On Keeping Up With the Joneses

What is it in our natures that compels us to always compare ourselves to others?  To see how we measure up, how we fail in comparison, or how we are better?

One fellow homeschooling mom I know of gets up early in the morning, before her children, and spends at least an hour in prayer.  I, too, get up early in the morning, before my children, and I start the coffee, start the fire, start the laundry, plan for the day and week ahead, get dressed, and head out into the dark to do farm chores.  Oh, how I miss quiet mornings of coffee, prayer and blogging!

Another always posts pictures of well dressed children studying contentedly in a very tidy home.  Why are mine in muddy blue jeans and hand-me-down t-shirts, books and children strewn across several kitchen tables, and our floor in such desperate need of a mopping?

There’s another mom who celebrates the feast days of the Saints and the liturgical seasons with elaborate tea parties and creative crafts with her children.  I think my children would love those crafts, and so I purchase the needed supplies, but how is it that she has the time for these things and I can never seem to pull it off?

I know other mothers who are always calm and quiet and patient with their children, at least in public.  Why am I so loud, scolding as needed, whether we’re alone in the kitchen at home or in the middle of a crowded grocery store?  I argue with my husband, too!

Other mothers turn out beautiful craft items and sell them on Etsy for charity.  Still more actually make a decent living by blogging or got a real book published.  I could do that, too, if only I had more time or talent!  I could!

I even know of one mom who raises a large family, homeschools, milks cows, keeps chickens for organic meat and eggs, and can even manage it all while her husband is deployed.  How organized she must be! 😉

Covetousness takes many forms.

But you are not me and I am not you, and God has given each of us different abilities, different desires, different circumstances, all so that we can praise Him and bring Him glory by our own individual lives.  We each of us choose different paths that prohibit our following others.  We each of us bear different crosses that stay mostly hidden in our secret hearts.

You know that, too, of course, but still, there is something in our natures that compels us to always compare ourselves to others, to see how we measure up, how we fail in comparison, or how we are better.  Why is that?


15 Comment

  1. It is so hard not to compare ourselves to others. But, we know ourselves and our families better than anyone else. God has equipped us specifically to raise our own families – not someone else’s. So, we are doing him a disservice with the comparisons – not to mention a disservice to ourselves.

  2. Beckie R. says:

    I don’t know why, but it is exhausting! I think part of it is the glut of carefully selected information available to us, though. We see people’s best, and we assume it’s their norm. It probably isn’t, though, so we shouldn’t feel bad that we’re not cutting it. You do what you can do in the best way you know how to do it, and it is enough.

    1. It is exhausting, because we just can’t live somebody else’s reality in addition to our own, but I don’t think it’s a new computer/information age thing. As long as there has been gossip, there have been women comparing – and trying to cut each other down to size.

  3. I think we all know it is just human nature to compare, and sometimes we just need a little perspective to snap us out of it.

    But, I can’t thank you enough for this post. I was just thinking on the way to work this morning: “how does so-and-so manage to read so many books each day, week, year.” Or “how does so-and-so manage to knit a whole sweater in a day while managing her family, house, school, kids activities, etc.” And also my girlfriends have oodles of time to spend on Facebook or other non-human contact things , but no time for “in person” socialization because they are “too busy.” I think prioritization has a lot to do with managing it all, this includes the tasks and the stress that comes with thinking about or comparing with others, and knowing what we can handle when.

    Your statement “I am not you and you are not me” is an appropriate mantra. For instance: I do not have the luxury of sitting down and sewing/knitting/crocheting away an afternoon because I work full time, teach as an adjunct, volunteer A LOT, etc. But there are other “luxuries” I do have because I am single and don’t have children and I have a bit more disposable income (I wish all those things were not true, because I would rather be married with children).

    I think we also have to think about the fact that we never really know everything that is going on in someone’s life. Jennie, I only know you from your blog, but I appreciate the raw honesty you often include with your posts. Part of the reason I had to break away from social networking a couple years ago after a sad break-up was the difficulty I had reading about everyone’s “perfect” lives with their spouses and children when I was alone and so very hurt. I know their lives weren’t all that perfect, but the internet and social networking has a way of making things seem that way especially when we are sad and hurt…more so when you are used to being upbeat and happy all the time (as I was and am, once again, gratefully).

    The thing I struggle the most with is when folks make value judgments on your life. I hear ALL the time: “you always look so perfect, are you sure you want to get married and have kids because you won’t have time to look so good.” Or “you can go anywhere you want or buy whatever you want because you don’t have any other responsibilities you’re so lucky.” I chide myself for thinking things, but it is a little more hurtful when folks actually speak them aloud! I usually wonder to myself– this is how “my friends” perceive me…I have nice clothes, my hair is always just so, and I can buy whatever I want when I want it?!?

    Sorry for commandeering your post, but this issue of comparing and perception has been one I have been thinking a lot about. I needed to hear that you are thinking about similar things, Jennie, even though we are in different places in our lives.

