comparison & guilt

In my estimation these are the two deadly sins that women and specifically as mothers we allow to invade and steal joy from our lives. Reflecting on what thoughts invade my mind and what cogitation I then invite in I came to this conclusion: guilt & comparison are the sources of much mental pain for me and I am done with it.

I am realizing I am not the only one who struggles with this. In talking with a friend a new mom friend of mine I heard in her voice the struggle of comparing herself to other Moms already. Especially in the vulnerable place of new motherhood comparison seems almost unavoidable. It is tough because many times it is useful to ask other Moms "what do you do when...?" or "how do you handle ...?" But the struggle for me is not taking the advice or comments to berate myself, my struggles, or my choices. The difficulty then lies in choosing to not compare in ways that lead to jealousy, self pity, or even a fix of "well, at least I am doing better than ..."

Comparison starts early in life but accelerated for me after having Annikah. It began with weight gain during pregnancy, birth stories, and continued to how old was your daughter when she crawled, walked, (fill in the developmental milestone). It occurs when I see a woman who looks fabulous and wears a size 2 after having 4 kids, talking with a mom who can work full time and still seems to give their family everything, seeing a mom who stays at home and plays creative games with the kids while listening to Bach everyday and still cooks a 3 course meal and cleans the house. Some days I cannot even manage to clean up after the path of destruction Anni leaves in her wake forget cooking or cleaning! Comparison if allowed to invade=death of gratitude and joy. I do not think I am the only one who suffers from comparison. A mom friend of mine said to me the other day "you always have your s*%# together! I wish I could do that." I was shocked for two reasons 1. I rarely feel like I do have my s*%# together and 2. I always feel like other women do. I began thinking Hmm, we all suffer from this.

Guilt sometimes follows comparison. Case in point, I am talking to another woman about how they handle discipline issues. After telling me how their toddler responds to choices, time outs, fill in the blank type of model discipline I feel terrible that I sometimes lose my temper, I feel like giving up, and ultimately feel like a failure. The trouble with this comparing is that there is no end, there is always someone skinner, better at their job, richer, more frugal, better at disciplining their kids, more patient, etc. The lie of it all is that said Mama may be (and is) an amazing mother but she still struggles in areas. It is easy to see only the outside of people, the pretty package we all wrap ourselves up in sometimes when the reality is that we are all fallen, sinful humans. Realizing this and acknowledging it makes us beautiful and real. It is too easy to see in others the perfect marriage, completely wonderful family, beautiful-well-behaved-every-second-of-the-day children, dream job, killer body, on and on. There is someone out there that is achieving their goals, acquiring wealth, prestige, and favor while having an amazing family. They are leaders, trendsetters, and their accomplishments are noticed and appreciated and they never falter. Their life is just perfect. That is all a lie.

The trouble is if any of these perfect people were walking around life would be pretty boring, predictable, definitely no fodder for blogging, and we would have no opportunity to embrace our own and each other's brokenness and grow in character. I know in my head that I do not truly believe any one's life is perfect but when I unfairly compare I am living like I do. Our faults are what make us human. I have often said if I did not have my gloriously big bootay I would never hit the gym. In fact, if I was naturally skinny I would make eating junk food while sitting on my butt into a full time sport. The result would be an unhealthy but skinny me. My desire to lose weight when I was heavier led to a true love in my life now, running and working out and that led to a healthier me and the ability to help younger girls dealing with body image issues. A flaw I would never have signed up for has made my life better. It also makes my life richer to be loved as a flawed person and love flawed people. Jason's love for me means more because I know he has seen ugliness from me, not just the perfect wedding photo freeze frame (that was gone before the wedding photo proofs were in).
All guilt is of course not negative, some guilt leads to conviction, confession, and change. For that guilt I am grateful (when I actually listen). I am not speaking of that kind of guilt but the kind that is based in feeling defeated, not good enough, the kind of guilt that takes away your agency to be in your life at every moment.

