“I don’t know how you do it…” she said after glancing at my humongous (pregnant) belly and then at my three young children. “I can barely do this with my one, and you have four!”
I smiled and assured her, “I promise you that your hard is the same kind of hard as mine - it just looks different.”
(We didn’t fist bump, but I wish we had.)
I didn’t know that mom, or what she was carrying in her heart, or why she made that comment. Perhaps she wanted more children, perhaps she had suffered miscarriage, the death of her spouse, or divorce.
Or maybe she was just having a really hard morning and felt guilty about not spending enough time with her child. So she loaded him up in the car, and headed to the library - enduring toddler story time and picking out 15 library books.
And unexpectedly, while checking out those books and breathing a sigh of relief and a moment of joy, she ran into me and my posse. Then within an instant, that relief and joy dissipated - the minute she measured herself up to me.
I think we’ve all become conditioned to it - to like or dislike. In a blink of an eye we measure ourselves and others just like we do on social media.
For that mom, in that moment, her “hard” became something she compared with mine.
You may have heard that comparison is the thief of joy. My experience is that comparison is just a thief in general. Even if I’m not feeling particularly joyful, comparison can devour my non-joyful moment, as well.
For example, let’s say I’m having a crummy mom moment. So I grab my phone looking to escape, and I see another mom’s post of her child throwing a massive tantrum. Only this mom’s kitchen is prettier than mine, and her screaming child is wearing a super cute outfit, and wait - is this photo (gasp) filtered?!
In my moment of feeling crummy and seeking validation on social media, instead I found a deeper hole to get lost in. My crummy morning got even messier, because now this mom with her cute tantruming child and clever caption has 1,345 hearts next to her catchy username.
Me? Well, I’m over here eating leftover Halloween candy for breakfast (in my ‘not as pretty’ kitchen) and washing them down with an energy drink. And my negative feelings didn’t get validated - they only worsened the longer I scrolled.
When I was first diagnosed with postpartum depression/anxiety, I learned some tools to help me break my circular anxious thought process. One was to tell myself, This is the anxiety talking, this is not reality.
I have also started using a variation of this truth when I am feeling “less than” compared to another, or “not worthy” based on what I am telling myself about him/her. I even use this when I find myself feeling “better than” someone else.
Stop. This is not reality, this is just a glimpse.
These few words have changed the trajectory of my thoughts while scrolling, liking, and hearting posts and pictures of others. They have helped me in my unhealthy relationship with social media.
I’ve shared before that I took a four year hiatus from social media. (I also didn’t get a smart phone until 2016.) I needed this safeguard during this season in life. At that time, I couldn’t shut off the negative self talk I was having. Nor could I shake the negative thoughts (and speculations) I was having about others.
So, I literally shut down. I unplugged. I took a deep breath and changed my gaze. I took my eyes off my screen and put them on something real - my own life.
And while I wish I could say that one intentional decision to log off social media fixed all my issues with comparison, it didn’t. The temptation of mompetition doesn’t instantly go away once you disconnect. Even my real life relationships became a place where I measured myself.
Even after all the work I have done to overcome this area, I still catch myself struggling with my worth and identity - based on other people’s achievements/failures, parenting styles, discipline styles, marriage advice, use of money, etc. Comparison knows no limit, and it doesn’t discriminate on age, gender, marital status, or religion.
But here’s where I have found hope! You and I have the power to change the world by first changing our own world. We have every tool we need to uproot comparison - in fact, I have discovered that comparison only grows when it is fed.
So let’s stop feeding it.
I’ve decided it’s time to reclaim my mind and heart, and I want you to join me. I’m choosing to change my own world in three ways:
I am not bound to my screen. I don’t live on social media, nor do I owe social media anything. I am not “missing out” if I am offline. In fact, the world still turns whether I am online or not.
When I unplug myself, I actually plug in to real life interactions with my husband, my kids, my family and my community. And sometimes, good things happen! Like I make a new friend, I reconnect with my hubs, I play a game with my kids I wouldn’t otherwise have played, or I just look upwards and outwards and appreciate my surroundings. This is so freeing!
I’m growing in the virtue of prudence. I’ve learned that the simple act of thinking before speaking/posting/sharing - has changed the way I interact with others. I also extend more grace to others (and myself) before judging their motives for what they share and why.
The unfortunate truth is - whether online or in real life, we will bump up against comparison, just like that woman in the library “ran into me”. We can’t avoid it. And I don’t pretend the sting of comparison doesn’t hurt or irritate me, but I remind myself that it’s just a glimpse…
Ultimately, we get to choose! You and I can either focus on a glimpse - live in a momentary high or dwell in a brief low. Or we can choose to set our eyes (and hearts) on an eternal perspective - we can fixate on that which is everlasting.
By doing so, we can be redeemed. We can rest in the healing and lasting gaze of God’s love for us! Who I am and whose I am is forever and unchanging. I know that whatever my eyes take in is not a measure of my dignity, nor is it that of another person’s.
And here’s what I get so pumped about - here’s where we get to virtually fist bump. If you on the other side of this screen choose to be intentional about where you set your eyes, what you post, why you share, or how you speak - we can stop feeding mompetition! We get to take back what the thief has taken (or tried to take) from us.
You and I are no longer victims of mompetition - we are instead the victors of the sacred (and kick ass) bond of motherhood.
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV)