Comparison sucks. Or as Roosevelt said far more eloquently – comparison is the thief of joy. It really is. In my life, comparison can strike at the most unlikely moments and can switch off my joy quickly, absolutely and unceremoniously. For me, comparison is at the root of a whole heap of parenting (and living) disquiet. Comparison is sneaky and creeps into every aspect of my life from time to time. It kills my creativity. It holds me back from taking risks, and stops me from growing. Comparison drains me of my personal power, and takes me far, far away from the reality that on the whole – I’m fine. My kids are fine. We’re not perfect, but we’re good. We’re enough. Exactly as we are.
When I am free of comparison, I am generally having a good time of it, in spite of the moments when it all goes a bit (or a lot) wrong. When I am free of comparison I bundle along really rather nicely. There are challenges. But they’re my challenges, and I have a sense that in the big scheme of things they’ll work out – one way or the other. There’s little that feels insurmountable. But when I compare, I invariably come to the conclusion that I am not fine. Not at all.
When I compare, I often find myself and/or my kids lacking. I lose my ability to sit in the moment and I absolutely lose my ability to accept and acknowledge the messy but ultimately beautiful journey each of us is on. And because I’m busy comparing, I’m distracted from this reality, and my head is turned far less helpfully toward what others are doing. And funnily enough, while I’m doing this, I miss stuff. Good stuff. Real and important stuff.
Take swimming lessons. They’re currently a weekly event for a couple of my kids. And their progress has been slower than I anticipated. And I compare as their classmates progress to the next level, and I wince in comparison-induced jealousy as I overhear parents at the school gate talking about their own kids’ swimming achievements. And while they’re in their lessons, I am wondering why week after week my smallest is the one struggling to propel himself forwards in the water, and my thoughts move to a hopeless place of self recrimination about whether I started him too young, or outward, blaming the teacher for somehow failing him. And the overall feeling is a sinking one. An intense sense of inadequacy, and frustration that he’s not finding it as easy as his peers appear to be. And the shame of it all tingles down my arms, and makes me slump into my poolside chair.
And funnily enough, because I’m so busy in this uncomfortable tangle of thoughts and feelings, I don’t notice that my littlest is weirdly fast when he’s traveling backwards in the water, and I overlook the small triumph when he leaps into the water bravely and unaided. And what I also fail to notice is that he is just fine. And he doesn’t care what his classmates are doing. Not a bit. He’s having a blast. He’s happy and he’s laughing and loving the opportunity it gives him to move his busy little body. He gets to splash and he gets to try and he gets to go backwards weirdly fast, and that is enough for him. Which makes him, despite his tender years, a lot wiser than his mother.
But however tangled I get, poolside or otherwise, I am determined to bite my tongue when I am tempted to speak the ugly language of comparison to my kids, and point out where others are achieving where they are not, or indeed vice versa. Because this is my nonsense, not theirs. They don’t need their joy to be polluted by the murkiness of comparison. So when comparison strikes, I am practicing turning away from it, so I can continue trying to become the adult I want my kids to grow up to be. My greatest wish as a parent is to produce three human beings who are capable recognising and reaching the joy available to them in their lives – be they swimming forward with the crowd, or speeding backward towards some destination entirely of their own.