Comparing. It’s something that we’ve all done since, well, since we were toddlers.
“My doll is better because it’s eyes open and close!” “Yea? Well, mine pees after it drinks! Watch this!”
“I have more crayons than you do!”
Who’s muscles are bigger, which boys are cuter, who can swing the highest on the swing set… It’s a behavior that is somehow just ingrained – no one needs to teach it to us. We look around us and we see how we (or our stuff) measures up. And when ours is better, we’re usually quick to point it out.
And then we get a little older and it comes out in different ways. As teenagers, these comparisons decide who’s cool enough to be counted among the “in” crowd. Self-image. Clothes. Grades. Sports. Add a few more years and it shifts again. Jobs. Successes and failures. Finances. Houses, Apartments, Cars, Travel. Who’s got the best stories and experiences. Who’s Instagram baby photos are the cutest. Sometimes the comparisons are subtle, sometimes they’re obvious. But they’re there nonetheless. I’m sure we’ve all sat in a room with friends or family and in the process of swapping stories have heard lines like:
“That’s nothing! Wait till you hear this!”
It makes me think of a skit by Bryan Regan…which I managed to find and include for you.
As a side note: Best part about my wisdom teeth story? The “relaxing” drugs that made me walk into a wall. Literally. Missed the doorway at the doctor’s office. No moon landing here. 🙂 Haha!
It’s played out in a funny way here, but I think just about every single one of us has been on one or BOTH sides of this comparison game. Either as the one who’s story (or life, or success…etc) is “trumped” or the one doing the trumping. It’s “I have more crayons than you do” grown-up style.
I’ve read a number of other blog posts recently about how social media feeds into this tendency to compare ourselves to others – for young moms in particular. Pictures on Pinterest of perfectly executed projects and 5 course meals and beautiful living rooms and immaculately dressed, brilliant children who were potty trained at 9 months (in 12 hours!), reciting poetry at four years old, using color-coded chore charts to keep said beautiful living rooms spotlessly clean, and leaving mom plenty of time for work-outs, craft projects, and couponing the heck out of every last sale and store. It’s enough to make any mom look at her life and think she falls short. And it is SO unfortunate that many moms feel as though there’s this idyllic level of mom-dom that they’ll just never, ever be able to reach.
On the whole, I’ve done pretty well at not getting sucked into the “I’m not being a perfect enough mom” vortex. There are things I can do and things I cannot. And I’m learning to just draw those lines and go easy on myself when the reality of life with two little humans is too much for perfectly executed crafts and five-star meals.
Amen, sister. Amen.
But the thing that has surprised me most is that it’s not just about who’s doing things better. I’ve found that young moms also tend to do these comparisons with who has it the hardest. It’s as though instead of looking at how we don’t measure up to “perfect-mom,” we try to trump other moms’ stories by showing how much harder we have it. Not sure what I mean? It sounds something like this:
“Your labor was only three hours? Natural delivery? Must be nice that you had it so easy.” (as though labor is EVER easy…)
“Oh, you only have one child…Ha! Wait till you have two! You don’t even know ANYTHING! I used to think my life was SO hard…now I WISH I was in your shoes. Oh to have it that easy again.”
“You get to stay at home? Must be nice to just stay home with your kids and have all that time on your hands! I have to work – there is SO much more to juggle when you’re a working mom.”
“Oh, you exclusively breast feed? You’re so lucky that you don’t have to pump or supplement. Nursing must be soooo easy for you.”
Holy Moly. The Pinterest comparisons are one thing, but lately this, THIS has me wanting to stand and shout from the rooftops:
“YOU JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND!”
“NONE OF YOU!”
“YOU DON’T HAVE ANY IDEA HOW HARD THIS IS!”
And, it IS hard sometimes. It can be so, SO hard. Being a stay-at-home mom for me this winter meant hours and hours of cleaning up other people’s puke and poop and sleeping on the couch with sick babies and being sick myself, and not ever, ever getting a good night’s sleep and dealing with fleas in the house and getting the kids dinner and to bed at night on my own while my husband is at class, and then in the midst of these endless crazy, exhausting weeks I end up in the ER waiting room (twice). So yes, go ahead and tell me how easy it is to be a stay at home mom – and how much extra time I have.
