This week at our MOPs (Mothers of Preschoolers) meeting, I got teary sharing that I am having a really hard time. Rob is gone on his last of four trips for the summer. Four kids at home all summer + four trips = a weary and exhausted and DONE mama. “I’m ready to quit my day job,” I joked through tears. (Because I really HATE crying in front of other people.) I feel really guilty sharing this because so many moms have NO support, while I have my parents and other family very close by. But somehow these summer months and trips and the four kids are just too much for me.
A fellow mom said something so freeing and spirit-lifting to me. She said, “You don’t need to feel guilty or compare your situation to any other mom’s situation. This is YOUR situation. And it’s hard. Period.” (Thank you for saying that, Robin!!)
Those words are SO true. I have said these words to friends of mine, but I don’t often give myself the same grace. I bet you don’t give yourself that grace either. Instead, we find ourselves saying: “I shouldn’t complain, because…”
- there are families living at or below the poverty line.
- there are children being trafficked.
- other husbands work more or care less.
- there are single moms doing this ALONE.
- my parents live nearby and help often.
- I only have ___ kids and that mom over there has ___ kids.
So much of the time we invalidate our circumstances by comparing them to other people’s circumstances. CAN WE JUST STOP THAT NOW?
“Comparison is the thief of joy,” Teddy Roosevelt said, and it is SO true. But there is a healthy way to compare, so I want to share with you what healthy and what unhealthy comparison is. Because CLEARLY I need to remind myself of this. I am right there with you in the muck of comparison and hard days and guilt.
When Comparison Is Unhealthy
Comparison is unhealthy when it makes us feel like we need to be someone that we are not. Comparison is unhealthy when it prompts shame or fear. Comparison is unhealthy when we feel like a failure. Let me give a few examples.
You log onto Facebook or Pinterest and then look around your living room at your kids and feel like your reality is not enough. You look at your friends lives and think that you should be like them, doing more (or less). You make an assumption based on how someone looks or acts in public and compare that to how you look or act in private.
Comparison is a thief when it takes away the joy of your circumstances, making you feel as though you should feel or act a certain way. Comparison is a thief when it makes you want to trade up or trade in your current life for what you assume is the “better” life of someone else.
Unhealthy comparison builds walls between women by way of assumptions. We read a blog post and think that mom must be balancing her life well because she has time to blog. We see someone who was on time when we were late and assume that she had an easy time getting her kids in the car. We see someone whose shorts are NOT wrinkled and think she must be an ace at laundry.
This kind of comparison does not account for the hidden story: where that blogging mom writes because it helps her feel healthy. Or the mom on time left the house early because her kids got up at 4am and she drove around for an extra half-hour just to have everyone buckled into a seat. Or that mom with ironed shorts has a husband who really loves to do the laundry for the household.
Any time comparison leaves you feeling shameful or with a sense of not being enough, it isn’t healthy. Any time comparison makes you feel like you need to be more like someone else and less like yourself, it isn’t healthy. If you find yourself caught in that thought pattern, STOP.
When Comparison Is Healthy
Healthy comparison looks like setting a baseline for the large range that can be defined as healthy and “normal.” When we talk with a close friend about our situation or feelings, healthy comparison looks like getting some feedback and validation. It involves trust to speak into a safe place, honesty to share and receive feedback, and grace to truly care. Let me give an example.
You might be feeling a lot of anger or deep sadness and wonder if you are just in a hard season or if you are depressed and need to seek counseling or outside help. Healthy comparison looks like asking your close friend(s) if they struggle with anything similar. It looks like asking your friend that sees a psychiatrist how she knew she needed to see someone and if she thinks you might benefit from that as well.
This can be very scary because it is opening up your life and your heart to someone else. It looks like laying your innermost parts bare on the table and asking for a response. Yikes! It is no wonder we don’t do this very often. But it is so important because we do sometimes need a baseline. We need to go deeper and know that other moms are struggling like we are. We need help sometimes knowing if our feelings and struggles fall in the range of healthy or if we may need to seek outside help or a real change.
Comparison is healthy when it helps us gauge where we are and what we need. It gives us a very gracious measuring stick and a way of evaluating our season of life to prompt a course of action. It does not produce the guilt or make us feel like we need to be someone we are not.
How We Can Promote Healthy Comparison
This one comment at MOPs made me think about the way that we talk to one another. There is a balance that we have a hard time with I think: finding that place between being non-vulnerable and TOO vulnerable. You know what it looks like when you are in a group of women and the conversation is one that leaves you feeling like you don’t belong. Like you are the ONLY one who struggles. The opposite side of that is when people overshare and dump things in your lap or on Facebook and it leaves you uncomfortable and so you cannot think of how to respond.
Can we strive to find that healthy middle?
Can we try to start real conversations that allow for grace and kindness? Can we listen well and share a little more openly? Can we not make assumptions when we see another mom who looks well-rested and put-together? (Because she might just have an awesome concealer and may not have showered for three days.)
If we are doing this right, I think we realize that we are all in this together. We recognize that we really can’t compare experiences. There is no standard measuring unit for suffering. We can’t lay my life’s hardships and your life’s hardships side by side to decide who has it worse and how we should feel about that reality. We cannot discount how each person actually DOES handle the stresses and difficulties, because we are not all the same.
One simple sentence from a friend this morning gave me grace and hope. If you aren’t sure if your current state is healthy, don’t crowdsource on Facebook. Ask a trusted friend or someone who has known you for years and can give you feedback on how you seem now compared to a year or few years ago.
Comparison can rob us of joy, but it can also help us know whether our status quo is a healthy place. Let our conversations be filled with giant, sweeping strokes of grace.