The Comparison Trap

“Am I good enough?”
Bred from insecurity
Fed by silliness
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A dear friend of mine helped me one time to define the different voices competing in my head… you know the voices – they never say things like “wow, you look wonderful today” or “what a nice power point presentation”.  They say things like…

–  No matter what I do, my hair always looks like crap.
–  Did you see what he did in that meeting? Can you believe it??
–  I wonder if her presentation went well… I sure hope they like mine better…

My friend calls these the I Suck voice, the You Suck voice and the Compare Me voice. None of them are my best self, let’s be clear.

The compare me voice has been front and center lately. It started when I was at a dinner party at another parent’s house.  Their house was amazing. It was 3 years old, each wall looked freshly painted and the overall design seemed plucked from  Architectural Digest.  I am quite sure that dirt would never have the nerve to land anywhere. At one point, I wondered out loud whether I needed a coaster to put under my glass on the kitchen counter (it was made of a strange material…).  I couldn’t believe that children lived in this home, it was so pristine.  Now, one part of me dwelled in the “you suck” voice (“What must it be like to live in this house as a kid?”) but for the most part I berated myself about how dirty and completely too full-of-crap my house was.  (Please note: these are beautiful, kind, caring people… this is my issue, not theirs.)

Then their daughter came to our house. I was horrified. What would this kid think of our house, with its dust bunnies and piles of catalogs. I publicly pretend it is ok by calling my house “well lived in” but honestly, I was embarrassed about what this kid would think or worst – gasp! — what would she tell her parents?? Would she ever be allowed to come over again?

Well, she came over again. And I was cutting up something to make some rags and she said “Oh wow, my mom never does stuff like that” with some admiration in her voice.   I stood up straighter. What? My thriftiness somehow impresses?  Perhaps there is something to approve of??

So what was that all about?  Well, the I Suck voice was fully present (my house is a mess and I’m unworthy!)  and then invited in the Compare Me Voice to make me feel better (I’m cooler because I cut things up).  In neither case were these voices in service of me.

I think the parental comparison trap is inevitable, but I think I put too much store in what I imagine the kids think. As I reflect back 30+ years, I don’t ever remember thinking that one friend’s house was always clean and another chock full of toys. They were just Stephanie’s house or Mike’s house. None of them ever wondered aloud why my mom felt compelled to stack mail for weeks at a time… No one cared.

So I am going to try to sunset these voices when it comes to parental comparison. As a friend who I confided my “I Suck” voices in said:  “So what? You have the cool 85-year-old English Tudor with the period light fixtures you’ve searched out and the talkative wooden floors. It isn’t worse, it’s just different. And it’s beautiful too.”

Thanks, Rosie. That’s the voice I really needed to hear.

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2 Comments

  1. Amen sister! My “I suck” voice is a mouthy brat and talks way too often. I used to stress about the house and once asked my kids about the comparison of other people’s houses. They basically said nobody cares about the house, only who’s beating who on which video game. Whew – that gave me permission to stop stressing on it so much. Thanks for the thoughtful and very relatable post. You rock – and so does your house. 🙂

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