I can spend too much time feeling guilty because some days I would rather be working in a classroom and be challenged by teaching, guilt because there are times when Anni watches 3 Elmo's World episodes in a row because I am emotionally checked out and not feeling creative, guilt that I did not love breastfeeding, guilt that I know I should be reading instead of watching Oprah, guilt that I took out my crappy day on Jason, guilt that I am not doing more to save the environment, help my community, serve others, etc. I know other women feel this guilt as well. Some friends that work feel guilty because they have to drop off their child at daycare and cannot be there for every new first. No matter who you are of what your current situation is I am sure there is some guilt that invades that is not productive.
As I have reflected on the impact and power I have given these emotions I realize that the enemy has used them in my life to steal joy, create divisiveness, and not allow me to be grateful in each moment. I now know that there is no place for them in my life. The sin of thinking, dwelling on, even giving one moment to these thoughts is that they rob me of being grateful for everything in my life just as it is. There may be a million women I can compare myself to and a zillion things I can feel guilty about doing or not doing but there is no one who is me or YOU! Freedom from these sins can allow me to live in the moment.

a couple verses spoke to me on this in my life.....
2 Corinthians 3:17: "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."
Another version of this passage is from The Message: "And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We're free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him. "

In Galatians 5, Paul addresses not allowing ourselves to be burdened and living a life of freedom in Jesus. Again the Message, "1 Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.22-23But what happens when we live God's way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
23-24Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.
25-26Since 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. "

I just love that version, each one of us is an original!! Amen to that!

So I am taking a pledge here and now and any other women out there who would like to join me in my quest for freedom from comparison & guilt please do:

I will not compare myself with others for the sake of feeling better about myself, berating myself, or defining myself. I will instead search inside me and turn to God and His Word for reflection & definition. I will not feel guilty for not hand making from recyclable materials all my greeting cards (or any other task), nor will I feel guilty (or better than anyone else) for doing just that. I will not hate on others or be hated on. I will not feel guilty for not being a magazine cutout, perfect, airbrushed women. I will not buy into the lie that if I had more, were thinner, more patient, read more books, baked home made bread everyday for my family, were smarter, etc. I would be happier. I will not feel guilty about my shortcomings as a wife or mother because I know God can work through them. I will allow the Holy Spirit in and tune out the voices that make me feel less than a daughter of the King.
All I am called to do is be me, be the woman, daughter, friend, wife, and mother I am and I am gonna get on that.

Comments

Laura S said…
I agree! I compare myself to others all the time and get down on myself or have false pride. Thanks for this post Rox, and keep me honest :)
Laura
annalea said…
you get on that! i am glad to have something specific to pray about for you. too true how this creates divisiveness among women. we can be are own worst enemies when we play this rigged game of comparison. i will think i am doing good in this area, and then realize i am wondering why a baby gia's age has more words than she does. silly stuff. anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts and keepin it real. i love you!
annalea said…
also, thanks for the card. i had a good birthday surrounded by friends. (here and in spirit)
Michelle said…
Seriously. Well said. It can get like middle school, this motherhood thing. I told you about my gloves at the park experience. It is very ugly to feel judged like that. I wrote about feeling inadequate here:

http://fistfulofflowers.blogspot.com/2008/01/truth.html

I realize that we all have some cross that we bare, some hurt that we carry, even people who seem to have it together. It always amazes me when people indicate to me that they perceive that I always have it together (with the amount of indecision and doubt I carry sometimes).

FWIW-I have always thought of you as a great mom, and a general inspiration. And your girl is wicked smart and sweet to boot.
Stan or Jess said…
I just was telling Stan how I didn't feel like I was doing a good enough job as a housewife, that I expect so much more of myself to get things done and in large part I think that is comparing myself to idealistic versions of people I know. That really I am my own worst enemy and that it is ok if I don't cook dinner from scratch every night, its ok that my birth announcements and thank you notes didn't go out as fast as I planned. I just need to enjoy my Fred - that's my job as a mama, and asking questions about child development is for informational purposes only and not for comparing or to keep myself up worrying. I mean really its ok that I haven't showered in a week or had time to brush my teeth...kidding! But who knows there may be a week like that, and it has to be ok, as long as I'm keeping Fred healthy & happy does anything else really matter? I take your pledge! This should help keep me focused and help me to discern my future when it comes to work - I love the classroom but right now I love Fred more.
Lola said…
Thanks for meeting me for lunch today, girl. I always appreciate your insights and am learning a lot. I am sure I will refer back to this post in the coming months. Thanks for sharing your experiences with great vulnerability.

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