I love the quote “Comparison is the thief of joy” because it unveils the ugliness of a habit that plagues most of our lives, especially once you become a parent. We all do it and I’m convinced those who say they don’t, lie. It’s far too easy to get away with and it is such an emotionally charged act that can happen almost unconsciously.
It might seem innocuous and innocent enough to draw small comparisons here and there because it makes you feel better about your own life. However, comparison is a parasite that needs only to feed on insecurities to wreak havoc and cause some serious apocalyptic damage.
Speaking bluntly, when you compare your life to someone else’s, you will inevitably feel like crap. Guaranteed. Furthermore, not only are you depriving yourself of contentment but you are probably missing the mark on a lot of your assumptions. After all, we never have the full picture or context of someone else’s life or state of being.
All this being said. I still compare. I would even go so far as to say that I reap some satisfaction from it; temporary and fleeting as it is. I do it when I’m feeling insecure and scared. I do it when I’m wanting some acknowledgement or positive reinforcement. I do it when I’m trying to justify and defend my actions and decisions. The problem is I think I’m in control of the impulse to compare, contrast and well…judge. I rarely see how destructive my comparison sprees are, until I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole.
I am simply not my best self when I’ve open the proverbial can of comparison worms. It always leads me to a place where I either feel horrible about myself because someone else’s life and choices are so much better than mine or I’ve had to tear someone else down to make myself feel good. Both scenarios suck.
The truth is, it takes a lot of effort and courage to live an authentic life. To be unapologetically you. It requires consistent presence of mind and a lot of humility. This is challenging, especially in our social media driven world. We are bombarded with polished and filtered versions of peoples’ fabulous lives and even though we may rationally be able to acknowledge the smoke screen, we still take the bait.
As a new mom, I take the bait a lot, even though, on a good day, I can rationale the hell outta why it’s bad for me. Here is an embarrassing and shameful truth: I get super jealous of other moms on Facebook and Instagram. Moms, I know personally, and ones I don’t. I look at their photos of their seemingly “perfect” babies, in their cute and unsoiled outfits or mom and baby, both spectacularly styled on a social outing and I feel instant inferiority. I inevitably start making assumptions and telling myself stories about this baby and this mom.
One of the stories that sometimes plagues me is: everyone else’s baby sleeps through the night, every night. Why is it that sleeping through the night is such a hot point of discussion with new parents? Relatives, friends and even perfect strangers in the grocery store asking “oh, does he sleep through the night yet?”. I dread this question because there is usually judgement that follows my honest response, “no he’s not actually, but he will when he’s ready”. This is when I get the unsolicited advice or a patronizing “well he needs to learn to sleep through the night!”. Occasionally, someone will show some compassion and say “well that’s okay”. Most of the time though, I get disapproving looks and comments.
Obviously, because my son does not sleep through the entire night, this is a sore spot for me. Sure, it’s difficult and I’m sleep deprived because of it but I wholeheartedly believe that he will get there. Of course, being a new mom and this being my first rodeo, there are always questions and doubts. I know I just have to trust my gut and that’s scary. I believe, as does my husband, that we need to be patient and comfort him through this. I know many would disagree with this approach but really that’s okay. We all have our way of doing things that work for us. That’s just the point, isn’t it.
Here lies the problem. We might say “well do what works for you” but why is it so hard to really live this sentiment. You do you, and I’ll do me.
It is maddening that when I see these quick, selective posts and images of another mother’s life that I can immediately start undermining my own. When I compare, I always end up feeling short changed and quite frankly, like a failure. I mean, I must be, right?! Look how fabulous that woman’s life is. I want that life!
I am in no way attacking other moms for their photo sharing choices. But of course, this is the narrative that we are meant to infer from these picture perfect images. I mean, these are the pics we are motivated to share; the highlights, the beautiful bits. I mean, there are a lot of beautiful bits in parenthood, right?! And this the perk of the social media age, we can share til our heart’s content and receive a little positive reinforcement in the process. We can selectively omit the mess and usually, unconsciously tell a story that is much more poised and put together. Even though I am a critical thinker and l can discern that I’m not seeing the whole picture, I still fall prey to the illusion that someone’s life is so much better than mine based on their Instagram feed or Facebook posts.
I’ve spent my fair share of time getting deeply acquainted with me, myself and I and let me tell you, it’s a process and I don’t always like the sticky grit that surfaces. To put it plainly, we all have some not so nice things about ourselves that we may choose to ignore, conceal or downplay. We all wear our coats of armour that protect our inner insecurities and fears.
Parenting, and especially motherhood seems to be an area that brings out our deepest vulnerabilities. As much as I like to believe in my authenticity and integrity, I wander and get lost in other people’s’ lives. It’s lovely to be an admirer and celebrate others’ accomplishments but sometimes it goes beyond this and I start to use that admiration and affection to measure my own worth.
This is why I appreciate so much the places where mothers gather to be real. Some do it on blogs, youtube and social media, others do it over skype, coffee and playdates. We need to be real with one another, even when it’s ugly and inconvenient. So be real, but also keeping in mind that my “real” is going to be different from yours. My family isn’t your family. I’m not you and you’re not me. And isn’t that friggin awesome that we are uniquely us. Okay, so maybe it sounds a little cliche but it’s true.
Make no mistake, comparison is the thief of joy.
I want joy, as much of it as I can get, but it means being real and unapologetically doing me.
It means honouring my struggles and learning to separate out my life choices from someone else’s. It means letting go of what others think of me and focusing on what I think of myself. This is the stuff that joy is made of and none of it is easy.
I will still find myself comparing and contrasting my life to another’s. I will make snap judgements and question other’s character and motives. I will misunderstand situations and put my foot in my mouth, a lot.
But, I will try.
Try to live a life that is my own.
Try not to compare.
Try not to judge others.
Try to be compassionate and empathetic.
And try to let go.
That’s where the true joy lies, in trying.