And, when I’m scrambling to make a run to the store to buy formula and bottles that my daughter has NEVER used because I won’t be able to feed her at all the next day due to tests that I have to have, and I’m sitting up at night desperately trying to get every last drop of precious milk that I have left in me and crying as I wonder if she’ll take a bottle – or if she’ll be able to go back to nursing after switching to formula for a while because, dear God, I wasn’t at all mentally prepared to stop nursing like THIS… Oh yes. Exclusive breast feeding is always a piece of cake. Lucky me.
The thing is, I’ve realized lately that I could go on and on and on doing that. ^ ^
I’m not big on one-upping your projects or your house design or your clean home… But lately something in me wants to spew verbal vomit all over everyone who wants to compare the level of difficulty of our lives. On a good day, I can bite my tongue and not lash out at the person in the check-out line that makes an offhanded comment, but the words are right there under the surface – kept just barely in check. The second someone wants to compare their situation to mine and in the process tell me how easy I have it, I have a laundry-list of things that I want to shout back in their face.
I don’t care that I don’t have an alphabetized pantry with all my cooking ingredients in chalkboard-paint labeled jars. But don’t you DARE tell me how “easy” things “must” be for me. Being a mom is a lot of things, but it most definitely is not easy.
Early on in my mommyhood when I had a fresh-out-of-the-oven 11 lb Oliver that suddenly took over my life with surprising tenacity, comments like this used to make me think that there was something wrong with me. If it’s SO much easier with just one, then why does this feel so hard? What am I doing wrong? Why am I so exhausted and overwhelmed? Why doesn’t breastfeeding seem as blissful and care-free as they make it out to be? Why don’t I have extra time? After all, I’m not going to the office…what the heck am I even DOING all day?
And then, gradually, my tendency to second-guess and feel insecure in the face of such comparisons shifted. Instead of feeling like I need to duck my head and get over myself and learn to appreciate how easy my life is, I find that lately I want to stand up and fight back. I want to put people in their place. I’ll show you, you comparison-toting fiend!!
If you know me, you’ll know I don’t actually get into shouting matches, but the intensity of the emotion is there whether I shout it out, or whether I stand there and barely take the time to listen to another young mom’s comments with a reply already formulating in my mind to show just how hard I do, in fact, have it.
It’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
I suppose in some ways we’re looking for the same validation that we wanted the day our 10 pack of crayons was trumped by someone’s box of 64 crayons that had colors like “macaroni and cheese” and a built-in sharpener on the back of the box. In a world where showering, feeding the children, juggling schedules and daycare and work, getting all of the laundry done, or not forgetting to feed the dog are counted among our biggest accomplishments…what else is there to compare? So, we talk about schedules and who is busiest. Who gets the least amount of sleep. Whether it’s harder to stay home all day or go to work. We want others to see how much we put up with and how much we do and – even if begrudgingly – feel some sort of admiration for us.
And, yes, by all means, we should talk to other moms about our struggles. Some days, we need to know that we’re not the only one who’s having a hard time. We need to understand that our exhaustion is normal, that our desperation for human conversation beyond that which a two year old can offer makes ALL of us drive to Target just to interact with another human being or wander aimlessly through the aisles staring at clearance items we don’t actually need. We need to share our difficulties – if for no other reason than to know that our kids are just normal kids, and we’re just normal moms. Doing our best at a job that is FLAT. OUT. HARD sometimes.
But, really, those discussions should take place with close friends who can encourage us and support us and stand with us and cheer us on. They shouldn’t happen in the form of snide remarks in the grocery aisle or as a means of putting another mom in her place. And I think that we (myself included) need to be very careful about fitting them into 140 characters or less as facebook statues and twitter updates, thrown out there for the world to read.
Why? Because beyond the insecurities and the resentment that these comparison battles produce in other moms, they also keep us in a mindset that focuses on the negative. It keeps us zeroed in on our complaints. On our hardships. And not only can it make us bitter and resentful, it can also keep us, and others, from seeing the beauty and the wonder in being “Mom.” In raising our children.
