Sunday, May 15, 2011

The trouble with “measuring up”

I think a huge stumbling block in the path of people who wish to simplify and live a quiet, slow and purposeful life, is being part of a social circle who all have bigger houses, more possessions, fancier cell phones, who take trips abroad every year, etc, etc.

An important part to remember when you say to yourself, “how come they are able to afford it?!” is that you don’t really know whether they can. You don’t really know what goes on behind the closed doors of people’s homes, or in their budgets. Perhaps these people are living way beyond their means. Perhaps they are in debt. Or perhaps they are affording their super-fancy, extra-packed lifestyle by maintaining two careers which leave hardly any family time at all.

And if you are a mother who stays home with her children, some people might deliberately or accidentally make you feel inferior, or this feeling might come across on its own when you’re reading about someone who “successfully” combined a career and family. And again, the true price of what it all entailed is seldom brought up.

I think I mentioned before, in some previous blog posts, Dr. Hannah Katan – an Israeli Orthodox ob/gyn who is the mother of 13 children. She is often talked about as an example of a woman who “did it all”. I greatly respect her views and her experience and wisdom. But in her most recent personal column, she told about working 36-hour shifts during her internship, while she also had young children waiting for her at home. I can only imagine how taxing that must have been.

Even if in retrospect, grown-up children can be generous and understanding, and say they say they acokeeaks their hearts, and the ramifications of such a lifestyle perhaps aren’t even realized until they start families of their own.

Or perhaps you just walk into someone’s house and lament how this lady has it all together while you don’t, and seemingly never will, and forget that no one has our unique set of strength, weaknesses, experience and family situation. I’m not saying we shouldn’t learn from one another. But this learning should be a thing of strength and growth, not just useless comparison that leads us to feel debilitating inferiority.

Maybe, when you were growing up, there was a child of your parents’ friends, or perhaps a cousin who was so much more accomplished than you, who spoke German and French and played the violin, and could do all the things you could never even dream of doing. Perhaps your parents spent your entire childhood and adolescence unfavorably comparing you with that “role model”, until you felt about that unfortunate unsuspecting child the same way Emma Woodhouse felt about Jane Fairfax - an almost unconscious grudge that is as unjustified as it is difficult to overcome. 

Perhaps your parents thought they were giving you motivation to succeed by such comparisons, but in reality all it did was sow resentment and made you feel as though you can never be good enough. Which is far from true; G-d made us unique. He wants and expects us to improve, but not by striving to become the image of somebody else. His boundaries are wide enough so that within them, we can freely be just what we are. 


THE Princess Bombshell* said...

"His boundaries are wide enough so that within them, we can freely be just what we are."

Wow. That's good, Anna. So true.

Abundant life.

Rightthinker-Andrea said...

Great post!

As a Christian woman who is expecting our 7th child, there is a lot of white noise regarding "perfection". I recently wrote a similar article here:

It's tough to live among "real life" people who we know personally, that have "it all", and yet seek another purpose in our own lives here at home. Then, equally as difficult, is all the outside "perfection" of others..

It's a tough road, but I think when we define what our goal is (ours is seeking righteousness and a closer relationship with Jesus for ourselves, and to model for our children) then it is clear that the Biblical instruction to live set apart from the world is beneficial in our walk!

Thanks for a great article!

The Gentle Mom said...

My dear Mrs. T.,

I cannot tell you how much I needed to hear this message RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE. My family and I are spending this weekend with some friends (I'm actually typing this sitting in their guest bedroom!), and I feel completely rotten about myself.

The wife in their family works full time in an important government job, just finished her Master's degree with a perfect "A" average, cookes beautiful gourmet-style meals, and is also a wonderful mother to her 6-month-old son. I'm a frazzled, SAHM with an active toddler, a fledgling blog and a messy house. My accomplishments simply can't measure up to hers. I feel like a loser.

And yet. My friends may have way more money than my family, but they have no time together. Dad works 80 hours a week, Mom works the traditional 40, and the little one is in daycare. Some days they only see one another for a few minutes at a time. They seem happy in their accomplishments, but also lonely for one another.

