After just one mothers group at a local community centre, new mum Claire* found it too negative an environment to go back. "I felt like I was back in high school," she said, adding that everyone seemed to be trying to prove their baby was best, comparing the development of their newborns and sizing up each other’s parenting techniques.
Shortly after, Claire also cancelled her Facebook account, knowing that her endless scrolling through everyone else’s best moments were casting a dim shadow over her long days filled with moments that were definitely unfiltered. Realizing she was too susceptible to comparison culture, she put up boundaries and focused on her kids.
And Claire’s not alone.
Many mums struggle with comparison. It’s human nature to want to make sure you’re in the "norm," especially when you’re entering a new, unknown season of life that comes with a steep learning curve. But in our current culture, the "norm" has become a very specific mould that many people don’t fit into, making a lot of parents feel subpar and discouraged.
Author and speaker Kay Wyma explains that not all comparison is necessarily unhealthy. "There’s a lot that we do to inspire or to aspire and there’s nothing wrong with aspirations," she says. "It’s our relationship with the aspirations and what occurs on the other side that could bring discontent in."
Whether it’s pride at achieving more than others or shattered self-confidence when achieving less, the negative side of comparison can quickly trap us. "Measuring up is powerful," Wyma explains, "and the ‘er’ words – the better, thinner, faster, prettier – those are signs of comparison: that I’ve made the situation about me as I relate to you, as I relate to expectations, as I relate to social media."
So how can you escape the trap of jealousy that comes with our comparative culture? Here are five tips to help when you feel like you’re not measuring up:
1. Being grateful
When scrolling through Facebook or watching another mum "do better" at parenting, Wyma has a trick to stop herself from spiralling into a cycle of negative comparison. She calls it "control, alt, delete."
"The control, recognize that you’re doing it," she describes. "You know, see what’s going on. Alt, get an alternative perspective. And in that moment [it] is actually hard to do, but there are things you can do – first of all, think about all the things you have to be thankful for . . . Think about those things you can be grateful for. Gratitude is enormous." And after you’ve taken the time to take on an alternate perspective, delete those negative thoughts and habits of unhealthy comparison.
2. Supporting others
There’s power in getting your eyes off yourself, Wyma says. And her own teen daughter provides a great example.
Wyma’s daughter had admitted to being uncomfortable sharing test results with classmates, since the situation tempted her to feel either superior or inferior to others in the class. Wyma urged her to simply say, "I’m happy for you that you got such a good grade." In applying that advice, her daughter found that being an encouragement to others freed her to rejoice in their successes.
As Christians, we’re called to "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn" (Romans 12:15) and in a moment when you’re starting to internalize the expectations and pressure you feel comparing your life to another’s, reaching out in help and support can counteract that negativity.
"If I can not make it about me and possibly celebrate with [another] person," Wyma adds, "there’s such an enormous area for ministry in that and it breathes life into everyone."
3. Having supportive friends
Claire may not have returned to the mothers’ group, but she did build a network around her of supportive friends by getting connected with other mums in her church’s children’s ministry, finding friends through a small group, and looking to family members who are in the same stage of life. She found valuable friendship with other mums who took the time to build each other up, respect each other’s parenting styles and not cast judgments if they were different from their own.
"Find mum-friends who are supportive and will be honest with you," Kristy De Leon, a licenced marriage and family therapist, suggests. "Surrounding yourself with positive mothers will not only decrease your tendencies to make comparisons but will also increase your self-esteem and strengthen your parenting."
4. Monitoring your self-talk
"Talk to yourself the way you would talk to someone else," social worker and therapist Cara Maksimow says. "Feelings of insecurity create this inner dialogue that we are not good enough, not living up to unrealistic expectation. Our self-talk becomes harsh and negative as we try to compete with a false reality."
So become one of those supportive friends to yourself!
"When you are feeling insecure and as if you just don’t measure up, ask yourself what you would say to a friend and then tell it to yourself," she adds. "Remind yourself that you got this! Treat yourself with the same kindness and compassion you would give anyone else."
Erin Wiley, a licenced family counsellor, suggests using that moment to look at where you feel like you’re not measuring up as a moment to see where God is helping you grow:
"For example, if you see another mum who has seemingly endless patience with a difficult toddler, and it’s something you struggle with (and you start beating yourself up emotionally), you could say to yourself, ‘Maybe patience isn’t my strongest virtue, but I am working on it. And I am great at making healthy meals for my kids, and spending time reading to them!’ Also a quick prayer, ‘God help me celebrate the strengths of other moms and learn from them. Help me to remember that my strength comes from You, and help me to recognize the special skills You’ve given me in order that I might be the best mum to the children You’ve entrusted to me.’"
5. Remembering the truth of social media
A key to unlinking your self-worth from what you see on social media is to remember that, like you, most people are very selective about what they post.
"Stop comparing what happens with you to what others want the world to see," Maksimow advises. "You are comparing your entire life to other people’s perfect moments. Let it go. Remember that behind every seemingly ideal picture is a mum who feels just like you do."
Wiley underscores this, saying, "Remember that we often compare our average talents with other’s greatest strengths. No parent is perfect, but because of how saturated we are in the world of social media, we often see images and read stories that leave us feeling as if every parent is doing it better than we are."
Wyma reminds us, though, that social media isn’t necessarily good or bad – it’s how you use it.
And depending on your relationship with social media, it might be wise for you to disengage like Claire. Or you can remember Wyma’s "control, alt, delete" technique and stop your thoughts from spiralling into negative comparison.
As with anything, whatever you do is keenly watched and copied by your children and, like Wyma, it can be a great opportunity to equip your kids. Being honest with them about your struggle and then modelling healthy ways to combat the jealousy that comes with comparison is an invaluable lesson for your kids to learn.
Ultimately, though, Wyma cites one thing that goes above all of the tips and tricks we can try – one thing that makes everything else possible:
"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:11-13, emphasis added)
*Names changed to protect privacy