‘Why can’t you be more like...’
We need to stop comparing our kids to some mythical perfect child, says Andrea Botha.
Most of us grew up with mothers who sometimes compared us to other children. The reproachful "Why can't you be more like so-and-so," usually referred to some annoying little over-achiever who apparently rushed to help his mother around the house and loved nothing better than doing homework all night long.

We had the cousins who were brilliant at everything, were top of their class as well as beautiful and sweet-tempered. When this family came to visit, these children's achievements were recited like a grocery list and my sister and I would squirm with embarrassment, watching my mom trying to rustle up a few of our feats so she was not left out of the conversation.

Imagine our glee when one year we went on holiday with the Perfect Children and discovered they weren't all that perfect. One afternoon they were hauled off to their room for a hiding after misbehaving. I can't remember what the offence was. Perhaps the apple-cheeked cherubs had been a bit cheeky.

We did not speak about the Afternoon of Shame for the remainder of the holiday. We were all of us quite clear on the fact that this event was highly unusual – unlike in our family, where afternoons of shame were pretty much standard.

Another aunt told me how her firstborn had been a difficult baby, crying all the time, hardly sleeping at all and driving her insane. But at about age one, this changed and he became a wonderful child. He continued to be a docile, well-behaved teenager, unlike his little brother, who had been a Perfect Baby for the first year before turning into the toddler (and teenager) from hell.

What the experts say

We all want to have perfect children. Or do we? Child psychologist Gregory Ramey says parents set too high standards for their children, placing unnecessary strain on families and children. This leads to tension in the family and sees parents missing out on the fun of being a parent.  
In his article, Raise Excellent – Not Perfect – Children, psychologist Dr Jim Taylor warns that it is extremely dangerous to expect your children to be perfect.  

Parents often communicate the need for perfection by showing their disappointment with their own failures, thereby telling their children that perfection is the only way. He recommends that parents try to teach their children to aim for excellence, rather than perfection.

Children who strive to be perfect, grow up believing that their parents won't love them unless they are perfect. They tend to be critical of everything and are satisfied with nothing. No marks are ever good enough and they have little pleasure in their own achievements. They end up being unhappy and insecure.
Unhappiness and insecurity can lead to more serious problems. Consider that depression and feelings of worthlessness are the main causes of teenage suicide. According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), teen suicide is becoming more common each year in South Africa.

Only car accidents and homicide account for more deaths for youngsters between the ages of 15 and 24. In SA, 9% of all teen deaths are caused by suicide.

Perhaps parents should be less concerned with having perfect children and worry more about having happy children. Next time somebody brags to you about their children's achievements, listen patiently and then ask, ‘Yes, but is he/she happy?’ Only then, I think, should we be impressed.
Is a child’s happiness more important than achievement?

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