Comparison is the Thief of Joy in Parenting

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Comparison is the Thief of Joy in Parenting

Monica Berg
April 28, 2020

Nowhere in any parenting book I’ve ever read was there a chapter about parenting during a pandemic. There are quite a few resources about parenting a special needs child, twins, or an advanced learner. But I think it’s fair to say that none of us were prepared for the challenges parents across the world are experiencing now. Even families who homeschool aren’t accustomed to staying home as much as experts are recommending.

In this new culture of working and parenting from home, we are all trying to find our “sea legs.” I see parents sharing their innovative ways to spend the day with their kids, whether they are working from home or temporarily out of work. I love the way communities of parents are coming together virtually to share support and resources. Though, I also see something else happening: comparison. Watching parents light a scented candle and then gather around the kitchen table for a game of Monopoly at 2pm looks nice. And I’m sure they are having a great time. But that may not be what it looks like for you. There are infinite ways to parent during a crisis. It isn’t going to look the same for each of us. When we compare ourselves to the experience of another, we end up feeling like we lack something important; we feel less than. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” a statement that is undeniably true in parenting, in addition to life in general. What makes this quote resonate so deeply with me is that it speaks to something kabbalists have taught for centuries—comparing ourselves to others blinds us from seeing our own potential to have an impact on the world. This lack of self-appreciation robs us of Light and leads to feelings of self-doubt, insecurity, anxiety, and even depression. This kind of negativity prevents us from connecting to the Light, an absolutely essential part of parenting with love and compassion.

Irrational comparisons ignite fear and discomfort, and in turn, distance us from the people and support we need most—that is, our parenting community. Comparing ourselves to others leads us to judge ourselves. And when we do that, we are also judging others who are struggling. (And here’s a little secret: every parent struggles with something.) There is no legitimate way to criticize ourselves without aiming that exact criticism at every other parent in the same situation. Self-judgment is a downward spiral. What we will find though, is that the less we judge ourselves, the less we judge others. If we can begin to accept our flaws as opportunities for growth, we can begin to heal and have compassion for others who struggle similarly.

When it comes to raising children, there is always going to be someone who seems to be doing it better than you, balancing life like a boss, and generally making it all look easy. It’s not easy for any of us. I remember how hard parenting felt when I had my first child. Now with four kids, I almost want to laugh at how insignificant that struggle was in comparison to having my second—a child with special needs—then my third, and then my fourth. But that line of thinking isn’t really fair to myself (or any other parent), because, at the end of the day, it’s all hard.

Each of my children brought me new opportunities to grow in (sometimes) uncomfortable ways as our family stretched to fill each new shape. Every single transition came with unique challenges. To think that superstar parenting only happened once I reached a certain level of motherhood heroism is to ignore the significance of each step I took in a larger journey of transformation. Success is relative to the learning curve. Every step, every stage, every struggle counts. They were all lessons that have brought me to where I am now. As parents, we are growing exponentially, regardless of whether we have one child or four, work or stay home, parent solo, or with a partner. And all of it is hard. Especially now.

Our job as parents is not only to love, nurture, and care for our children but to accept ourselves with compassion when we are not at our best or parenting during challenging circumstances. A lack of self-acceptance comes from a loss of connection to their source, the Creator. Everyone has struggled with self-acceptance at some point in their lives. Parenthood seems to leave us even more vulnerable to such criticisms. Instead of comparing ourselves to others who seem to be winning in the mother-of-the-year department, we’d do better to recognize the things we admire in them and foster those qualities in ourselves.

When we shift our perception—and let’s face it, comparison is all about perception—we no longer feel demoralized in relation to someone whom we think is doing a better job raising kids than we are. What others see on the outside has little to do with what is happening on the inside. In all my years teaching, lecturing, and traveling around the world, what I have come to believe in my core is that all parents struggle. The spectrum of difficulty for parents is wide, and therefore, without a doubt, we all have much more in common than we realize. We are all just trying to figure it out and become the best versions of ourselves, and the best parents to our children. As real people living in a real (and imperfect) world, we are always growing, making mistakes, learning, and evolving just as we should.