Friday, April 8, 2016

The Unhealthy Comparison Game

About a month ago, a friend posted the below meme on her social media page.

I chuckled a little to myself, recognizing that like many young moms, she has undoubtedly received more than her fair share of unsolicited opinions about her life choices. And she is looking on the bright side of things!

But then I stopped smiling. I have friends who have had children young, but also many who have had children later in life (or who are still waiting) for a whole host of reasons. I wondered what they would think. What the post was really saying was, "Stop judging my life choice. To prove my point, I will judge your life choice (or something that might not have even been your choice) even more. So there! Take that!"

It dawned on me that this was human nature on display. Why is it so much easier to look on the bright side when we can look down on someone else?

This is not just a phenomenon of parenting.

When I was in fifth grade, I remember walking out of the locker room for gym class on the first day that was warm enough to wear shorts. I heard laughter and felt certain it was directed at my chicken legs.  (I still had no calves in site when I ran cross country and lifted daily in high school, so I was doomed biologically.) I remember feeling hurt, but I brushed it off and cheered myself up by thinking, "Oh yeah, well at least I am smarter than all of you."

And so at the ripe old age of ten, I began a long career of making myself feel better by looking down on others, usually without even realizing it.

I think it can be healthy when we learn to appreciate our strengths or the positives of our circumstance when confronted with weaknesses and challenges. This is not to say we should be blind to our situation, but rather, we can rest assured that no one is good at everything or experiences every advantage, but everyone is good at something and has something to contribute; I have gifts that I bring to the table.

But it is all too easy to corrupt an awareness of our strengths or good fortune into a self righteous comparison with others. This is especially true when we are feeling insecure in some way.

At least I look more attractive, run faster, write better, work harder, earn more money, sing louder, eat healthier, keep my house cleaner, act more responsibly, have a more prestigious title, drive a faster car, volunteer more of my time, go on better vacations, pray more, keep better friends, get more attention from the opposite sex, parent better, have seen more of the world, paint more beautifully, invest wiser, went to a better college, cook tastier, you-name-your-favorite-point-of-pride than that other person or group.

But I am convinced that this way of thinking does not have nearly the positive effects we think it will.  It is ultimately born out of jealousy and the need to feel important. The problem is, no matter how many merits we accumulate, there is always going to be someone else who is smarter, faster, and better than we are. We can never be satisfied in this striving. In the end, we have made someone else feel lower, and we still do not come out on top.
God's word says, "But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don't cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God's kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind." (James 3:14-16) 
It also says, "For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you." (Romans 12:3) 
And finally, "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." (2 Corinthians 12:9) 

It is hard to love others when we are looking down on them, and it is difficult to really care about someone else's needs when we are focusing so intently on our own advancement and image. Not to mention, it really doesn't help us a whole lot, either.

Strong relationships and communities are built on honesty about our faults and hardships, celebrating each other's strengths and good fortune, and spurring each other on to grow. If we trust what God says in these passages, then we can let go of jealousy to embrace both our strengths and our weaknesses, because they both present opportunities for God to put his own greatness on display. And we can embrace the mantra that we are better as a group because of the amazing gifts every person brings to the table.

It is my hope that as I mature as a person, I will grow more secure in who I am in God's eyes, so that I can also grow more thankful for who others are, as well. It is my hope that I will stop making myself feel better by bringing others down.

I encourage you to consider what areas of your life might be points of unhealthy pride or comparison? How is self righteousness sucking life out of yourself and your community? How can you choose health by exercising thankfulness for what you have while also celebrating what others bring to the table?

p.s. I also recently read this great article about the comparison game among women and in parenting. It takes on a surprising and refreshing twist mid-article. And I think the attitudes and lessons it mentions apply to folks in every life situation. Check it out!  "No Leprechauns, No Valentine's Boxes, No Elves, and Why That is Okay"

Monday, March 14, 2016

My Day Care Pet Peeve

When I was looking for a day care for my young son, I read reviews on Yelp and looked at the photos for each place. I was shocked by how many professional licensed facilities had pictures of blankets and toys in baby cribs!

As a new parent, one of my biggest fears is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), a term used to describe the sudden unexplained death of a child under age one. The experience of SIDS is tragic and heartbreaking for any family that goes through it.