    1. A couple of months ago, I was on my to the bathroom before Mass, and a random lady asked me, “When are you due?” I told her, and she looked toward the front of the sanctuary, where my little crew was kneeling for their prayers. “How old is your youngest?” she asked, and I told her he was nearly five. “Oh!” she said in surprise. “That’s a big gap!”

      Once I was able to collect myself, I could understand that she didn’t mean anything by it. To her, it was an innocent comment, and it IS a bigger gap than we are used to. But what flashed into my mind, as raw and fresh as if it was still my reality, was five years of marital struggle and pain and one miscarried child. I just stood there for a moment while that all washed over me, before I could even think to offer a simple, “Yes, it is.”

      A lot of times, people just speak without thinking. And even though we are living much different lives, I think I understand how you feel.

  4. Great post and great comments! We all need to remember we all know our own insides (sometimes yucky) our thoughts etc, yet we are comparing that to the shiny clean outsides (often their best) that people share.

  5. Lost my comment twice now! Maybe I’m not supposed to say what I want.

    You are Mrs. Jones to me. I can’t fathom how you do all you do. You are amazing. And just so ya know…there are books all over my table, the floor is dirty, dinner not started, I yell at my kids, argue with my husband, and most days don’t get up when I should for quiet prayer. We’re all human, and the danger is thinking that by looking into one woman’s window, you know who she is. She’s not perfect, believe me.

    1. And who do you suppose is that amazing woman who makes and sells lovely things on Etsy for charity? 🙂

      Love you, too.

  6. PS love ya!

  7. There’s certainly a lot of “grass is greener” thinking…I know I totally covet your farm life. But then I think about getting up at oh dark thirty to milk the cows in the freezing cold, and I’m pretty happy with suburbia. OK, not that so much, as the no animals to take care of. We tend to see the suffering/sacrifices in our own life and not in other people’s lives. And then we downplay our triumphs and only see that about others. It’s not even that anyone is hiding the effort – I sew a dress or make a quilt, and I show the end result, but blogging about the hours of work or what didn’t get done around the house isn’t really interesting or fun or the point. It’s not hidden, but it’s just understood. We tend to ignore that when we covet someone else’s accomplishments/successes/lifestyles. I’m at the end of one sport season with one son and overlapping with the sport season of another son – and I want to gouge my eyes out because I’m running all over the place these 2 weeks, and all I really want to do is stay home. I’ve been over this time after time and every time I conclude that this is lifestyle – crazy though it is – is what I really want (the boys love their sports, and I am giving them opportunities I never had, and that they can’t get as easily as kids who attend school can). So, we’re back to my choices, weighing the pros and cons and deciding the best thing to do…and my passions, which have me thinking that a wood-burning stove gets heated with magic wood that appears neatly split in the wood box with no effort and cows and chickens have fairy godmothers that feed them, and my life would be so very easy if only we homesteaded.

    1. I like the magic wood idea!

      My neighbors sold a vacation property and built an indoor pool a couple of years ago. They buy dump trucks and construction equipment and new cars. They just remodeled their kitchen. People, to include my children, say things like, “It must be nice!” To which I reply, “Maybe it is. But if you want their blessings, you have take their crosses, too.” And who knows what those might be? They might be much lighter than mine, but then again, they might be much heavier, too. I wouldn’t want to take the chance. 🙂

  8. I never realized how I must sound when I compare myself to others until I heard my daughter comparing herself to someone. It kind of broke my heart a little when I heard her. I was stunned that she couldn’t see all of her gifts. When I said something to her she just looked at me and said, well you don’t think much of your gifts either. UGH! She didn’t say it in a snotty way, just sort of matter of fact. I’m not sure how to break myself of it completely, but ever since I had that conversation with her I make a huge effort to keep my mouth shut when I’m in comparison mode. Just not even allowing the words to come out of my mouth seems to keep some of it at bay. My husband never compares himself to anyone else and it seems to be quite freeing. He genuinely thinks he is a pretty fabulous guy, not in an obnoxious way though. It’s just that no matter where he is in life he thinks it’s just right for that moment. I’m hoping to get there someday.

    1. I’m pretty sure you’re more amazing than you think you are. 🙂

  9. You’re talking about my blog, aren’t you? The one with the perfectly composed children neatly dressed and doing their schoolwork? And the liturgical crafts to go with my seasonal snacks?

    Well, there you go. Do you know how often I’ve wished that I lived on a farm? That I had chickens and a cows and a garden to be proud of? Actually, after 10+ years in this house, I DO have a garden, courtesy the husband and life that I’ve been blessed with.

    These are good comments, Jennie. We moms hold ourselves up to such ridiculous standards when the solution’s so simple. The answer and end goal should always be love.

    LOVE you!

  10. PS. Wrote this on my iPad so please forgive the quirky typos.

Comments are closed.