I was having dinner last night with a dear friend who is days away from having her fifth baby. I was watching her rub her belly, push his little feet out of her ribs while breathing through mild contractions, and I found myself struggling to remember what it was all like. Memory is such an odd thing and can be selective at times. The whole reflection got me thinking about those years and trying to recall what some of my greatest struggles were which led me to consider the temptation we all have to compare ourselves to others. As women and as mothers, we all find ourselves doing this, and it is a destructive and devastating habit that steals our joy and robs us of perspective.
Comparison came to mind because it is something I struggled with a lot in the early years of motherhood, although I am not rid of it completely now. I found it plagued me in two consistent ways: comparing my job to my husband’s, and comparing my house, life, and children to those of my friends. The former can be the most destructive. I remember feeling a sense of injustice at the end of the day, wanting to scream at my husband (or just the world?), “My job is harder than yours!” If you find yourself resenting your husband for his lack of hands-on work at home, because you are home all day and he isn’t, or because you, too, work outside of the home, but the children always want and need you more, stop yourself and look at all he does do. It isn’t always fifty-fifty, and it isn’t realistic to expect it to be. But at the heart of our vocation is a constant act of self-giving. The complementarity of the sexes means we will not both do the same job, but if we are always looking to give for the good of the other, then resentment has no place. Of course, this requires that we are both on board with the self-giving. Still, the devil wants to distract us with pettiness and self-pity, and the best antidote for comparison-envy is gratitude. I remember when I would be tempted to unload a perfect description of the harrowing events of my day, I would force myself to first thank my husband for three things he had done, and then ask about his day. Just the act of thanking him would help me forget my own spit-up stained clothes and sleep-deprived body for a minute.
The second way we find ourselves in the comparison trap is with our friends, and this can be a very self-destructive pattern. We look at other moms and tell ourselves, “She has it all together; her kids are better behaved than mine; her house is prettier and cleaner; her husband in nicer, and they have more money, and she is thinner than me!” When we allow ourselves to be blinded by envy, we miss all the gifts in front of us. The other universal truth I have learned over the years is that the “perfect” mom and kids we are comparing ourselves to think that we are perfect and have it all-together. Relationships and support are so crucial in this vocation and so, of course, the devil would like to rob us of it and force us into isolation or destructive patterns of envy. Again, gratitude is a beautiful remedy. We can thank God for the strengths and talents our friends possess that we don’t have, and we can learn from them and help one another.
We must remember that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that God ordained us to be a mother to these children at this time, and that no one can do this job better for these people than we can. We must trust the goodness and the wisdom of our loving Father, leave comparison alone, and walk in gratitude for all the Lord has given us.