"Mom, can we go dress shopping this week?" my 13-year-old daughter, Barton, asked. I had just picked her up from a cotillion class where she was learning about manners and social skills.
"Honey, you look fine," I said. "And your dress was OK last year."
"Yeah, last year," she muttered.
"I hear you," I assured her. "We will get you another dress."
"Another dress?" she replied, a little indignant. "There are five more classes!"
I paused, letting her response sink in. "Are you thinking you need a different dress for every class?"
"Honey, that is so not going to happen."
In my daughter's mind, everyone would be wearing different dresses every week; everyone except her. Somehow, she had become the center of her own attention and could no longer enjoy her cotillion experience because she was comparing herself to others.
The comparison game
In all honesty, I'm guilty of the same patterns of thinking that my daughter expressed that day in the car. It's not just our children who struggle with comparison. As moms, we know it can be hard to find comfort in our own skin, our own clothing, our own homes. This can be especially challenging as the holidays approach and we are reminded of what we do not have.
Tweens and teens may play the comparison game with cotillion dresses, just as moms can play it in myriad other ways, but the result is often the same: ingratitude. At times like these, perspective offers us a minute to breathe, to hit the pause button and to see our situations more clearly. If we can take our eyes off ourselves long enough to quit comparing, we just might catch a glimpse of all the good things and good people in our lives.
A new perspective
It may be the season for giving thanks, but Christmas cards will begin to trickle in and I'm often tempted to think my family is less-than. And then I wonder how my children might also fall into the temptation to try to measure up. That's when a better perspective can help us look around the kitchen table and be grateful for each and every unique personality represented there — even if Mom of the Year, Eagle Scout or National Merit Finalist isn't written by our names.
Whether we're talking clothing or accomplishments, decor or finances, it's easy to focus on the fact that some people simply have more. So we need to acknowledge that comparing ourselves to others has the potential to seriously undermine our contentment and undercut our relationships.
Gratitude can serve to jump-start our contentment, but it's hard to be grateful with our eyes focused on ourselves. When our focus shifts away from "me," we can see others in need of encouragement and love. And we get to live according to the Great Commandment — loving God and loving others.
Even in a culture of comparison, you can find contentment when you take the necessary steps to train yourself — and your children — to practice gratitude.
Step One: Recognize your own discontentment. When you're open and honest about your own struggles, you're better equipped to help your children with theirs.
Step Two: Lead by example. Before helping someone else, it's best to start by helping yourself. It's easy to see comparison struggles in your children, but the same issues may crowd all of your days.
Step Three: Do a mental reboot. Encouraging words may be great, but actions go a long way in taming your tendency to struggle with comparison. Consider using the control-alt-delete process:
- Control your thoughts. Catch those uneasy notions at the onset.
- Opt for an alternate perspective. Be grateful for life and for your many blessings (James 1:17).
- Then, delete or stop comparing. Just don't do it.
As we approach this holiday season, we'll find it's the perfect time of year to recapture contentment in our hearts and in our homes. Gratitude helps to shift our focus so we can move beyond being the center of our own attention.