I had an interesting bout with the “comparison trap” recently.
For a couple years now my sisters, mom and I have had a group email “journal”…three lines each day. (It was inspired by an awesome podcast I love that I wrote about back HERE, and it has turned into many more than three lines…I guess we all have too much to say:)  One night a little bit ago, right before I went to bed, I read my sister’s “three lines,” all about her kids who are all involved in some pretty great things.  What I read made me start to compare mine with hers. This, in turn, made me decide my kids must be complete slackers!
I am not much of a “comparer” in general, so it felt so strange to go into that comparison space, trying to figure out how in the world to whip these kids of mine into shape.  Am I way too lenient with them?  Do I not expect enough?  I ended up tossing and turning for hours, sleep eluding me, my mind churning about parenting and thinking through all the mistakes I’ve made, writing lists in my head of what I need to do to pull myself out of this situation.

The “comparison trap”

I don’t think I’m alone in falling into the “comparison trap.”

It is true what they say: “comparison is the thief of joy.” I agree with that.  Comparison has the power to paralyze us and take the wind out of our sails.  How can we ever measure up?  We see all the “wins” and achievements of those around us and compare them to our failures and loses.  All the things we are doing “wrong.”

But can comparison also be a positive tool for change?

I think part of the reason I was so taken aback that night after I read about all the good things my sister’s kids are doing was because my kids really have relaxed on so many things lately and so have I.  Don’t get me wrong, my kids are pretty awesome in so many ways.  They do so many things well, sometimes to the point it makes my heart overflow watching them.  But boy, there are always so many ways to grow and so much room for work and improvement.  That comparison helped me realize some things that needed to change around here and helped whip us into gear…at least for a little while. (Thank you Saren!)

So maybe comparison is also “fuel for work and improvement” in a way?

Shawni and Claire on a road trip, flinging comparison to the wind

Comparison vs. Admiration

I guess what makes a difference is COMPARISON vs. ADMIRATION.

When we start to compare, it IS a trap. We start to feel worried about ourselves and what we’re doing. But when we read or see something awesome someone else is doing beautifully, and we feel lacking in that category, perhaps we need to use the “transformer principle.”

If we transform that comparison that brings loss of hope and guilt and sadness to admiration, what a difference that can make! This helps us celebrate the goodness of others, and also gives us ideas and hope that we too can push ourselves. We just remember our results may be different from someone else’s. This whole little incident was just a good reminder for me about the mire that comparison can get us stuck in. And the beauty that comes if we can transform our thoughts into admiration to celebrate others. My sister really is so incredible, and her kids are doing such great things in the world. I’m so proud to be related and to learn from them!

Sometimes it’s just good to be vulnerable in this big wide world that is filled with so much comparison, big dreams, failed attempts, joyful victories, and trying to figure how they all fit together in the journey.

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  1. Your kids are terrific. Don't let perfection be the enemy of good. And at some point, probably pretty close to now, kids have to be responsible for their own growth, faith, challenges and gifts. You're doing a great job Shawni already 🙂

    1. Ah thank you Lissa! They really are great. This night was just a really interesting realization for me how comparison feels, and what to do about it. Great point about how they need to be responsible for their own growth in so many ways. This could be a whole new post on it's own, but sometimes I think it's so easy, especially in our day and age, to take away the "wind" that makes kids strong. (I wrote a blog post about that back here: https://71toes.com/2013/11/good-timber-does-not-grow-with-ease.html I think sometimes I help carry my kids through so many things they could learn so much from. It's all a balancing act, don't you think?

  2. There is a great BYU devotional on this called Wrestling with Comparisons. I personally believe the only comparisons we should make is to ourselves and as parents to our kids' best selves. Maybe I am getting too into word choice but I think other people's achievements can inspire us without feeling the need to compare.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation, I'll have to listen to that one! And I agree with only comparing to their best selves for sure. Each child is just so different with such different strengths and skillsets…so many different ways to do good and grow and become. But I love how as mothers (and fathers) we know our kids well enough to know when they need a little extra pushing. We have the best summer system going right now that I'll have to write about soon. I think this whole problem I wrote about in this post was self-induced because I was personally slacking with my expectations. We've changed all that and it's so awesome to watch these kids glow with the confidence that comes from working hard. They are so capable of so much and when they start to hit their stride and realize the poise and self-assurance that comes from hard work it's a beautiful thing.

  3. Max, Elle, and Grace are probably going "Phew", glad I missed out on this one", and poor Claire and Lucy are probably thinking, "Thanks a lot, Saren!" ha! Kidding, of course. From what I can tell on here, your kids do a lot. Keep up the great work, Shawni! 🙂

    1. Oh they all know no one is exempt from their mother getting on their cases here and there:) Ha! But you're right, they do do a lot. Just always room for improvement, right my-kids-who-are-reading-this?? You know I adore you no matter what, but I've loved this summer for kicking all of us into gear a little better!

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