I have always believed this adage. It IS unreasonable to compare ourselves to others. We don’t know them or their situation. We don’t know what privilege they had to help them reach their goals. Or vice versa, when we judge people, we don’t know what obstacles lay in their paths.
It’s a trap we fall into as parents very easily.
“She looks like a model a month after giving birth; I look like a beached whale.”
“Her kids sit so nicely in a restaurant; why are mine the only ones eating fries off the floor?”
“She and her spouse actually go on weekly date nights; my marriage might be doomed.”
I have to remind myself that maybe she actually IS a model, maybe they eat out a lot, so her kids are just used to it, and maybe they have grandparents who fight over who gets to watch the kids, making date night easy and free.
Their situations are not my situations.
But recently, I found a way to let comparison be helpful. Here’s the short version: my friend had a book published. Woot! SO amazing. I was so happy for her…and not at all jealous. (Friends reference, anyone?) Except of course I WAS jealous, because no one had published my book yet. But maybe it’s because I haven’t written one? Could that be it? Being jealous about something I wasn’t attempting to do myself seemed quite petty. (Research indicated quite normal as well, so maybe we’re all a little green with envy from time to time.)
And I realized I was also jealous of my friends who make more money than me…in fields I didn’t study and have no interest in. And jealous of my friend who ran her first marathon…even though I haven’t run in seven years. You feel me? I was comparing myself to people who aren’t like me. I was doing the BAD thing. Here’s how I turned it around into a GOOD thing: I looked inward (love me some new-agey buzzwords).
I realized in every situation, my jealousy wasn’t jealousy, just disappointment in myself. When I compare myself to others and it makes me spikey, it’s because I want to do better in that area. I want to be better. The comparison becomes a warning signal, or a nudge from the universe if you need this process to be more gentle.
Here are two things you can do when your gentle nudge (warning! warning!) finds you:
- Just fix it. Ha! I know, right? Easier said than done. But I’m going back to school to learn to write books and get paid more. I actually said out loud to my spouse, “It’s not like I can just write a book, I don’t know how to do that. I don’t have an MFA.” And then the next day I thought, “Why DON’T I have an MFA? I could GET ONE.” There was more to it than that, but you know, comparison led me there. (You can do this with things not as big as changing your career, k? You want to cook more? Make a shopping list. Take a class. A free one. On YouTube. Free and cheap options exist.)
- Just ask. Now, this is easy for an extrovert like me, but I find myself actually ASKING other humans how they did what they’re doing or got what they’re having. Super fun way to embarrass your kids in public, by the way, which is a nice bonus. It can be as simple as asking a parent where they got that cool whoozywhatsit their kid is playing with, or where they got those nails done.
For bigger things, ask your friend, your co-worker. “How do you find time/resources to go out with your spouse every week?” “How were you able to get a college degree with three kids as a single mom?” People generally like to talk about themselves (guilty!) and are happy to share these stories with you. Someone else’s story could be the catalyst you need to change yours.
IMPORTANT CAVEAT: If someone asks YOU these kinds of questions, for the love of Happy Meals, you have GOT. TO. BE. HONEST. Don’t downplay it. Don’t diminish yourself. Don’t discount the roles others have played in your success. We are all on the same team. You don’t do any parent any favor by pretending this, ANY OF THIS, is easy. Let’s role-play:
Me: “Wow! How were you able to go back to school and get your Master’s Degree while working full time and raising small kids? I could never do that.”
You: “Oh, I just prioritized! All glory be to God!”
NO. YOU DO NOT SAY THIS. Like a three-year-old who just slapped that toy out of his friend’s hand at preschool, you get a redo. Try this:
You: “It was really hard. My parents took the kids several nights a week. My employer let me flex my hours. My spouse took more of the household duties than normal. I hardly slept. It almost broke me. I wasn’t sure I could do it. Probably not everyone could without a lot of support. I’d love to tell you more about it if you’re thinking of pursuing it.”
See? You spill your honesty guts all over them. Because they asked. One more.
Me: “I wish my spouse would take me out on a date once and a while. How do you manage to get out every week?”
You: “Oh, we just really value and respect each other, so we make it an essential on our calendar.”
BUZZ! Nope. Not even close. Here are some other options:
“It’s a huge expense, but we are lucky we can afford professional childcare.”
“My mom watches the kids every Friday without complaint. I don’t know what we’d do without her!”
“Well, my spouse cheated on me, so we’re trying to fall in love again.” Fine, that might be TMI, but at least it would be HONEST.
In sum, when using comparison to bring you joy instead of stealing your joy, be optimistic, but realistic.
Small steps to a new routine are better than no steps. And don’t immediately reject ideas, i.e.: “I could NEVER do that!,” when someone mentions them or they occur to you. Because yes you can. Use the nudge warning to show you what you want in this life. Word on the street is you only get one, and you’re supposed to laugh and love while you’re living it. But that’s a different adage for a different day.