Back yourself baby: comparison is the thief of joy

When I spoke to my friend Abi the other day I could tell that, despite the great job her expensive foundation was doing, it couldn’t hide the slightly puffy appearance of her eyes. I knew she’d been crying. Whilst I cuddled her daughter and tried to prevent the mini ‘Sophie the Giraffe’ from taking a swim in my coffee, I asked her ‘what’s up?’

She described to me how overwhelmed she was feeling and the different ways she was convinced she wasn’t ‘doing it right’ when it came to, in her words, ‘this parenting thing’.

‘How so?’ I asked and, from there, she listed the things she was worried about and how she was struggling to make the right call for herself and her young family.

The more we explored her feelings and how she perceived her life in that moment, the more it was clear to me how she was falling into the tricky trap of comparison in a big way.

This is a girl that pre-maternity was holding down a senior job at a maja creative agency. She made considered and loaded decisions every day working in a high-pressured environment where she held her own, and crucially, had her eyes on her own game and where she was going.

So, why was she now sitting in tears because she was confused about, amongst other things, which naughty step was the one to choose?

The clues were in her words and might be familiar to you too. Many of her sentences started with ‘they said…’, ‘she told me…’, ‘I saw on Facebook…’ She was judging her own ability to be the mum she wanted to be, against the anecdotes and opinions of others proving so difficult to escape.

What was adding to Abi’s anxiety was exposure to the heavily cultivated social media feeds she felt bombarded with. Playing back to her was the image that her friends and peers appeared to have it all figured out, i.e., were raising immaculately behaved vegan children, turning their hobbies into businesses, were back in their pre baby jeans and still making time for date night, tottering around the Shard in their new Miu Miu heels because ‘it’d be rude not to, right!’ (Barf!)

That cultivation doesn’t leave room for much reality to photobomb the scene – what social media doesn’t show us is the dog tired eyes, struggling to pay the bills and sex lives with cobwebs on. These things don’t look good no matter what Instagram filter you choose so they’re conveniently left out and that’s the filter factor in action.

We have to wake up to what’s presented on our social media feeds and apply the same pinch of salt we would to a tabloid story or photo-shopped image of a cellulite free bottom, rather than going into comparison free-fall!

Thanks to the ‘power couple’ that is social media and technology, we’ve never had more access to content with which to compare ourselves. The constant feeds of what we should be doing, saying, thinking and looking like, create impressions of benchmarks we must operate at as a modern mum. It’s like ‘keeping up with Jones’’ on steroids!

Ultimately, if too much attention is placed on what you think other mums are doing, or have done, versus your own choices and intentions, you’re in danger of turning into a tribute act to them rather than the real deal version of yourself, to the benefit of your children and loved ones.

Hear this: You have explicit permission to subscribe to your own evolving way and style of parenting and here’re five practical starting points to help figure it out and stamp out comparison:

1. Clean up your feeds

The annoying thing is social media and blogs are access to the outside world, and yet, what we see being beamed back at us doesn’t always make us feel good or connected with who and what we see.

I recently unfollowed 500 peeps on Instagram. Why? Because my feed is my online living room and the same rules apply – be nice, be real, have fun & bring snacks.

On a slightly serious note though – it’s a good idea to give ALL of your feeds a sweep every so often.

Social media can and should be a nice part of the Internet to hang out – people, drama, passive aggression, boasting and bitching can only feature if you let them in. And you don’t have to. Cultivate your feed like a curator at a museum of awesome-ness – handpick what you see, hear and access.

You will not believe the difference when you consciously create YOUR online living room.

Now, pass the Pringles and dip and let’s see what’s on Netflix!

2. Notice what you notice & take control

It can be difficult to resist living in our own little fame bubbles in an attempt to keep up and contribute on social media – (don’t they call we Gen Y women ‘digital natives’?)
But if what you’re posting doesn’t feel good or, even worse, feels fake or like you’re manipulating something you saw, bought or said because you’re trying to appear a certain way, then take a breath and shake it off. And delete.

Nobody can break with the fake but you, and by being aware of your own actions you take the first step in tuning into the real you. Not a hodgepodge of what you think people want to see.

3. Paddle your own canoe

It’s hard enough to know who you are without taking on the weight of what other people think about how you’re handling parenthood.

Have you heard that little rhyme: “Love many, trust few, always paddle your own canoe”? It’s a goody, right?

Parenting has become more prescriptive than it has ever been. There are competing manuals to tell you what to feed, how to train your baby to sleep and when children should start certain activities.

If you find a method that works for you, then go with it. If someone wants to criticise your choice you can head it off with “It works for us”. And that, my love, is the end of the conversation – you don’t owe anyone a justification or explanation. The energy you expend on going further could be preserved for you and your child.

Give yourself more credit, that you’re doing what’s right for your family, with love.

4. Choose your tribe and connect in real life

I have observed the same divides at the pre-school gates that you might expect if you were back at school yourself. There are indeed similarities, namely, that chance and potentially financial situations throw you in with and define the cohort you end up with.

The mums or dads you meet via your children aren’t the people you would necessarily choose to hang out with normally. They may not have the same backgrounds, same work ethic or even the same values in life as you – you’ll pick up on the little red flags that indicate they won’t necessarily be part of your tribe that lift you up!

For example, if you want or need to go back to work after you have children and you get stick from those that make different choices then filter them out. Life is too short to give any airtime to those that don’t support you and your decisions or at least have the grace to keep quiet about their opinions. YOU have got this locked down.

5. Borrow experience from your past, not trouble from the future

Parenting isn’t easy – understatement of the year, I know. But you’re doing it! It may not feel like a linear or conventional process or set of behaviours but you are doing it, baby.

Keep putting one step in front of the other, as you have been doing and take heart that you are working it. There will be hiccups, worries and plans may topple over in the future… but that hasn’t happened yet.

Don’t borrow drama from the future when you need all the good vibes and energy you can muster to get through today. Again, if you focus on a mishap that hasn’t occurred, you rob yourself of the victory of chalking off another day done and dusted and ultimately, more experience in your pocket.

About Lucy

Lucy Sheridan is the UK’s first and only ‘Comparison Coach’ and she’s on a mission to help people live #comparisonfree. Via her writing, videos, Google Hangouts, speaking gigs and life coaching, she helps Gen Y get over the ‘compare & despair’ of social media and recognise the ‘filter factor’ to focus on their lives OFF line and be happy on their own terms.

She’ll be hosting a Mumthly meet up early 2015 so watch this space!
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