Of course, I didn't really think about all that until reading your post. I suppose I KNEW it, but I didn't FEEL it. I was dwelling on the beautiful house, fancy cars, expensive gadgets, and gourmet foods - not the harsh reality that they, too, have given up so much.

So THANK YOU. You truly were the voice of the Lord for me today!

Lady Anne said...

It is so frustrating to a child to be compared to another, especially a sibling. My mother always fussed with me because - among other things - my sister always had her bed made before breakfast. It is a testimonial to my patience (patting myself on the back here) that I never let on that Lynn slept rolled in a blanket on the floor, which she folded and carefully put across the foot of the bed each morning!

The Good Lord packs each of our bags with what we need in this world before we are born. The child we see as a dreamer has the potential to become an engineer. The little girl who draws on everything is going to be an artist. That fellow is going to marry Lady Anne - pack in lots of extra patience. Lady Anne will have trouble walking; pack up a love of miniatures and sewing.

We can never been waht we weren't intended to be, no matter how much we are nagged, or how hard we try.

Analytical Adam said...

By itself having many children may or may not be a good thing. A man can make a lot of money to provide by providing a good service and working hard. Do we love people who just make a lot of money in a moral way. The answer of course is no! My cousin who has 9 children supports idea's that overall create lower birth rates. So at the end of the day their just selfish and greedy and want to hurt other people and their overall effect is negative. If someone has even a small family but helps others to understand male-female relations so they will get married and have children they are to be praised more then people who have many children but support ideas that overall hurt male-female relations and don't even care about close relatives who are unmarried and/or lift a finger to help them get married. It is terrible and horrible.

Molly said...

I've been dealing with this as well, and just wrote my own post about overcoming jealousy of the things my friends have while reminding myself why I chose a path of voluntary simplicity! It is difficult, but I agree we don't know how they got/afford those things that make us jealous. My mother is often jealous of my aunt material possessions, but then we got a report from my grandmother on the horrible debt they are in to furnish such a life and suddenly we aren't as jealous anymore.
Don't feel inferior for being a stay home wife/mother... there are so many of us working mothers that wish we had that option, no real mother enjoys or would choose being away from her children unless she found it absolutely necessary. Sadly for my family the two incomes is absolutely necessary at this moment even with living simply.

The Kitchen Witch said...

Thank you so much for posting this! I am always struggling with the envy of my friends homes and how they are always clean. Then I remember that they both work full time jobs and are never actually in their home. Their toddler goes to day care and isn't home to play with her toys and make a mess. It's easy to forget how blessed we are to be home with our kids. How happy they are to be with us and able to play with their own toys and not to be scheduled to death!

Ecclesiastes said...

It is stunning to me that when a woman goes to college that she loses the ability to do arithmetic.

To wit:

Dr. Hannah Katan, at one time understood that there are 24 hours in a day. She understood that doctoring is a job that required attention and physical presence, and so does mothering.

But now the over-educated one can subtract 24 from 24 and still believe that there was something left over.

No, Doc, and no Domestic Felicity. During that 36 hour shift Dr. Hannah Katan was not a mother of any kind. Her Children's 'mother' was the hired help, because children can't put being a child on hold to wait for her to get home.

A SAHM doesn't need to 'measure up' to Dr. Hannah Katan's example. She needs to see that the standards were lowered so Dr. Hannah Katan could call herself a mother.

Anonymous said...

This is probably one of the hardest things, I believe, to have to learn in life. We simply can't compare ourselves chronically to others, & try to mimic their achievements.

It's kind of funny, you know, that on a really bad day, I was convinced that so many other women had it better than I did...only later to find out that on *their* bad days they were envying women like ME. It's all so silly, isn't it? :o/

Thank you for posting about this, Anna.


Shannon said...

This was just so amazingly well written and true. Having it all means corners are being cut somewhere, no matter how things appear on the surface.