The Comparison Trap — and How I Avoid It

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Social media mom groups are such a blessing. I’ve learned countless childcare hacks from my online mom friends. I’ve received great advice about breastfeeding, sleep training, eczema care, and more. I likely will never meet most of the moms I engage with on social media, but I seriously don’t know where I’d be without them!

But these same groups that provide busy and often overwhelmed moms a much-needed village can also be the source of a whole lot of parenting guilt, concern, and harmful appraisals of how your child and family measure up against other children and families. Here’s how it often goes:

Your online mom friend posts a video of her 12-month-old running through the kitchen, climbing up the kitchen helper tower, and giggling as he helps his mama scoop flour from a canister into the mixing bowl she’s using to prepare homemade veggie muffins. Dad laughs in the background when the flour, which mostly makes it into the mixing bowl, also falls to the floor and onto the head of a sweet golden retriever sitting below.

You “heart” the video. It’s adorable. It made you laugh. They are such a sweet family.

And then it begins…

“My 15-month-old isn’t walking yet, much less running. I’ll make an appointment with the pediatrician.”

“I don’t have a kitchen tower. I don’t think we have the space for it and, aw, man — they’re expensive. Maybe I should get it anyway.”

“I haven’t ever baked with my baby. Maybe I’m not interacting with her as much as I should. I have been really busy lately.”

“I don’t cook enough.”

“How is he able to scoop from the canister into the bowl?! My child’s fine motor skills aren’t that developed. I’ll make an appointment with the pediatrician.”

“Maybe I should get a pet for the kids. They’d love it. But I don’t think I can care for another living thing right now.”

“I wish my partner would engage with us more.”

“I wish I had a partner to help with these kids.”

Sure, I dialed up the perfect family story for the sake of the illustration, but it’s probably not hard to imagine seeing a video like this one in your feed. I’m also guessing you’ve found yourself stuck in a comparison trap after seeing a post from another mom that triggered feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. I know I have.

Thankfully, I’ve found a solution that seems to work well for me. It not only helps me get out of the comparison trap, it helps me avoid it altogether. Hopefully, it will help you as well.

Avoiding the Comparison Trap in Three Easy Steps

1.  Look to the future.

When was the last time you and other adults sat around talking about who among you learned to walk first, who spoke in complete sentences first, who received Early Intervention, who wasn’t fully potty trained until 6 years old, who co-slept until 4, or who didn’t know how to tie their shoes until 7? I’m guessing never. You know why? Because it doesn’t matter.

Your boss may have slept with a blankie until 10 and you’d never know it. Your financial advisor might’ve gone to first grade in pull-ups and you’d never know it. Former President Barak Obama may have had a pacifier until he was 5 and you’d never know it.

Your child will learn. Seek help from a professional as needed. Keep practicing those new skills and loving on your kid through hard transitions. But this, too, shall pass. Your baby will be alright.

2.  Acknowledge that we’re all good at something.

Each and every parent does something well. Find your thing. It may be that you’re a really great listener and your kids feel comfortable telling you things. Maybe you turn up the music in the car and let your babies sing their hearts out when you go on drives. Perhaps you make a home-cooked meal for your family each night. Most of us minimize the things we do really well because we focus on the areas that need improvement. It’s fine to acknowledge that we all have something to learn and work to do, but there are some things you do well (perhaps even effortlessly). Acknowledge them and celebrate.

3.  Accept that our children will still see the gaps.

When our children are adults, there will be something they’ll wish we hadn’t done or something they’ll wish we had done. That shouldn’t stop us from trying to show up for them in the best way we can, but it does mean none of us will ever achieve parenting perfection. Even if you had phenomenal parents, chances are high there’s something you would’ve changed if you could have. We won’t be able to avoid our children feeling the same way at some point in the future. Double down on step #2 above and keep it moving.

The comparison trap makes being a parent even harder than it already is. It may not always feel like it, but you’re doing a great job, mama.

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Tracy was born and raised in Southern California. In 2009, she relocated to Massachusetts for a Master’s program and, for the first time, learned the real meaning of “cold”. With plans to move back home after earning her degree, she foolishly accepted an invitation to dinner from a handsome stranger. He swept her off her feet and she never made it back to California. Tracy and her husband live in Boston with their 20-month old daughter, Sophia. Tracy has spent the last ten years working in operations and business development. She’s an active member of her church community. Her work within the church is focused on local missions—food security, education, homelessness, family care services, and nutrition & health services (something Tracy is particularly passionate about). This year, Tracy started a small business. Her business, The Little Cocoa Bean Company, is a social enterprise focused on baby and toddler nutrition. When she’s not working or mom-ing, you can usually find Tracy in her garden. Loves: baby snuggles, plants, musicals, her husband’s laugh, Black art, island vacations, gospel music, big windows, and snow storms. Dislikes: weeds, scary movies, chunks in ice cream, laundry and Mondays.

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