How to stop comparison from killing your positive motherhood vibe
Do you remember when you were pregnant – everyone seemed to have opinions on what you did (or didn’t do) and also seemed to think they had a right to share those opinions with you?
Opinions on what you should and shouldn’t eat, whether you should or shouldn’t exercise, why you should or shouldn’t buy that pram you had your eye on.
And it probably stepped up a gear once baby arrived.
Opinions on your decisions about how long you should breastfeed them for, how often you should bathe them and how and when you should put them down to sleep.
All of which, however well-intentioned, are likely to have left you feeling on the defensive.
Why do we compare ourselves to others?
Comparing ourselves to others is something that we do naturally – it’s a fundamental human impulse.
Psychological theories of comparison suggest that it comes from our nature as social beings. We actually make comparisons as a way of evaluating ourselves, and this is intricately connected to the way we make judgements about other people.
Sometimes when we compare, we do this in a way that means we evaluate ourselves ‘up’.
The feelings you experienced when you sat and listened to all those (mostly unwanted but freely expressed) opinions are the most likely source of the comparisons you make now.
And so you start to make judgements about other mums, because if nothing else this makes you feel more confident about how you’re doing.
And sometimes when we compare, we do this in a way that means we evaluate ourselves ‘down’.
Again, the feelings you experienced as a result of those opinions are the source of the comparisons, but they’ve left you feeling less than confident in the decisions you make now.
And so you start to believe everyone else is doing a better job than you.
The consequences of comparison
Social psychology researchers recognise that our ‘comparison-targets’ tend to be people we identify with most closely.
So, it’s not much of a surprise when you realise you look to other mums as your frame of reference for evaluating yourself.
But even though there may have been times when you’ve found yourself thinking critically about another mother’s choices, it’s more than likely that you've evaluated yourself down, rather than up.
How much time would you say you spend thinking about all the things you don’t do with or for your children?
Things that you see other mums doing (or hear them say that they’re doing) that make you feel like you should be doing too? Like:
- Stopping breastfeeding their baby once they’re fully on solids
- Getting their baby into a good feeding and sleeping routine from (what seems like) day one
- Talking about how their child meets every single developmental milestone on time (or early)
- Only serving home-made, organic, no added salt, sugar or anything else meals
- Totally being on top of looking after their children as well as going to work, having a clean, tidy house and being chair of the PTA to boot
The modern world makes it so easy to compare yourself to other mums – and to the perceived 'standard’ set by others that you then feel the expectation to reach.
Social media is like a fan to the flames of the comparison fire, with the constant presentation of perfectly curated Facebook and Instagram feeds.
Not to mention the seemingly endless selection of parenting ‘manuals’ out there (each one potentially telling you to do something different to the last!)
But comparison tends to only lead to one thing – you thinking that you’re not doing it right.
And that your children will be worse off because of everything you’re not doing right.
Stop, notice and appreciate
As easy as it is to compare yourself to other mums, it’s just as easy to listen to that voice in your head that tells you you’re not doing a good enough job.
So, how can you stop yourself from falling into the comparison trap?
Remember to stop, notice and appreciate.
When you find yourself doing the comparison thing, catch the thought and stop it.
Instead of focusing on all the things you don’t do for your child, take a minute to notice all the things you do. Like:
- Spending time with them
- Holding them when they cry and not letting them go until they stop
- Thinking about them when you’re not with them and looking forward to seeing them again
- Doing things you wouldn’t dare do in front of anyone else just to make them laugh!
- Sneaking into their room at night just to watch them sleep
- Encouraging them and celebrating with them when they succeed
- Taking a photo when they’re not looking because you just want to capture that moment
- Doing whatever it takes to make sure they’re OK
- LOVING THEM
And then show yourself some appreciation for everything that you do.
These are the things that you need to remember and hold onto when that voice tells you you’re not doing a good enough job.
Because you are.
Doing this mothering thing is hard. And chaotic. And often thankless.
But it’s also amazing, joyful and fulfilling.
You don’t have to live up to anyone’s standards but your own so give yourself the credit you deserve for everything you do.
And if you must compare yourself to anyone, make that comparison with yourself. As L.R. Knost said: