Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Evils of Comparison

As mothers and homemakers, we are very familiar with juggling the balls and wearing the many hats we wear. Sometimes though, something can interrupt that delicate balance. I've had some days like that lately. The interruption for me came when one child was particularly disobedient and the whole day was a turmoil. Then, the following day was a turmoil. I should also add, that this came on the tail end of feeling guilty for things. Things like putting the baby in the play pen to try to get things done, letting my two year old watch Dora for the tenth time, serving another frozen meal. I was just feeling like a bad parent. Sound like a pity party? Yes, but I'm just being honest. Can I just say how incredibly hard it is to school your children with a two year old and a baby in the house? It is so hard. The thing is, I am good at doing the "suck it up and move on" when it comes to the hard things. That works for me. What was so different about this past week, was I spent the whole two terrible days comparing myself to everyone else. And then I realized; the interruption was not my children, it was my attitude.
I am certain that this comparison thing happens all the time with mothers because I've had these conversations before. I started thinking that it was time I got to the bottom of this problem I so often hear talked about. Why do I do this? Is it my pride? Is it selfishness? Discontentment? Is it, possibly, that I want more credit for what I do here?
I don't really know for sure. I do, however know the evils that ensue when I set out to compare myself to everyone else. When I have this attitude, it seems I have less grace for an unruly child. I seem to also be comparing him to Jimmy over there who never argues with his mother. Then again, his mother would never yell! See what I mean? Not a stitch of grace to be found. Comparing myself also completely distracts me from all the beauty there is to be found, even in the imperfect. I also believe that perhaps the most crippling result of this attitude is that it hurts relationships. Specifically, it alienates me from other women. I begin to think that Suzie over there is better than me, so I think I'll avoid her. This is not at all God's design for me, I know.
The reality is that we are all different. This also applies to our children. In a group of very well-behaved children, some are going to be a little more spunky; maybe a little more strong-willed. I have so often stacked my children up to other children; shame on me. The thing is, they are mine and I love them- flawed as they are. Again, my God has shown mercy and grace to me. How can I not show it to my family, myself, and others?
One thing I know, is that I will be trying harder to hold my tongue. I don't need to boast about how productive I am, or how brilliant my children are. My speech should be encouraging, healing, full of grace and truth. That is my goal.
So at the close of quite possibly the longest post ever, if you're still reading, I will say that I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter. It would be a good thing to see this monster coming and have a plan of attack.


gina said...

We all do it. I think it is a huge struggle for all mothers. The problem is, we are most likely comparing ourselves to OUR perception of other people, not necessarily what is actually true of them and their situations. It's hard to feel good about yourself when you envision Johnny and his mother, in all their glorious perfection. That's when comparison rears its ugly head.

I think that is the danger of blogs and Facebook and our general tendency to hide our struggles and put our "best foot forward." We see TINY glimpses of people's lives--mostly the good part--and compare all our negatives to the positives of everyone else. That is so unbalanced and unfair and unrealistic.

You're not alone, Shelly. Just keep plugging along. It always gets better...

Jamie B said...

Hmmmm...First of all, I want to give you a big old cyber hug :)And then apologize that my response will probably double the size of your blog...but we all know, as hard as I try to condense, it is an art of communication that I just haven't mastered!

So, yes, we do all do it. So, let's keep talking about why it is so silly and I pray it will help us to fight those thoughts.

Amanda Moore told me her little saying "No Comparison Parenting" some time last year, and it really stuck with me. Then Mistey said to me one day how damaging it can be to compare your negatives with someone else's positives. These things really helped me to guard my thoughts in this matter.

So, talking about it, just like you are here. I think that it is what we need to do. Often.

I don't want to not hear about other people's productivity because they are fearful it might make me feel insecure. In fact, I like to hear what other's are doing because it helps motivate me to try new things.

For instance, when I hear about your yummy meals, or someone's cool crafty projects on Facebook or even better in REAL LIFE, it encourages me to get in the kitchen or sit down at the sewing machine...

Now, sure there are times it could make me think that I suck cause I spent the day swimming and running errands and fed the kids McDonalds!

BUT, I think that biting our tongue isn't what will helps us fight those thoughts!

Last year, there were some jokes made about my annoyingly productive status updates, and I really struggled with why was I posting these things? And are all these moms really feeling insecure because of me?

And ya know what? I let my pride get the best of me and I quit posting about my gym days, my early morning spin classes, and my new sewing projects on a regular basis.

And then ya know what? I found myself not as committed to any of those things. It was like my flesh was convincing me I was only doing those things to get attention, not because I really enjoyed them and simply liked talking about it...

So then I realized, that for me, it wasn't all about the attention, it was about the accountability.

I don't need to impress you with how much school we got done today, or the breakfast I fixed for Greg, or the swimming I'm getting to do almost every single day, but if that is what I'm doing, why should I feel guilty about saying that is what I'm doing? Is someone going to think I'm boastful because of it? Yes. They are. But you know what, I could post all the horrible things going on, and they could think I'm a big ungrateful brat. Isn't there a medium?

