Don’t Play the Comparison Game

It’s common to compare. You see someone with a piece of spinach in his teeth and you immediately check your own smile in the closest mirror. Someone walks by with a stray hair sticking out and you smooth down yours automatically in response.  Or maybe your comparison with another person presents itself a little bit differently.   You could be sitting at a piano recital listening to little Mr. Mozart, who can’t be half your own piano-plunking child’s age. As he whizzes through a difficult piece with amazing aptitude and ease, you can’t help but wonder why your son is not on the same level.  Or maybe it happens when you’re chatting with another mother. The SAT score of her daughter just happens to come up. How could it be that she scored a full 400 points higher than your own offspring?

We’re all tempted to compare, especially us home schooling mothers whose educational prowess—or lack thereof—could potentially affect our children academically for their entire lives. May I offer a teeny suggestion, though? Don’t do it!!

I know. It’s easy to fall into the trap. This tendency to compare innocently starts during your child’s infancy when another family’s baby toddles at eight months and your perfectly normal child doesn’t walk until a year-old. It is compounded when Mama B from the Catholic home school co-op brings along her fully literate four-year-old to classes while your first grader is still struggling with beginning words. It  causes more stress when you notice the five little Stutzman children kneeling quietly—hands folded nicely no less—in church, while yours are climbing the pews and shredding Kleenex. But be aware. Constant comparison and judgment can be the doorway where jealousy and envy can sneak through. Close it. Quick!

While an honest assessment (starting, perhaps, with a nightly examination of conscience) of what may be lacking in our little home-school, or in our personal demeanor as teacher and parent, is a good thing to routinely do, a very real danger exists of becoming too scrupulous and judging our children or ourselves too harshly. As conscientious Catholics we want to push ourselves and our families to do our and their best, but holding ourselves or our children to unrealistic expectations –perfection–is something that even Jesus does not expect us to do.

1 Corinthians 12:3-11 tells us, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. to one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit; to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.”

The Bible doesn’t suggest that one person will be simultaneously gifted with healing and prophecy and wisdom and knowledge. So why would we expect nearly perfect test scores, remarkable athletic ability, outstanding musical talent and innate holiness to come from one and the same child? Or all our children? Just because the last spelling bee winner was a home schooled child up the road doesn’t mean we should feel like a failure if the next one isn’t under our own roof.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in challenging each child to live to his potential. I don’t believe in laziness and I certainly don’t believe in letting a child off the hook because at first blush something seems too hard. Yet, we have to be realistic about the gifts and talents of each child, help them reach their potential, and steer them in the direction that God likely intends, without getting tangled in looking around and constantly judging against others.

“But I don’t do that,” you might say. “I’m realistic about what my kid’s abilities are and I don’t push them.” Ok. That’s great. But how are you with yourself? Do you beat yourself up over your over-scheduling your lesson plans? Do you get unreasonably discouraged if your child doesn’t understand your math explanation the first time you offer it? Do you fret because there’s dust in the living room or the kitchen isn’t ‘company-perfect’ every single minute? It’s time to make peace with reality, and the key is simple: focus on God, not others.

What’s more, have confidence in your abilities. God gave you these children, and He’s going to give you the tools you need to educate them, make good decisions for them and raise them. Assess their skills realistically, discuss with them their interests and aptitudes, then work with them to help them develop their talents. And pray. Pray like crazy. But don’t play the comparison game. There has never been another child created exactly like the one on your lap. And there’s never been another mom like you. God intended to put you two together. Remember that you’re each unique, and… incomparable.

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7 Comments

  1. Theresa,

    Welcome to The Integrated Catholic Life. And we should never forget that we are not in the child-raising business alone. If we can see even imperfectly the needs of our children, “how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.” We can go to the Father in confidence and ask His help in forming our children to be who He created them to be.

    Deacon Mike

  2. Theresa-this is a great post! We welcome you warmly to ICL and look forward to sharing your work with our readers. This piece resonated with me in an interesting way. My oldest son has high functioning autism and I am seemingly surrounded by people who brag about their kids. I should not compare, but some times I do. I just have to remember what a blessing he is in our lives and he is as you said…incomparable.

    Thanks and God bless-

    Randy

  3. Hello Teresa,

    While reading your excellent article I recalled the pain of being that child who was always compared and found lacking. I can’t begin to describe the long term effect that brings to bear on one’s ability to accept oneself for whom God made one to be.

    One of the greatest joys in my conversion to Catholicism was having the opportunity to be re-mothered by Mary. In her embrace there’s no sense of needing to “be better” in order to “be acceptable.”

    Thanks.

    Victoria Walters

  4. Victoria, you make a wonderful point. No matter how full or lacking our individual childhood may have been, Mary is there, as our mother, to fill in any gaps. Thank you for taking the time to share that insight!!

  5. Theresa,

    Talk about hitting the nail on the head with this article. It’s such a tight rope act to both challenge and encourage our home schooled children. Thank you for the reminder that there “has never been another child like the one sitting on your lap” or, I might add, driving off to school in that car, flying off to college on that plane, etc.. Thanks, again, for a thoroughly honest reminder why not to compare.

    Warmly,

    Heidi

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