Judging, anxious comparisons, prideful comparisons, criticizing another’s parenting, envying a friend’s family…ugh. These are behaviors I struggle with – behaviors I hate. Like St. Paul in Romans 7:15, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” This is a common struggle that can take a serious toll on our mental and spiritual health. When we work so hard and care so desperately about how we or our kids are doing, it’s a tall order for us not to compare or judge, but sidestepping these ugly adversaries is exactly what we are called to do.
Sadly, I have recently become aware of just how often comparisons or judgements run through my mind: “That girl is laughing and talking to her mom so much. Why don’t my kids talk to me? Look at how well he plays the piano—we really should have made our kids practice more. Her kids go to daily Mass with her? My kids are not spiritual enough…” It can seem like a constant string of analyzing, fault-finding, and assigning blame, and these routines lead to anxiety, sadness, and depression. They are also completely irrational.
It can never be known how much a child’s personality is due to parenting or innate character. In the same way, it can also never be known how much our own parenting is affected by variables such as our own inborn nature, upbringing, marriage, education, finances, and so on. Even when we can clearly identify “good” or “bad” parenting, it is still impossible to account for the ways in which that parent has been helped, or hindered, by that same list of endless variables. What does this all add up to? That we can’t judge! We might as well try to compare the results of a calculus test, a kindergarten phonics test, and a test for strep-throat! In fact, judging by appearances is so impossible, that the prophet Isiah said even the coming Savior “will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make a decision by what His ears hear” (Is 11:3). If Jesus doesn’t judge by what he sees or hears, should we?
Despite its irrationality, comparing and judging can be habitual and really hard to resist, but wherever it exists, we hurt one another and ourselves. For my part, I am increasingly determined to fight against these harmful temptations. In order to do so, I think it must be key to acknowledge how little I am in control of how my kids or family “ends up.” I can’t control the outcome of things, but I can try to serve God and my family with a pure heart in the present moments of each day. This is what I can control and am responsible for. And then, when the inevitable occurs and I am tempted to judge or compare, I pray I am given the grace to realize right away what I am doing, to acknowledge that only God can know the credit or blame any of us are due…and stop.
Free us Lord, I pray, from ways that are not your own.