When my son is 18 and he and his friends find a way to go back and dig up their parent’s long-abandoned Facebook sites, what do I want him to see on mine? Status after status complaining about how hard it is to be his mom? How much I’m missing out on? What I wish was different? What do we want the newly expectant mom sitting in the row behind us at church to hear about raising a family? Is our goal in telling our story just to talk about shared experiences and empathize WITH one another – or have we fallen into the trap of one-upping others with our own tales? And, what’s more, do we tell the good along with the bad? Do we praise our husbands and our kids and tell the funny or encouraging stories as much as we complain or share difficulties?
Agh, it’s so hard not to get sucked into this for me. That darn facebook box that taunts me: What’s on your mind?
My mind?! I’ll tell you WHAT’S ON MY MIND!
Yea. It’s gotta stop.
And, there’s something else I’ve realized in all of this too. The less I bring things before the Lord in prayer the faster I am to talk about how hard I have it. Because, without His perspective, the tough parts of being a mom seem tougher, the lonely parts seem lonelier, and the challenges seem insurmountable. And, the truth is, there’s no one better to talk to than the God who created us, knows us intimately, understands our struggles, and wants, more than anything, to be a part of our day-in-and-day-out, poopy-diaper filled days. The God who breathed life into the little beings that we’ve been entrusted with, and loves them more perfectly than we are able to comprehend. The God who’s desire is to walk with us, to shape our character to make us more like Him, and who promises to be our strength when we feel burdened and weary.
And, I’m finding that the more I bring things to Him, the less I want to shout about my difficulties. The less likely I am to get into these “lets compare how hard we have it” battles. The less I have a snide remark on my lips. In fact, when He’s the one I turn to, the more I’m likely to see things with His perspective, not mine. To respond with patience. With grace. To see beyond the sheer exhaustion and chaos of two-kids-under-two years and get a glimpse of the bigger picture. To see my children through HIS eyes. To see the beauty in the day-to-day that oh so quickly gets buried in poop and mess and frustration. To be thankful, truly thankful for the blessings that I have.
And I wonder…
What if, instead of looking down our noses at strangers in the grocery store and saying things like: “just you wait, it gets worse!” we took the time to say to the stressed-out, exhausted looking mom next to us: “Your kids are beautiful.” or “I LOVE your haircut!”
What if we listened to each other’s stories and struggles and instead of quickly blurting out how much harder OUR day was, we said things like: “I’ve totally been there.” or “You’re doing a great job.” or “Is there something I could pray with you about?”
What if our facebook statuses and blog posts sounded…different? I’m not saying we should lie and pretend things are peachy-keen all the time. Because they’re not. And that’s ok. But do we (do I??) really stop to consider how much should we air via social media, and how much should be kept in those safe conversations with good friends, ones who will point us back to Christ, encourage us, and even correct our thinking when we need it?
I got a text a few weeks ago from a good friend who thanked me for a blog post of mine and how, in her words, it was “so real, and so raw.” And I want it to be that way. I want my blog (and my conversations) to reflect the “real” me – not some cleaned-up, pinterest-inspired, happy-go-lucky, carefully-constructed version of my life that hides any ounce of struggle. Because the truth is, I don’t have it all together all of the time. I DO struggle. Life with babies and toddlers IS hard sometimes. And, I want to be honest. I want to be raw. Open. Real.
But I want to do so with an undercurrent of thankfulness and a heart turned towards God – not in a way that reeks of bitterness, comparison, or complaints. I do not want to use my blog, or my facebook, or my day to day conversations to play this: “I have it harder than you” game. I don’t want to give into the frustrations, the negativity, and the irritation that comes from focusing on the struggles. I’ve been there, done that, and found that it doesn’t help anyone – least of all me.
Is it hard sometimes?
Do I sometimes wish I could just throw in the towel? Run down the road screaming? Wipe every garbage truck off the face of the earth so that I don’t have to hear any more questions about it? Make someone else fish the bug out of my daughter’s mouth before she swallows it?
Yes. Yes, I do.
But my days, and my children, are FAR more beautiful than the struggle. And I want to focus on that. On them. I want to turn my face towards Christ in the midst of the long, tiring days – and get his perspective rather than wallowing in my own. And I want to extend His grace to the other young moms around me. Sharing the joys, the triumphs, and the hardships of the day-in-and-day-out mommying that we are called to without comparing, without judging, and without complaining.
Because, oh, what a beautiful, messy, heart-wrenching, soul-searching, tiring, amazing thing it is to be “mom.”