You know you do it. We all do.
We see that mom at the restaurant with the perfectly well-behaved child. The one who is coloring on the paper and not the table. The one eating and drinking the food on her plate, content, while her parents carry on an adult conversation.
That mom who makes you feel bad about yourself when you look back at your own table to see your child throwing food on the floor, whining, and repeatedly asking for dessert even though they haven't actually eaten a single thing off the plate. And you think, I must be doing something wrong.
Or perhaps you see a mom giving her new baby a bottle of formula. And instead of feeling bad about yourself as a mom, for once you feel good. In fact, if you're completely honest with yourself, you feel somewhat superior because you are still breastfeeding.
Whether you think you come out on top or on bottom, we compare ourselves to other moms all the time.
We compare how our kids eat, how they sleep, how we transport them - babywearing or stroller, how our kids go to daycare or have a nanny. And worst of all, we compare ourselves. Because all of the things that we see in that child are really just reflections of the parent, right? They are choices the parent made and we compare our parenting to theirs.
How Do We Measure Up?
It's oh so easy to do, especially as new parents. We need benchmarks. We want to know how we are doing.
There are so many things that we have to make decisions about. And we make them based on research, based on advice, and based on what we've seen that we liked or didn't like. And we don't know how any of it is going to turn out in the long-run, so we look around us. We think that if we can see the results of other parents in similar life stages, it will give us some perspective, some support for why we do things the way we do. Because we either want to be like that other mom, or we don't.
While comparison may be the easy thing to do, it takes a toll on us. Whether you realize it or not, comparison tears us all down.
What Kind of a Life Does Comparison Create?
For one, I would argue that it creates a life with boundaries and walls between us. In a stage of life where you need all the support and community you can get, we are creating our own little fortresses around our families. By judging and comparing, we put distance between the very women we need.
But the bigger result that comparison creates is feelings of frustration, inadequacy, and false confidence.
Think about the last time you compared yourself to another mom. How did you feel?
If she appeared to you to be doing a better job at mothering, it probably made you feel like crap, didn't it? It probably made you question how you do things and made you feel a little angry or bitter. And then who else felt the effects of that? That's right, your baby, your partner, your family.
They might have asked, "What's wrong?" or "Is everything ok?".
'No, it's not ok', you would think. 'I'm a terrible mom and she (the other mother) has it all figured out and I don't know what the hell I'm doing.'
But you can't articulate that to your husband without sounding like a complete baby yourself.
So you internalize that judgment.
You carry it around with you.
And your confidence as a mother slips just a little.
And what if that comparison put you on top? What if when you compared yourself to that other mom you were the one doing the better job and she was the one failing with her choices?
That probably didn't feel bad. That probably boosted your confidence as a mom, left you feeling like you're doing something right, and even had a bit of a positive effect on those around you.
But how true does that boost of confidence really feel? How soon will you need to compare yourself again to feel good, to feel that rush, that boost? Will you always have to rely on others to confirm that you are actually a good mom?
I would argue that no matter where you come out in the comparison game - on top or on bottom - you don't win.
Breaking The Habit
But in a world where we look to others to help us decide, (I mean isn't Google our go-to resource?) it's an extremely hard habit to break.
Some would argue that the longer you are a mother, the easier it is to trust yourself and not need to compare for validation. But if comparison is making you feel badly right now, we don't have time to wait for the wisdom that comes with experience. So what can we do now to stop this cycle?
As with all thought work and mind management, becoming aware is always the first and smallest step we can take. It will be a progression that looks something like this:
- Notice After - You compare yourself to another mom. You notice that you're having some negative feelings. You realize that you just played the comparison game. It's ok. For awhile, you may not be aware until after you've compared.
- Notice During - You compare yourself to another mom. As you're in the process of seeing how you stack up against her, you realize that you are comparing. This is progress. You're aware while you're comparing.
- Notice Before - You notice feeling compelled to compare. You stop yourself because you know it does no one any good to compare. You never experience the negative feelings because you redirect your thoughts to something else. This is the goal!
Replace Comparison With Something Else
If awareness is the first step, how do we entertain our minds if we're not comparing? What do we think about this fellow mom if we're not analyzing her parenting style, her choices, her results? What do we actually think about instead?
Your entire mothering life, you will continue to cross paths with other parents. At least, I hope you do. We should never have to go through parenting alone.
So how do we re-train our minds to stop comparing?
Well, we play with different approaches and different thoughts depending on the situation. You can try on thoughts like:
To use one of the earlier examples of watching a new mother feed her baby formula, you can think,
"I wonder why she chose to formula feed?"
Be truly curious to learn about a decision different from yours. Maybe there's a reason behind that choice that you would never have known about.
Or you could think, "She might be feeling guilt for having to formula feed. If I could, I would tell her that fed is best and that there is no difference between my child and hers."
Or you could think, "She looks like an amazing mom. Confident in her choice and choosing what is best for her and her baby, just like me."
It is not your job to compare. It takes too much mental energy and results in too many negative emotions. It is simply a pattern that you have created, and it is one that you can, over time, change.
Trust and Love
If you can remind yourself that it is your job to love on other mothers instead, doesn't that feel so much better?
It feels good to trust in your own decisions. To trust your instincts. And in doing so, and just loving on those around you, you are demonstrating and encouraging them to do the same.
How amazing would it be to create a community, a village, of moms who love each other, learn from each other, and know at the end of the day that their own choices are enough?
My homework for you then is to first start noticing when you compare yourself to other moms. Get to the point where you are catching yourself in the act of comparing, or better yet before you even go down that path. And then, come at the situation from a place of love and curiosity.