We live in a toxic comparison culture, and the evidence is all around us: keeping up with the Joneses, discontent towards what we have, consumer culture, the idolization of cultural beauty standards.
Comparison culture is in effect driven by a false belief that worth is measured by performance, appearance, and popularity.
Back in my young adult days (before Social Media had exploded) I used to read the Daily Mail newspaper, which was popular in the UK. Not really for news, but for photos and gossip about celebrities. What happened though was that I became dissatisfied: with myself, my appearance, and my circumstances.
I felt envious of all those celebrities that somehow just seemed to have everything together. They were so beautiful; their skin free of blemishes; their clothes exquisite. I was no longer happy being me. I wanted to be them. While the newspaper was responsible for promoting certain content, my feelings of insecurity, envy and inadequacy just revealed the sin in my own heart: idolization.
Comparisons in motherhood
Never have I noticed comparisonitis more than in motherhood. To be sure, when I was a young adult I noticed envy and comparisons between women: who had the best grades at university, who wore the trendiest clothes, who had a personal laptop (we’re talking about the early 2000s!).
But when I became a mother and spent time with other mothers, it seemed like the comparisons were no longer just about the things pertaining to the woman herself—her clothes, material possessions, career—but her children too. In a sense, what the children achieved was somehow a reflection of the mother herself: how old they were when they started walking and talking, how many after-school activities they did, how soon they started to read and write; and so forth.
Within mummy circles, there often seems to be this unspoken mindset that mothers who have talented, beautiful, and clever children are somehow better mothers than all the rest. They’re the ones who stimulate their children in just the right way; they’re the ones who care enough about their kids to invest in their skills and education; they’re the ones with the perfect gene pool.
And it’s not just the children that are comparison measuring sticks. Another source of comparison is the woman’s achievements while being a mother. Her perfect balancing act of being successful in her career, maintaining a beautiful home and doing a myriad of activities with her kids, all while being a good wife, doing voluntary work and looking a million bucks. Her busyness is worn as a badge of honour. But not the hassled busyness of dishevelled hair, sweaty armpits and creased clothes. No. The perfectly poised busyness of a mum who has everything together.
And then there is also another popular badge of honour in the mummy awards, and that is the martyr mum. The mum who tells everyone that she was up all night making a suit for her child’s dress-up event at school. The mum who says she spent the whole of a Sunday afternoon making snacks for her children to take to school the following week.
I don’t mean to be critical of mums who do this, as I too have fallen prey to this way of thinking and acting. But I do want to bring to light these mindsets which to me show several things about human nature: pride (I’m better than all the other mums because I – fill in the blank), insecurity (I must show that I’m a good mum because I sacrifice so much), vanity (I’m so good at balancing everything).
I’ve also taken on these mindsets in the past. Early on in motherhood, I remember I wanted to show people how good my house looked because in my insecurity I felt the state of the house was a reflection on me as a person. I’ve also been proud as a mum in my belief that it was because of the lifestyle I promoted that my children weren’t ill often. I’ve also been vain about my ability to be involved in several projects.
Yet, I’ve noticed that when I adopt these mindsets, I fall into an endless trap of comparisons, envy, and insecurity.
When I get it right according to man-made standards, I compare myself to those who don’t, and I become proud. When I get it wrong I compare myself to those who get it right, I judge them as having more worth, and I wallow in despair.
What’s the answer?
The real answer to this issue of comparison is to take our eyes off ourselves, and other people, and stop idolizing certain parenting approaches, situations, abilities, appearances, gifts.
In effect, what we need is to turn to God- Our Creator and Saviour, and worship Him alone. When we do so we will stop being prideful, vain and insecure. We will recognize God’s blessings, His unique design and calling for each of us, and His abundant grace.
When we meditate on the Gospel we will be reminded again that what the world calls successful: career, money, popularity, beautiful possessions – are rubbish compared to the beautiful redemption and righteousness we have in Jesus.
Let’s keep our eyes focused on God. Let’s keep our eyes focused on the beauty of His redemption in Jesus. Let’s stop comparing. Let’s start worshipping. It will change you. It will change me. It will change us.
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