Moms in disquieting mine-vs.-yours competition

Question: I became pregnant at a young age, unplanned, and have been married and raising my child since. My friend traveled the more traditional route, dating, finishing college, and marrying before having children, which took some extraordinary effort; think many trips to fertility doctors and all that might entail.

Now, when children are the topic of our conversation and natural comparisons start taking place - mine started walking at this age, mine got his first tooth at this many months, etc. - the distinct tone of her comment is that she cherishes these milestones so much more than I do because I got pregnant "accidentally" whereas she had to work hard at it.

I think I can imagine the anguish and stress that serious infertility issues, or even just not getting pregnant as soon as you thought you would, might cause. The thing is, once the baby is here, however he got here, his mother is going to love him as if he is the most special baby who ever was, right?

How do I either get over or address my friend's slight when she implies or outright says that her baby is more precious than mine because of all the trouble she went through to have her and I had my baby "with no trouble at all"?

Answer: You probably can't imagine, actually, the anguish and stress that serious infertility issues might cause. Good intentions notwithstanding.

That doesn't change the fact that your friend's comparisons are howlers, but it does slide the starting point of the problem a little closer to you.

You're both in mine-vs.-yours mode, comparing when supporting would feel a lot better, measuring yourselves against what you imagine others to be.

The answer isn't to stop her from diminishing your child or child-conceiving experience, but to stop pitching in to this competition. Loaded comparisons of when your kids got teeth? I'll grant that it's "natural," but that's not the same as being inevitable.

The same applies to defensiveness, which permeates your question. She implies that she "cherishes these milestones so much more than I do" - which is not the same thing as declaring her child more precious. It's saying she feels more aware.

Which, again, is icky for being a mine-beats-yours comparison.

But what if, instead of taking offense, you took it as a conversation starter? "If you're saying infertility made you more mindful, where you might have taken aspects of motherhood for granted, I'm sure that's true. But comparing your experience to others' - like mine - is dicey. You can't know how other moms feel." As in, grant her the emotional point as it pertains to her, and warn her off judging other moms.

You're friends. You love your kids. You both stared down distinct challenges to get where you are now. Validate her in a way that doesn't take a chunk out of you.

It wouldn't diminish her, either, to admit you're taking offense: "When you say you cherish milestones more than I do, I hear that I somehow don't love or value my child as much. I hope that's not what you mean." Give her room to assure you it's not.

If she does mean it, good to clear that up - you can adjust the friendship from there.

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Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.