The Comparison Parenting Trap

motherhood, parenting / Saturday, June 27th, 2015

I’ve been thinking some more about the comparison trap and my fear of making other people envious I blogged about a few days ago. In Kay Wills Wyma’s book that I mentioned, I’m Happy for You (Sort Of…Not Really): Finding Contentment in a Culture of Comparison, towards the end she says something that stuck with me –

…this attempt to tame comparison began with my eyes being opened to its destructive and peace-stealing nature in the parenting realm…Though I think we’ve seen that comparison strikes everywhere, its effects concern me most in the area of parenting because that happens to be where I live…

Judgmental and envious comparison is most definitely a HUGE destructive force in the parenting world, or at least it has been for me and, from what I’ve observed, for many other parents out there.

In my Be Happy for Me post, I shared my fears of sharing about myself for fear it would somehow make others feel less compared to what I shared. But that’s only part of it.

I think another reason I hesitate sharing about my life or opinions or what our family is up to is the fear that others will compare to their own opinions or life ideas, and then – the worst part – that they will judge me based solely on what I said – or at least on what I tried to say.

It seems there is nothing beyond ridicule or judgment these days. It makes it almost impossible to share anything about ourselves without someone feeling either offended or self-righteous.

I think this is especially true in the parenting world these days.

There is an opinion about everything parenting-related. From how/if/when to become pregnant to how to birth, feed, diaper, sleep, not sleep, dress, play, etc, etc.

I remember, as a new mom, how incredibly helpless and dumb I felt. I thought I would just know how to be a mother. How to give birth and how to feed my child or change her diaper.

But I didn’t know anything.

So I checked out all the books and then – this is where I may have gone wrong – I got onto the Internet and joined all those mommy parenting forums seeking answers.

Some of the information I read was helpful. But as I spent more time reading others’ ideas and experiences, I looked and read and listened to all the different ways other parents were doing it and suddenly, I felt like I had no idea what I was doing and that I was doing it all wrong.

I wish I could send tell my back-then self – “You’re NOT doing it wrong.

And I wonder now, had I not had as many outside influences to compare to, would I have eventually figured it out? Would I have been as overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious about every.single. parenting decision I made?

I was talking with my mom about this and asked her if the comparison parenting judgement traps existed when she was raising us in a time without internet forums and social media.

She said yes, comparison and judgement have always been around and always will be. But she agreed it probably wasn’t as easy to see as it is now. All we have to do now is log on to Facebook or visit the blogs and we’re inundated with opinions and standards about everything we should and shouldn’t do for our children.

I look back at the past 11 years and realize how I entangled myself in all the parenting comparison traps. I look back and remember in disgust at myself how smug I became as I flailed around trying to figure out how to mother my children.

I’m not sure if it’s my age or the number of years I’ve now experienced as a mother, but I feel like I’m finally wriggling out of that trap. As Kay continues to comment in her book,

I know I will be a parent for the rest of my life, but as the kids get older, I care less and less about societal noise.

And it’s so freeing!

The more I stop comparing myself to what I identified as “better” mothers, the more I’ve become a better mother myself.

I think there is a time and place for looking to other parents to see how they do it. I’ve learned many valuable lessons from my community of mothers, both in my day-to-day life and even on the evil Internet. (gasp!)

But at some point, I, and all parents, have to figure out who I am as a mother and who my children are. At some point, I have to stop looking at what others are doing and “pay attention to the unique work God has given me“.

And as I gain more confidence in this, I feel less worried or fearful about what others may think of how I parent.

It’s also becoming easier to hear and look at what others are doing without immediately comparing myself to them or judging them. Instead, I’m able to observe it and honestly say, “Hey, that’s a new idea, thanks for sharing,” and then decide whether or not it’s something that would be helpful for me to try. And if it’s not, then that’s great it works for them but that doesn’t mean if it doesn’t work for me that I’m a terrible mother.

The same goes vice versa. Instead of dolling out unsolicited advice to embellish my own ego or strengthen my own opinions, I care more about listening to what other mothers struggle with and – if asked and if it is truly helpful – then I offer up some words of encouragement or ideas that may or may not work for that mother and that particular child or situation.

Or at least this is what I’m trying to do more of. I’m sure I’ll always be in progress.

Have you found comparison to be “destructive and peace-stealing” in your parenting life? Or have you always been confident and indifferent to others’ opinions? (good for you if so!)

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