People who know me, who really know me, should know that I'm very open about the fact that I couldn't get half of this stuff done if I had a baby on my hip. And the truth is, I would gladly trade an annoyingly productive day for a day without a shower chasing a toddler around!

So - ALL OF THIS BEING SAID, my oh my, I do pray for you people who actually tolerate my long windedness...

Don't bite your tongue. In fact, tell us all about it when you've had a productive day, and let me comment about how awesome you are. I guarantee it will encouarge you. You do the same for me. And then when you've had a tough day that has thrown some turmoil your way, you can think about the fact that noone else has a Jonah who lights up the room with his big eyes and sweet smile, or a Maggie whose toothless grin and pig latin splits sides, or a Jack who can whisper to chickens, or an Isabelle who knew that self-control is the last fruit of the Spirit that Paul named and has shown me many times that she really knows what that means.

Okay? Okay.

Again - really - I hate people who over apologize, but people, I am sorry that I do not know how to get my point across without using all these words. Let us pray God will continue this work in me and one day, one day, our prayers will be answered.

Shelly said...

Jamie, I love your long-windedness! I get teased all the time because I write books in cards. You are the first person I've seen who writes a novel bigger than mine and can do it so eloquently to boot!
Let me just clarify, that when I said bite my tongue, I just meant that I don't want to be boastful. For me, I struggle with letting my words be few and I think I've been guilty of saying too much. There definitely needs to be a medium.
I love being encouraged by other women, and I want to do the same. When I hear about a great idea Mistey has to manage her household, or Gina's craftiness, mostly that just encourages me to be creative to make my home the best it can be. So, people don't stop telling me what you're up to! That is not the answer for me.
And I know that I am at a place that not everyone is at. I have four small children (who I adore by the way) that keep me very busy. I just want to recognize what the sin is I'm struggling with.
See, Jamie? You write a much more eloquent book! :)
Thanks to both you ladies for your input.

Shelly said...

Also Jamie, I love your suggestion that we just all be honest here and tell about how awesome we all are. You always bring an idea to the table in these discussions that I hadn't thought of. I'll just start the ball rolling by saying you are awesome!

jena said...

Wow, great encouragement! I am not going to give an answer, all I can say is that this is just what I needed! I think the busy holiday season seems to bring this "comparison" side of me out every year. I enjoy reading your post Shelly as well as Gina's imput and Jamie's book!

Amanda said...

Wow! This is a great conversation.
"And then I realized; the interruption was not my children, it was my attitude." kidding. I just read this somewhere. I don't know where. I was reading an article that was poking fun of the idea that "I'd be a great mother if it weren't for my kids" or I'd be a great wife if only my husband....


Personally...I can slide down into a pit when I set my mind on myself. I think of Romans...the mind set on the flesh. Last night, I was in the pit. I was upset that things weren't my way. This is no exaggeration. I was sad, mad, hurt...the list goes on. I wanted my own way. What to do with that? I slept on it. It's better now, but I could have denied my ugly flesh and moved on!

I struggle with telling others my problems because I could be seen as complaining or whining.

Accountability should encompass the good and the bad. Isn't that what Jamie already said? The people around me are prone to talk about accountability. Sometimes people think accountability is "confession". That's partly right. Let's celebrate the victories and deal with the defeats together!

We can collectively lift up the standard and keep it there. The standard is not perfect Donna Reed homemaking...but Jesus Christ!

Shelly said...

Thanks, Amanda. I too feel like I'm whining sometimes if I'm going to really be honest. In fact, just since posting this I've been a little doubtful and fearful that I'm sounding like a selfish baby. But that's part of the problem; we don't want people to know we struggle or are insecure.
I thought a lot about this last night and realized something. If I set about to lift others up and rejoice in their victories, I forget about myself! It is liberating.
Thanks for your comment.

Jamie B said...

Jena, you made me laugh out loud. So, although this next book doesn't have a name, a table of contents, or a publisher, I would like to dedicate it to you, Jena, just because I admire someone who doesn't feel the need to give an answer!

Shelly, got ya. And I do know you adore your kids, I don't doubt that at all. What I want you to know is any mom on this planet that you are comparing yourself to, well, if they have gotten to spend 2 seconds around those 4, they adore them, too. And that matters.

I totally get that you wouldn't want to come across as boasting. I agree.

I've had to learn that I have a real fear of people thinking I'm conceited or boastful, so I put pressure on myself to say the right things, do the right things, act the right way, present myself the right way, all just to make sure they don't think I worry about being the right way, doing the right things, acting the right way, or presenting myself the right way...make sense?

No, it doesn't. It's insane.

And I'm realizing that that is my prideful sin at work there, too.

What I want is for us to not feel guilty for talking about our successes and enjoying the 'atta girls we get from our true friends and sisters in Christ.

That encouragement helps us through the days of frozen meals, psycho mom rants, or days where Animal Planet and PBS are doing the educating. Because we aren't defined by those days, and grace has covered any inch of those situations where we did so without good reason. And sometimes, well, dagnabbit, there is good reason!

