I have never met a woman who does not struggle with comparison on some level. She may exist, but I’ve never met her, is all I’m saying. We already know that falling into the Comparison Trap steals our joy on a regular day, but did you know it can actually ruin the holidays? This is because everything in December gets cranked up and concentrated and intensified. That little distraction of comparison that causes you to veer out of your lane every so often on a normal day will propel you straight into oncoming traffic and cause a head-on collision over the holidays.
So, today I’m giving you Four Common Holiday Comparison Traps, followed by a few strategies to help you avoid them.
1. Picture-perfect Fake Holidays — or — Dysfunctional Family Gatherings
Holiday expectations (at least in the U.S.) have these two distinct narratives.
The Picture Perfect Fake Holiday involves a mash-up of the following images: chestnuts roasting on an open fire; a thick white layer of fresh-fallen snow; excited children with sparkly eyes in matching pjs; magical(?); a new car in the driveway (preferably a Lexus) with a giant red bow on top –alternatively– a tiny box with an expensive piece of diamond jewelry inside (placed lovingly into your hand by your husband who has the perfect 5-o’clock shadow and also matching pjs); and a loving multi-generational family wearing cozy sweaters gathered around a large table as the Honey Baked Ham and Pillsbury crescent rolls (steaming hot) are placed in the center. The lighting, warm, and the tablescape…flawless. This image may or may not involve a puppy, depending on how you feel about dogs.
On the other end of the extreme is Disaster and Dysfunction: crazy alcoholic Uncle Bob saying inappropriate things while sipping spiked eggnog; your controlling and perfectly coiffed mother-in-law insisting you drag your small children away from their gifts on Christmas morning to celebrate at her meticulously decorated home on the other end of town (because this is how we’ve always done it) while she also criticizes your parenting skills and/or your current weight; stress and debt and chaos and destructive family dynamics, all reminding you of why you moved to the other end of town and hate Christmas with a red-hot passion.
How to Avoid This Trap
May I submit that real-life holidays are neither extreme? At least not entirely. For most of us, they are a balance of both. A little magical and a little crazy. They fall somewhere in between, with elements of the two extremes living side-by-side.
It may be that you have a delicious dinner display on your dining room table, while at the exact same time, your relatives are having a heated and divisive argument in the driveway over politics.
That’s normal. That’s okay.
Don’t judge the success or failure of your holiday based on either narrative. Most of these ideas were planted in our minds by song lyrics, movie scripts, and marketing campaigns anyway. Going into this month with realistic expectations will help you enjoy the magic while also dismissing the chaos.
2. Other People Who Do the Holiday-Thing Better Than You
Maybe your sister has the best house for hosting, while you are stuck in a one-bedroom rental.
Maybe your mom always makes the perfect dessert spread, while you have never baked a batch of cookies without burning them.
Maybe your brother shows up with his well-behaved and polite kids, while yours are glued to their phones and refuse to make eye-contact.
How to Avoid This Trap
Well, for one, you can ask your sister to host the event and encourage your mom to bring the desserts. Everyone is good at something–why not release people do what they love and go where they thrive? Let them shine. Lavish them with affirmation. Be their biggest fans.
At the gathering, sit down next to those perfectly-poised nieces and nephews and have a life-giving conversation with them. Love the HECK out of those kids. Find out what makes them tick. Tell them funny stories from your youth. Ask them lots of questions. I guarantee, they are fighting battles just like your kids are — they feel insecure and uncertain and scared, just like your kids. They need cheerleaders, not judges. Then, pull your brother aside and say, “You’re doing a great job with your children. I always knew you’d be a great dad. I’m proud of you.”
In other words, shine the spotlight as brightly as you can on the people you love. This is one of the most effective strategies for successfully avoiding the Comparison Trap.
Meanwhile, you find the thing you love to do, and get busy becoming great at it.
3. Social Media
These were my literal thoughts last December while viewing Facebook:
Oh my gosh, she had professional photos taken and has the cutest card!
She bought all her presents and had them wrapped and under the tree by December 1!
She baked the most beautiful cookies with her kids—and made ginger bread houses!
She hosted a fancy Christmas party in her home and made all the food herself!
She went to New York City and attended the Macy’s Parade!
She attended the Nutcracker with her girls!
took the kids ice skating…
went to a live manger…
did donuts with Santa…
gave presents to a needy family…
went to the Bahamas…
snuggled with her children with hot chocolate and watched Christmas movies…
attended Christmas Eve Candlelight Service…
made homemade gifts for all the teachers…
did acts of kindness every day during Advent…
hosted a cookie exchange…
hid that freaking Elf on the Shelf every blessed day!
Then, I took each of those twenty things that twenty different people did, and I morphed them into ONE FAKE PERSON. One fake person who is seemingly perfect, doing all the things during the holidays.
Am I the only one who does this?
How to Avoid This Trap
This one is simple: Stay off social media if you know it is toxic to you. I have never regretted stepping away from social media during the holidays — or any time I know it’s making me cray-cray. You probably have a hundred good reasons to stay, but I think avoiding something that drives you crazy trumps them all. I promise, it will be okay. Most people don’t even notice when you take a break anyway. (Is it the algorythms or is she taking a break? Who knows? Who cares?)
4. What We Did Last Year/What We’ve Always Done
We always travel to grandmas. We always decorate cookies. We always send Christmas cards. We always gather with extended family on New Year’s Eve and do a White Elephant Gift Exchange beginning youngest to oldest, except on Leap Year when we do reverse order…
When something goes well, it’s understandable that you’d to try to recreate it year after year. But holding all holidays to the standard of Christmas Past is just another sneaky version of The Comparison Trap.
How to Avoid This Trap
It’s impossible to compare yourself and your holiday celebration to any version of your past and remain joyful at the same time. Families change. Kids grow up. People die. People move. People divorce and remarry. Life is constantly evolving. Change is normal and healthy.
(Notice, I didn’t say change is easy. It’s not. It’s super hard.)
The best way to approach your people on any day –but especially over the holidays — is to love them where they are today. Not where they were. Not where you want them to be. This requires a deliberate mindset shift. It means saying, “I loved what we’ve done all these years, where my people were, etc” and at the exact same time, saying, “And while things are different now, I will love and appreciate the stage we are in now.”
Don’t be afraid to drop old traditions and try something new. You may discover you or your family like something even better. Or maybe they all secretly hated the White Elephant Gift Exchange after all, and were afraid to tell you! And now they are tickled pink that you’ve decided to draw names or forgo gifts instead. Flexibility and creativity are two essential life-skills and this is the time to hone them.
A little note from me: In Finding Your Holiday Balance, Part One, I said I’d be posting every week-ish. Well, I’m super proud of myself for adding the “ish” to that promise, because it took me exactly three weeks to publish Part Two. I realize none of you are looking at your calendars wondering why I’m not publishing the next part. But I hate to appear irresponsible or flakey, so…Just know, a lot of life is happening between these posts, and I’m over here trying my hardest to find my own Holiday Balance so I can help you find yours.
See you next week for Part Three!
If you want to learn more about the Comparison Trap, I’ve written two whole chapters about it in my book, Finding Your Balance. It would make a great Christmas gift for the woman in your life who feels overwhelmed and stretched. Or for you…