Always the 'Baby' of the Family? Moms Underestimate Youngest Kids' Heights
A blank wall test shows a surprising disparity between moms' perceptions and reality
To mother of two Stephanie Maffei Comanzo, her 6-month-old is “tiny.” To the rest of the world, the 19-pound infant definitely is not, at least not for his age.
Comanzo’s perception is skewed because she is comparing her younger son to her older son, who weighed in at 25 pounds at 6 months.
“When people see my 6-month-old, they say he is such a big boy, but to me at 19 pounds, he is so small,” the New York woman said.
But even if Comanzo’s oldest son hadn’t been such a big baby, there’s a good chance she still would have viewed her second child as small. A new study finds that mothers routinely underestimate the height of their youngest children while being fairly accurate in estimating the heights of their other offspring.
In the study, led by Jordy Kaufman of Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, researchers asked more than 700 mothers if they experienced “a sudden shift in their first child’s size after the birth of a new infant.” 70 percent said they did.
“Contrary to what many may think, this isn’t happening just because the older child just looks so big compared to a baby,” Kaufman said in a statement announcing study, which was published in the journal Current Biology. “It actually happens because all along the parents were under an illusion that their first child was smaller than he or she really was. When the new baby is born, the spell is broken and parents now see their older child as he or she really is.”
Researchers then had a different, smaller group of mothers—77 in all—estimate the heights of their children, ages 2 to 6, by marking a blank wall. The result? The moms, on average, underestimated their youngest children’s heights by 7.5 centimeters. When it came to their older children, however, their estimates were basically spot on.
Kaufman said that parents may be treating their youngest children “as if they are actually younger than they really are.”
The “research potentially explains why the ‘baby of the family’ never outgrows that label,” he said. “To the parents, the baby of the family may always be ‘the baby.’”
Of course, some moms would argue that there’s good reason to treat the youngest children in the family, however small or large, with more care. Older siblings can’t always be trusted.
“I don’t baby either of them but could imagine babying the little one more,” said Maryland mom Erin Heinrich, whose two young boys—a toddler and an almost 3-year-old—are just 17 months apart and close in size.
“I (baby him) now only when protecting him from big brother,” she said, “which I suppose is more often than I’d like.”
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