I’ve been running around the house the last few days like a drill sergeant with a severe case of OCD. “What?!” I shriek at my lovable toddler as he tracks dirt all through my relatively clean house. “Do not move! I need to get your shoes off!” He looks at me with saucer-like, uncertain eyes. I swoop down on him like a hawk to its prey and wrestle his muddy sandals off, glaring at him. “I don’t need to be cleaning all day! Do you understand me, mister?” He’s thoughtfully quiet and rightfully wary. He knows the mommy monster is here. I’ve been snarky, snappy, and disgruntled. All three of my children have been doing their best to steer clear of me.
Those aren’t the only signs that something is amiss. On a recent trip to Target, I felt compelled to spend way more than I should, buying little flourishes for my home that are not necessary. These were no bargains either. I paid full price! It’s completely out of character for me. I clip coupons and enjoy shopping at the Goodwill. But, I shelled out big bucks for fanciful luxuries like decorative pillows and table runners. Why?
Comparison and Contentment
But recently, I had just gotten the kids down for much-needed nap and I was perusing my emails. I clicked on one from the mother of my son’s preschool buddy. She would be unable to make tomorrow’s playdate at our house. The relief that washed over me was palpable. The tension in my shoulders dissipated and the deep furrow in my forehead seemed to magically soften. I read on. She had a “health concern” and needed to get to the doctor before the weekend. My mind went to the dark place “Could it be cancer? Dear God. Does she have cancer?”
Something let loose. I sat in silence, contemplating the real reason I had been in such a tizzy over the last several days.
A couple of weeks ago we were invited to the same mother’s home for a playdate. When we arrived, I was immediately struck by the size of the home. I couldn’t help but wonder about the astronomical mortgage payment as I knocked on the grand double doors, surreptitiously scanning the beautiful front porch and meticulously landscaped front yard. It had to be at least double the size of our house. She came to the door with a bright, welcoming smile. The inside definitely matched the exterior and did not disappoint. The kids played nicely. It had the makings of a very pleasant experience, but the whole time my mind swirled with irrational dread… “I’m going to have to have them over to my house next!”
When I was pregnant with our first, my husband and I bought a fixer-upper assuming we’d have ample time to do some restoration. Ha! Newbies. We barely have time to take showers. Little by little, we have managed to make real, noticeable improvements to our modest home, but it still requires a lot of TLC, of which I am sometimes acutely aware.
A Perspective Shift
Now, I realized that awareness of our home’s flaws had been so foremost in my mind that it had caused my mood to completely tailspin. As the old adage goes, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” And my kids were experiencing that lack of joy in a very tangible way. The mommy monster had taken up residence in their home. I had let my perceived inadequacies take over. I had been so preoccupied worrying about how I would appear to this other mom that I never considered how I measure up in the eyes of my children or more importantly how God sees me.
Was this what He wanted for me in the vocation of motherhood? And this other, seemingly Pinterest-perfect mom, whose opinion I was so concerned about? She was smack in the middle of a real health crisis. My brand new, charming, full-price table runner seemed pretty pointless. Perspective shift accomplished.
Setting Aside Comparison for Joy
The next day, I got an email from the woman. She thanked me for the prayers and expressed what a terrifying 24 hours she’d endured. She had a lump in her breast, so the doctor had wanted to get her in for a mammogram ASAP. Gratefully, it turned out to be nothing.
She was enthusiastic to reschedule the playdate. We haven’t set a date yet. But I’m hoping that this time I’ll surrender my worries about not measuring up. I hope I’ll shelve my perceived shortcomings. I pray I’ll have the grace to let go of all the needless comparisons.
We often feel the pull to weigh our blessings against others’. But in so doing, we become slaves to worry, stress, and the world’s critical opinions. On our journey to holiness, those concerns don’t help us. In fact, they are a serious hindrance to becoming a true disciple of Christ. I’m going to work hard to focus on being content with what I have. It’s truly temporary anyway. For right now, I have a husband and kids who love me and are happy to forget that the mommy monster ever existed.
How to Move from Counting Shortcomings to Counting Blessings
If you feel as if you’re getting caught in the craziness of the comparison trap, here’s how to find your way to contentment and ultimately joy: consider the peace and serenity of our Blessed Mother. She is such a role model!
I love meditating on the joyful mystery of the Nativity. Mary made no complaints when she placed the baby Jesus in a manger in the stable of Bethlehem. The Redeemer of the world slept in a feeding trough in a barn! Mary wasn’t stressing about her impoverished setting. Instead, she was focused on the beautiful and perfect Gift right before her.
Just take a deep breath so you, too, can actually see all the amazing gifts God has placed right before you. Be sure to share that contentment with other moms. Remind yourself and your friends to relax and to cut each other some much-needed slack. We need constant reminders to remain grateful and avoid the pull of comparison. The friendly mom who has yet to see our home? I’m pretty certain when she does finally come, she’s not going to be thinking about frivolous things like throw pillows. She’ll be happy to spend some time watching her son interact with his friend and reveling in the fact that she’s alive to do it.
Am I now currying favor with human beings or God? Or am I seeking to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave to Christ. -Galatians 1:10
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Mary Jo Gerd traded in her secular media job for the more rewarding, albeit lower paying vocation of full-time wife and mother. She hasn’t looked back since. Well, maybe once or twice. She lives in Denver and enjoys blogging about her family and Catholic faith here.