothly–such as–when they started kindergarten, they ” Got to make their own bed!”–they thought it was a very great accomplishment–it was! And for Christmas when they were 6or 7, they got their own alarm clock. That way,” Mommy doesn’t have to call me to get up in the morning!”. They loved it. I had friends that struggled every day, to get their children up—I had to make them stay home if they were sick!
    Just for the record–these are all ideas I got either from reading, or from praying! Our oldest was 9 when our youngest was born, so they were all pretty close—our home would have been a disaster if we had not implemented some rules that made them feel like ‘very young adults’. We had our days of disaster, where everything went wrong–but on the whole, we all have very good memories of those days.
    My advice is, if you want a quiet home, be quiet yourself. Don’t raise your voice. That way, if they want to know what you are saying, they have to quiet down and listen. I remember the day I put this into practice. I told them as a group, that I would no longer be talking loud, and screaming at them. They would have to be quiet to hear me. ( My oldest was about 10 at the time.) It was said quite often, after that, ” Be quiet, Mommy is talking–what did you say, Mommy?” Iknow–this takes self discipline—but that is good! Self control is one of the fruits of the Spirit of God!—So you are benefiting in more than one way. Hope this gives some of you young mothers some ideas to build on. A child left to his own discretion is growing like a weed. They want, and need guidance–and the word discipline comes from the word ‘disciple’. So mix in some discipline! It makes for happiness!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *