To Compare or Not To Compare

By Vanessa Rasanen

”You cannot compare your children to each other.” I receive this admonishment at nearly every well-child visit. I hear it so often from our pediatrician that I now anticipate it as much as I do her sweet hellos to the kids. This latest appointment for our youngest’s 18-month check up was no exception.

Yet it was. Immediately after reminding me not to compare my kiddos, she asked me if any of our older kids had similar body proportions (ie, bottom of the charts for height and weight but top of the chart for head size). I laughed. Inside, of course. I’m not completely rude. Most of the time.

Yes, yes our oldest also was a short and skinny toddler with a giant noggin. He did eventually grow into it and now at age 8 no longer looks top-heavy. This appeased our pediatrician who I assume was only wanting to verify this wasn’t related to his previous anemia and growth delays.

I didn’t bother pointing out the contradictions in her words. Don’t compare your kids, you know, unless I need you to. Again, I’m not completely rude.

In general, we are reminded regularly about the dangers of comparison, and certainly not just about our childrens’ development. We are told not to compare salaries (unless, of course, you are trying to push some “equal pay” agenda and then you absolutely must compare and find discrepancies!). We are reminded not to compare our homes, clothes, and lives to the Joneses on social media or in the neighborhood or at church. We aren’t to compare our successes (or sins) to anyone else’s lest we become too prideful or too distraught.

This is all good advice, until it’s not. Life is simply not starkly black and white, and sometimes comparison is indeed warranted, encouraged, and beneficial — as demonstrated by our pediatrician.

Like most things in life comparison has its place, its function. Comparison is how we can learn from others, to say “I do things this way, they do things that way, what are the pros and cons of each and what could I implement to improve”.

This is a good thing! It’s growth. It’s, dare I say it, progress?

We know the dangers of comparing ourselves to others. The self-loathing. The shame. The covetousness. The envy and jealousy. The idolization of perfection. The obsession with maintaining a pristine public image.

But are we, in our war against this practice, failing to see that it has its place and its benefits? Have we swung the pendulum so far to the opposite side that we are refusing to do the about face when it’s warranted? Have we forgotten that to learn from one another is to, in fact, compare?

Like much else in life this is about walking the tightrope with care and discernment, to learn when to take the comparison and when to leave it. We should not be so set in our ways that we deny any flaws or shortcomings, refusing to see how someone else might have a habit worth adopting. We should also not be so focused on what everyone else is doing differently that we are overcome with stress and worry.

How do we, as wives or mothers, learn from the women who tread those paths before us, if we don’t compare our ways to their wisdom? Can iron sharpen iron when we force the two to never touch? No, we gain wisdom not by building up a wall around ourselves and our decisions, but by noticing when someone we trust has expertise we could benefit from.

Just as God’s Law acts as a mirror, showing us our sins, our fellow sisters in Christ are another mirror to help strengthen us as we walk this life in faith. So, when we see friends shuffling their kids off to mid-week evening services solo, because their husband is working, we can see that as a reminder that yes, we too, can and should strive to get our kids there, even when it’s hard. When we witness fellow sisters using their talents to serve their church, we can see that as a nudge to make time to help out, as well. When we hear of a friend making an extra effort to love and support her husband and his busy schedule, we can see that as encouragement to reevaluate how we might be dropping the ball.

These don’t need to preoccupy our minds or overload us with extra worry or guilt, but we should see them as opportunities to be encouraged and strengthened by the women God has put in our lives.

And when in doubt, just follow my pediatrician’s guidance… don’t compare, unless you need to. Simple, right?

Photo credit. Creative commons

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