Let us draw strength from our sisters who are uplifting us. Let us not compare our strong-willed, hilarious, somewhat disobedient keeper-in-training to someone else's bashful, less bold, better reading keeper-in-training.

Because Christ is our mark, not the mom who seems to have it all together on the surface. And if we could have it all together on our own, well, then He wouldn't have needed to shed His blood.

Love you ladies :)

Trena said...

I've always heard "The worse part of being a woman is the other women." For the most part, I'd agree. You gals are changing my mind on that. I so appreciate these thoughts.

I'm the one that probably tells TOO MUCH and is TOO HONEST on FB and my blog. I catch a lot of flack from people about being not Christian enough, not quiet enough, not "something" enough all the time...or too "something" all the time.

I think that there are a small group of people that just want to do the best they can, and they really aren't trying to drag others down in the process - Thanks for being in that small group.

gina said...

All this talk of grace! It's beautiful and so encouraging. "Iron sharpens iron,and one man sharpens another."

Jessi said...

Thank you to all you ladies! Your grace and truth are wonderful. And Shelly, this is just what I needed to hear today! You are right on the money about this being a huge struggle for all women. It is a temptation I struggle with and it is an issue for me to bring to God often (shall I say daily?). Part of the answer lies in simply allowing ourselves to receive the grace that is ours through Christ. Our identity is not found in being the best house-wife, parent, wife, teacher, or cook (or even in making it seem to others that we are any of those things!) My identity is that I am the daughter of the Most High. He has purchased me (at the greatest of all costs) and has cleansed me from sin. This is where Paul made his boast. When I live from this reality, I can receive God's grace. And when I receive that grace I can give grace. I can give grace and patience to my disobedient child. I can give grace to my sisters In Christ who are excited about the jobs they are doing at home. Jamie, I love your thoughts about encouraging each other in the tasks we are doing! Bravo! We all need an 'atta girl! It truly is freeing to live in the reality of grace. Thank you, Shelly, for starting this conversation. Let's keep talking...I need a game plan for when I'm tempted to compare...and for when I choose to wallow in self-deprecation. I'm thinking that I'm going to post some Scripture on my kitchen cabinets about who I am in Christ. Love you, sisters!

PS. Shelly, you really are GREAT at what you do as a mom, wife, home-maker, cook, and teacher. And your kids are precious.

Natalie said...

I haven't had the chance to read everyone's comments, but lately I've been feeling, well...defeated?

I barely get out of the house with the kids- especially now that it's colder. My house is often a mess much to my husband's chagrin. I cook meals maybe 2 nights a week on a good week- I'm struggling!

Last night, around 10pm when the whole family got back from church and was feasting on fast food, I hit my rock bottom. I guess we can only strive to serve the Lord faithfully and put our best foot forward- I'm just pretty sure I don't always give it my best- that's the humbling part.

Jamie B said...

Yeah, well, I bet none of you guys cost your hubby hundreds of dollars in cell phones this year, now have ya?

Ah, well, I washed my cell phone in the laundry last night after having jumped in the pool with one earlier this year, had one stolen, and broke one...

Just in case any of you were feeling guilt for not being efficient enough, well, I got you beat :)

But whether it is fast food, cell phones, sleeping in, or watching too much TV, I guarantee our husbands are willing to extend us grace quicker than we are willing to receive it.

If grace is an ocean, we're all sinking! Let us remember that tomorrow He may very well choose to bless us with another day. We can't do much about the dripping wet cell phone from yesterday, but we can rise up and redeem the time of tomorrow...

Shelly said...

Thanks gals for all the feedback.

Natalie, I hear 'ya. At the end of the day, there's usually a few things on my list that didn't get done. There just doesn't seem to be enough hours in a day. I totally agree that we should only expect to do the best we can. My problem is usually expecting too much out of myself and setting myself up for failure when I don't accomplish it all. Lately I'm seeing that little victories are really important. If I can just keep the toys off the floor, or just finish the dishes; I don't have to have a spotless house. It's important to set reasonable goals.
It is humbling for me too when I see that I didn't do my best. I often see that I could have spent my time better, or maybe got moving a little earlier in the morning. And that's where grace comes in. Be gracious to yourself, let go of the guilt, and decide where you can improve next time.
We shouldn't get discouraged thinking that other moms have it all together. Gina is right, we are only seeing little glimpses of each others lives. Everyone is the decider of how they spend their time. I've had other women look at me in bewilderment asking how in the world I find time to sew. Well, I usually stay up after the kids go to bed, and I pay for it the next day by being sleepy. That doesn't make me super mom, it just means that I chose to stay up late instead of going to bed.
Some women may be better at managing their households, and some may be better at just having fun and enjoying their children. I feel like I can learn from a lady who doesn't worry so much about getting things done, and knows how to just take a break to go play a game with the kids. We can all learn from each other, and I think laying this all out on the table is a really good start!