If constant comparisons leave you feeling like you’re coming up short, you’re not alone. But you can take action.
I wish I could be as chill as she is. I wish my house were that minimalist and immaculate. She makes parenting look so easy. I should be able to maintain a schedule like that. Her kids rarely use screens and play independently for hours.
For many of us, this is what our inner chatter sounds like on a regular basis — which quickly morphs into: I’m not enough. What’s wrong with me?
If you’re also living with a mental health condition, these thoughts might be even more frequent or cruel.
As a mom with anxiety, you might assume other moms don’t have the same fears — which, of course, makes you feel like an outcast.
As a mom with depression, your heart might sink whenever you see a smiling, carefree mom picking berries in some sunny field with her kids, and you may wonder: How did she even get out of bed?
Why do we compare ourselves to others?
“Humans are naturally creatures of comparison, but girls and women are especially vulnerable,” says psychotherapist Erika Ames, LCSW.
“Women are often implicitly trained to look to others for permission and to make sure they’re doing it right. And that urge only gets stronger when women become mothers,” she said.
In our pursuit to get it “right,” we turn to sources like social media to help us determine standards for everything from the cleanliness of our homes to the activities our toddlers should be doing, says Elizabeth Gillette, LCSW, an attachment-focused therapist.
We also make comparisons because we’re innately social beings who yearn for high-quality relationships and worry what others will think, says Jill A. Stoddard, PhD, a psychologist and author of “Be Mighty: A Woman’s Guide to Liberation from Anxiety, Worry, and Stress Using Mindfulness and Acceptance.”
Moms have told Stoddard that “they feel like everyone else has some special key to life — that others know what to say, how to succeed, and how to be confident, stress-free, and happy — but somehow, they were absent on the day those keys were handed out.”
“They report feeling incapable when they struggle with anxiety or productivity while other moms show up to school with Pinterest cupcakes,” she says.
We also compare ourselves to others because we want to do what’s best for our kids, so we search for areas we might be “falling short” in order to improve, points out psychotherapist Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT.
How can we reduce comparison making?
Comparing ourselves may feel like a reflex. But we don’t have to let it dictate our lives. These eight tips can help.
Temper your triggers
What situations or actions typically spark your comparison making? For example, for most moms, social media is a huge issue.
Intellectually, we know that these images are highly curated and only tiny moments in time. But that doesn’t stop us from feeling awful when we see a mom hiking with her four kids, homemade lunches in tow — while our kids are staring at screens, snacking on leftover frozen pizza.
Psychotherapist Sharon Yu, LMFT, suggests limiting how often you scroll social media, uninstalling social media apps from your phone, and unfollowing anyone who makes you feel bad (from celebrity moms to influencers to your neighbor).
Join a supportive community
“The more honest and open we are [about the realities of parenting], the more honest and open it allows others to be,” Gillette says.
Of course, finding an authentic community can be hard.
Gillette suggests starting with one mom you feel really comfortable with and asking her about moms who are transparent about their experiences.
“For those moms who struggle with mental health issues, creating a support circle with other moms who are experiencing similar mental health challenges [is] essential,” says Richelle Whittaker, LPC-S, an educational psychologist and maternal mental health therapist.
Postpartum Support International offers online support groups for parents with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
Create mind-shifting mantras
When you start to compare yourself, repeat a mantra that resonates with you, such as “I am enough” or “Honor my way,” says therapist Laura Glenney, MSc.
You can also list a meaningful mantra or your positive traits on sticky notes and place them around your house, says Ashley Rodrigues, MS, a mental health counselor. These visual reminders can instantly shift your perspective.
Harness your strengths
Michelle Pargman, EdS, LMHC, suggests regularly asking this question: “Who and what can I engage with today, in order to support and reinforce the unique strengths that I bring as a mother and a person?”
Focus on connection
The next time you’re worried about feeding your kids a gourmet meal or entertaining them with Pinterest crafts, remind yourself that “kids remember how we make them feel and there are lots of ways — our own good enough ways — to make them feel seen, heard, understood, and loved,” says Stoddard.
For instance, some families connect over cooking, while others connect over dance parties in the kitchen.
Be extra kind to yourself
When Lurie is experiencing an especially bad day with her anxiety and depression, she practices some self-compassion.
“If the kids and I can sit down and watch another movie instead of doing some kind of interactive or academic activity together, that’s OK,” she says. “If my goal is to take a walk every day during quarantine, but… I’m only able to make it out to the front porch, that’s OK.”
Dig into your decisions
Psychotherapist Lauren Hartz, LPC, encourages moms to explore why you’re making certain choices.
Are you signing your child up for basketball camp, art classes, and voice lessons because they’re genuinely interested or because you want to keep up with what other parents are doing?
Focus on your values
“When moms compare themselves to other moms, there’s an assumption that what the other moms are doing is the standard or what most moms should be doing,” Yu says.
“What moms neglect to remember is that before being moms, they were different people, and they still are.” So, focus on engaging in activities and behaviors that are life-giving to you, she says.
Similarly, Hartz suggests clarifying your family’s values — also a great decision-making tool. For example, when you’re wondering if you should’ve volunteered for the school fundraiser, you can remind yourself that Friday family movie night is your priority, she says.
Finally, think about the values you’d like your child to have, Whittaker adds.
“Each mother is innately qualified and in tune with her children,” says Rodrigues. “The two are an irreplaceable match. Comparing one mom to another is like trying to fit together two different puzzle pieces.”