Women spend a lot of time entangled in The Comparison Trap—way too much time. We are constantly looking around to see what everyone else is doing, how well they are doing it, and how we measure up against it.
How attentive is her husband?
How flat is her stomach?
How clean is her kitchen?
How polite are her children?
The Comparison Trap is dangerous for everyone, but I believe it’s especially dangerous for Moms. See, we Moms don’t operate well in isolation. We need one another for survival. We need encouragement and affirmation and advice from other Moms. But if we become entrapped in our comparison, we either become terribly insecure (Why isn’t this working for me? I must be doing something wrong!) or incredibly prideful (Why isn’t this working for HER, she must be doing something wrong!)
Both insecurity and pride are paralyzing for a Mom and her much-needed relationships.
Both insecurity and pride breed isolation.
Both insecurity and pride originate with a Lie.
Over the sixteen years that I’ve been a Mother, I’ve seen a few varieties of a Lie stemming from comparison. They go a like this:
1. What works for them should work for us.
New Moms are inundated with advice. Everything (feeding, diapering, sleep schedules, discipline) comes flying at the New Mom from every direction at warp speed. Because we are mostly clueless, we believe most of what we are told, and we scurry to adopt every great technique for our little family. We are certain we can replicate great kids by doing exactly what the great parents before us have always done.
Sometimes, the great technique will work fantastically. And sometimes it won’t. The Lie says it should always work. If it’s not working, Mom is doing it wrong.
Moms who believe this Lie hear a voice that says, “What is wrong with me? This is supposed to work! I’m doing it wrong!” Moms who believe this Lie are in a constant state of self-doubt, self-accusation and maybe even self-loathing.
2. What works for us should work for them.
Let’s talk about what happens when a great technique works fantastically. Like potty training, for example. Potty-training my oldest daughter was fantastical. All it took was a few prizes from the dollar store, a sticker chart and one week. Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. What’s the big deal? I thought. Why do parents stress about this? They must be doing it wrong.
In fact, the whole infant/toddler era came fairly easy to me. (Don’t hate me.) I believed The Lie that if other Moms were struggling, they were doing something wrong. The voice in my head was very judgmental toward other moms. I became
overly-confident arrogant as a result.
Moms who believe this Lie spend much of their time looking down their noses at their peers. Eventually, they will only have friends who think and act exactly like they do. Or they will have no friends at all.
3. What works for this child, should work for the next child.
After the potty-training success of my daughter, God was gracious enough to humble me. He gave me a son. I won’t go into all the gory details, but suffice it to say potty training was not his priority.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that my stellar baby skilz had much less to do with me and much more to do with my daughter. Contrary to what I previously believed, I wasn’t going to implement the exact same techniques and produce the exact same kid. This wasn’t some kind of kid-assembly line. I was going to have to try new things and treat my children as the individuals they are.
Moms who believe this Lie are tempted to berate themselves AND the children. Thus, they create a strained and distant relationship with the kid who fails to fit the mold.
4. What works for this child now, should work for this child forever.
If one there is one thing that has surprised me most in parenting (other than the fact that my son was content to exist in poopy pants), it’s the number of times I’ve had to adjust my approach or technique with the exact same child.
When my daughter entered middle school, I was certain someone had abducted her and replaced her with an imposter. To my knowledge, I had not changed at all. But nothing—and I mean nothing—worked with her any longer. It was like I didn’t know her.
We realized our usual approach—an approach that worked wonderfully the first twelve years of her life—was now alienating her and damaging our relationship. For about two years, under the urging and guidance of a trusted counselor, my husband and I examined and, ultimately, discarded and replaced nearly every parenting technique we had used with her up to that point.
It was an exhausting process. But so worth the effort.
(If there was any shred of pride or arrogance left in me after potty training two more children, it was completely gone by the time my daughter left middle school.)
(My Mothering Mantra during her middle school years was “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.”)
Moms who believe this Lie fail to grow as Moms. They never allow themselves to mold and adapt to their growing children, thus becoming hyper-critical, demanding and rigid. Many of them lose their previously close relationship with their tweens and teens altogether.
Thankfully, there is a beautiful balance between self-loathing and arrogance, insecurity and pride.
It’s good for us to surround ourselves with older-wiser moms so we can bounce off ideas and pick their brains. It’s good to read parenting books and mom blogs to gather as much information as possible about child-rearing. It’s good to take what we’ve learned from our older children (and everyone else’s older children) and apply some of it to our younger children.
We should continue doing all those things.
Just remember, there are endless factors affecting how well something will work in our family. There are countless reasons a discipline technique or bedtime routine or house-keeping method may not work well for me. Or why it may work well for me now and not work for me later.
Before we fall into the Comparison Trap between family and family or between kid and kid, or even between kid-then and kid-now, consider how simple things like these make all the difference:
The number of children I have
The age of each child
The maturity of each child at any given age
The temperament of each child
The square footage and proximity of my home to school or work
The number and nature of extracurricular activities in which my family members participate.
Whether I or my spouse works outside the home
Whether or not I have a spouse
The level of contentment and happiness in my marriage
The level of contentment and happiness with myself
My health and the health of each member of my family
The toxicity or health of my other close relationships
My own gifts, talents, likes and dislikes
Maybe it seems silly or over-kill to list all those factors. But as a Mom who often hears the Lie “What works for them should work for us—something must be wrong with US!” I have to constantly remind myself that my family is not like any other family in the history of all humanity.
Even if I am comparing myself to another married stay-at-home Christian mom blogger with three kids the exact same ages, I must always remind myself
they aren’t MY three kids
she doesn’t have MY husband
she doesn’t live in MY house
she doesn’t thrive or crumble where I thrive and crumble
So, before I am too hard on myself or on others, I try to consider how we are all unique. It helps me extend us all a boat-load of grace.
Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original. Galatians 5:25-26 The Message
The truth is, there is no one best approach to parenting, managing a home or nurturing a marriage. Your family is not a math equation. There’s no formula where you plug in your family data and out comes the solution.
Your family is a work of art.
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10
There are brushstrokes and shadows, textures and hues that transform from moment to moment depending on the light and the angle and the perspective. And the beauty won’t be complete for quite some time, because God is still creating it—He’s still adding detail.
So, let’s make a deal: I promise not to judge your struggle with your toddler and you promise not to judge my struggle with my teen. And instead of using your family’s strengths as a club to beat myself over the head, how about I use it as a tool to cut myself free from the Comparison Trap.
The truth is, I need you. And you need me.
The Enemy wants to destroy our relationship.
So, let’s not believe the Lies.