Scary Mommy

Ask Scary Mommy: One Of My Kids Is Excellent At Everything, And The Other Isn’t

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Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.

This week: What do you do when one of your kids is a shining star and one is … not? Email [email protected]

Dear Scary Mommy,

I am the mom of two daughters, ages 14 and 12. My oldest daughter is the kind of kid everybody dreams of having. She is outgoing, organized, a straight-A student without even really trying, and excels at pretty much everything she undertakes from sports to the clarinet. We’ve never had a single problem with her. But then there’s her younger sister, who seems to struggle with everything. She is chronically losing her homework and barely scraping by in school, and where her sister is good at things, she just seems to be mediocre. She isn’t a standout in any of her extracurricular activities and complains that her sister is always getting awards and trophies. She seems to be really jealous and resentful, and it’s starting to affect their once-close relationship. Help!

I have four very important words for you. Ready? Here they are.

STOP. COMPARING. YOUR. KIDS.

I mean it. Stop right now. They are two separate people with two separate personalities, and two separate sets of strengths and interests — and you can’t, absolutely cannot, judge your younger daughter by the achievements of her older sister. This will do nothing but feed her insecurities and make her feel like she doesn’t stack up. And she doesn’t deserve to feel that way.

Imagine how it would feel to be constantly compared to someone who almost always outperforms you. You’d start to feel like “why bother,” amiright? I’m sure that’s how your younger daughter is feeling in the shadow of her high-achieving sister. You can’t blame her for not putting in enough effort when she’ll only be reminded of how much she falls short. Why put in all that work for none of the glory?

So she may not be as good at certain things as her sibling. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t good at anything; she just has yet to find her strengths (and I mean … she’s only 12, so let’s be a little bit patient).

Besides making her feel like crap, the comparisons are doing damage to something else besides her self-esteem: the sisterly bond. You don’t want her to feel resentful of her sister for something that is literally no one’s fault. It isn’t your oldest’s fault that she excels naturally, just as it isn’t your youngest’s fault that she doesn’t. Reiterate that your love is enough for both of them, and not dependent on how high-achieving they are.

I think you’ll be surprised at the outcome when you start meeting your younger daughter where she is, and celebrating her for who she is, rather than tsk-tsking at the many ways in which she doesn’t stack up to her sister. Find what she enjoys, what she’s good at, and run with it. Praise her for being kind, for being responsible, for being a good friend, a fashion trendsetter, an out-of-the-box thinker, great with animals, whatever she is. See her as an individual, not as some sort of disappointing extension or lesser version of her sister.

There’s a quote that is often erroneously attributed to Albert Einstein — and while he may not have said it, that doesn’t make it any less profound: “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Your daughter is like that fish. Allow her to excel at what she naturally gravitates toward, and then celebrate the hell out of that. Don’t hold her to standards that she simply can’t live up to. Give her the chance to be who she is, not who you want her to be — and then let that person flourish.