Like many women, I have always found things to compare myself to.
I have compared my body when mine is not the way I want, even though my body does amazing things; I have compared my marriage when we hit bumps in the road, even though our love is strong; I have compared my job and career when others seem to have
more money and better perks, and therefore a better life (obviously). I now compare my parenting when I’m searching for answers about how to do it better, because sometimesI feel helpless and completely inadequate, even though my children are happy, healthy and incredibly loved. But sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who has a toddler that tantrums and fights and rebels the way mine does. Sometimes I feel like the only “hot mess” mom who can’t keep her cool, and I wonder how I can be the one who can. And sometimes I feel like I’m the only mom who struggles to find a balance with a toddler and an infant. And even though I know it’s irrational, the comparisons have a sneaky way of making a significant impact on my psyche.
But the truth is, we compare because what we see is never the whole story, and from the outside we mothers all “look” the same. We can only assume that with which we can identify, and yet we only really know what goes on behind our own closed doors…
So here’s a little story. It’s a story of Mondays, it’s a story of perspective.
Last Monday was a doozy… as was the Monday before that. I guess you could say Mondays are our “trigger” days – when everyone seems to get up on the wrong side of the bed, and yet my overambitious, adventurous spirit inevitably leads us down the wrong road…(so I’m learning). But last Monday did have one silver lining.
I decided to brave the big world with 2 kids in tow on a trip to a nearby children’s museum. Of course, I didn’t do this without reinforcement – my dear friend and her son (my son’s lifelong pal) joined us, and while I was still outnumbered by my 2, having a fellow mama of a fellow toddler by my side made the prospect of a big activity a little easier to manage.
I’ll start by setting up that getting out the door is always a feat in itself, and that morning, my son had the devil in his eye from the moment he woke up. But once we made it into the car, after a few bouts of biting, hitting, and “toddler deafness” (real thing), I was hopeful our morning would be a success. And much to my anticipated surprise, the morning was just that. He ran around, giddy as ever, and full of awe and wonder, exploring one activity after another – perfectly engaged with his surroundings. So to that end, a perfect success it was – and my “only job” was to follow him semi-closely behind, with a baby strapped to my front, and a diaper bag strapped to my back. (Exercise, I call it). And I could at least take comfort in knowing he was safe in this big, enclosed, family-friendly space, which allowed me to keep my mom-cool until the end.
Nearly the whole time, I was actually sweating bullets just waiting for something to go awry. Some may call this “negativity,” some may call this “uptight,” I call it – “mommy-ing two”. Of course I was having a nice time – but there was the constant lingering internal anxiety that being a mom with two young kids alone in public seems to harbor in its very nature. What will I do when my baby needs to eat? What will I do when my son has a disagreement with his friend, or worse, a stranger? What will I do when someone needs a diaper change? What will I do when my son doesn’t listen to me? What will I do when someone has a meltdown? And, of course, what will happen when it’s time to leave? These are all things I would ask myself if I had one kid, as these are all inevitable. But when juggling a spirited and excited toddler, a heavy diaper bag, and a 16 pound human attached to by body like an extra appendage in a crowded play space filled with other children, toys and activities, the casual “watching your kid” suddenly feels not so casual. And half of the juggle is predicting the future and staying ahead of everyone’s needs, even though there is only enough time and energy to do now and think later. Somehow, we make it through, but not without these silent battles.
And then it happened: the dreaded diaper change. After a 5 minute “prep talk,” I managed to shuffle my son into the bathroom (baby still strapped to my chest, of course). This moment was a first for me, but I’m sure it won’t be the last. It was a moment of fight or flight, and moment when my instincts had to take over, and I was mostly thankful in that moment for my professional diaper changing skills. This task, I could see, was not for the faint of heart. As soon as we were in, door locked, essentials out, I went through the motions of disrobing my child upon the table, shoes and all (he’s very particular about how we do this – and location bears no consequence), and went into autopilot to get this job done as quickly and efficiently, as possible…with little to no mess. And we did it – legs flailing, wipes flying, baby crying and slipping through the bottom of the carrier – we did it. But through all our ruckus, I was sure we would walk out of the bathroom and into a room full of strangers staring at us with silent concern in their eyes. So with (barely) washed hands, a (now) disheveled diaper bag, and shoes that somehow made it back on the right feet, we stepped out of the bathroom still breathing, and still in one piece.
Not only did no one meet us with any worry or concern for whatever just took place in this restroom, but, in fact, I was met by a pregnant mother, wrangling her 4 year old into the restroom after us, who looked at me with a smile and said:
“YOU MAKE HAVING 2 LOOK SO EASY.”
I couldn’t believe my ears.
I laughed, I rolled my eyes, I said “Thank You” – and I meant it from the bottom of my heart; the laugh, the eye roll, and, most graciously, the Thank You. I couldn’t believe that through all my huffing and puffing, my social toddler-induced anxiety, and my nervous sweats under my Ergobaby that someone saw “ease.” And while I felt anything but, I saw it in other mothers, by the dozen.
The truth is, there was very little about that day that felt easy. Once we got home in time
for an (unfortunately) short nap, everything continued to crumble. I had a tantruming toddler on my hands for an hour straight, and between him and my teething baby, I couldn’t catch a break until my lights went out at 11pm. But I also know this day is not unique to me or my family. It does not mean I failed myself or my children, it does not mean I’m an unfit mother, it’s does not mean I’m inadequate in any shape or form. In fact, this type of day is probably par for the course when parenting 2 – but that doesn’t make it any less difficult. So as I continued to sludge through the highs and lows of my 2-kid tango, her words stuck with me, and I realized she was just the reminder I didn’t know I needed. I realized, more than ever before, that for every person I have compared myself to, there must be one person doing just the same with me. It’s a silent battle, but one we can win if we stay kind to each other and extra kind to ourselves.
They say comparison is the thief of joy… so why do we, as moms, as women, as people, do this as if it’s a natural part of our human DNA? As if we are trying to make our lives feel more picked apart and raw than they already do? And It feels as though the deeper and deeper we fall into motherhood, as a role, a lifestyle and an identity, it becomes that much easier to get swept away by the vicious game of comparison. But, as I always say, we don’t deserve that – and neither do our kids. So on the the days you are down on yourself and the comparison game has gotten the best of you, remember that what you see in someone else, someone else probably sees in you, too. We are here to learn from each other, guide each other, and help and support one another. But while looking to each other for “learning” sake can be positive, looking to each other through the lens of comparison can only breed envy, resentment, and a degradation of self for feelings that are based largely on pure assumption, and often very little truth…
The next time you feel particularly wont to compare, turn it around and compliment that mama on that which you see and admire. You never know, but you may just have the words she needs to hear that day.