Although much is still unknown about SIDS, many important risk factors are known, and by following the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines, parents and caregivers can significantly decrease the risk that this tragedy happens in their own home.

Among the recommendations, for children under the age of one, the AAP says that babies should sleep on their backs with no soft objects or loose bedding in the crib. This means no blankets or stuffed animals.

This advice makes sense to me, given the way I have seen my own baby interact with blankets when we are together (putting them in his mouth or grabbing and pulling them over his head). Babies who are still learning motor skills are able to get themselves into situations that they cannot get out of, and objects in a bed can shift at night. These scenarios can lead to suffocation if a child gets stuck with their nose and mouth against a soft object.

Yet based on the photos I saw and the in-person visits I made to facilities, there are many child care professionals still ignoring this critical advice!

Even at the day care we ultimately selected, which has kind and caring staff and a nurturing environment, we were asked to provide a blanket for our son, who was just shy of four months old when he started attending. Instead, I wrote on all his forms that he wears a sleep sack (see examples here, here, and here) to stay warm during naps and should never be given a blanket or any other object in his crib. His caregivers respect our wishes, and we know our son is safer for it.

Although we took care to make sure our son was sleeping based on the AAP guidelines, I cannot help but continue to be bothered by the countless other children who are not benefitting from a safe sleep environment - both at home and when left with people who are supposed to be child care experts.

I sincerely hope that caregivers - especially employees of licensed day cares - receive more comprehensive training on the topic of safe sleep. Parents are trusting these facilities and professionals with their little ones.

Precious lives may be at stake.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Thankful for the Common Cold

Perhaps a little too predictably, after his first week at day care, my baby has a cold. Which means I have a cold. We just got over another cold a couple weeks ago. Apparently, this is my new life.

Yesterday, I found myself sitting in a closet - I mean lactation room - at work, sniffling through my stuffy nose while pumping breast milk, feeling self-pity that God would have the nerve to let my baby get this cold. Hearing my baby wake himself up with coughing in the middle of the night, watching him struggle to breathe well through his dripping nose, and seeing his grumpy tired face on the days we are home together is really hard. No mom wants to watch her baby suffer, and with the common cold, there has been a serious limit to what I can do to make him more comfortable. To make matters worse, my brain seems to have rewired itself to make fretting over my son its own full-time job, something I scoffed at in others until the day he was born.

But then as that pump kept whirring, I had another thought.

I am privileged to be able to expend so much energy worrying about the common cold.

I was reminded of all the things I am not worrying about - of all the things I have to be thankful for. I am thankful that my child has plenty to eat. I am not worrying about malnutrition's effects on my baby's immune system, because I have money to buy food, a well stocked grocery store of safe foods within walking distance of my apartment, and even a private room to pump breast milk for my baby while I am at work.

I am thankful that just this morning I was able to drive five minutes from my home to a doctor's office to get vaccines for my son, so that I am not worrying about him being paralyzed by polio, suffering liver damage from Hepatitis B, or experiencing apnea or pneumonia as complications of whooping cough.

I am thankful to have clean water available from multiple taps in my home every day, so that I am not worrying about life-threatening diarrhea. I am thankful that I had a safe birth experience for my son and that my baby came home from the hospital with me a few short days later with a working heart, strong lungs, a cancer-free body, and an ever-growing curiosity about the world around him. I am thankful that my child has four living grandparents who love him to pieces. I am thankful that I have the financial situation and employer flexibility to work only three days per week, giving me two whole weekdays to play one-on-one with my son. I am thankful that the region where I live does not have malaria-carrying mosquitoes. I am thankful for access to life-saving antibiotics and medicines should my child ever need them. I am thankful to live without fear of daily bombings around my home. I am thankful that my son has a pack-and-play for sleeping, a car seat for safer travel, and an abundance of diapers, along with a huge network of generous friends and family.

The more I sat in that little room and thought about it, the longer the list grew. There are millions of parents throughout the world - and even in my own backyard - in the grip of deep suffering and fear for their children. I realized that in the big scheme of things, I really am one lucky mommy.

So while my ideal week would involve a little more sleep and a lot fewer boogers, today I feel thankful for all of the things I am not worrying about. And I am thankful for the freedom and privilege to worry about this little nuisance called the common cold.