I think I'm starting to realize something, now being about 4 years into parenthood and 5 years into marriage - I can't compare myself to my friends.
(We spent Sunday late morning/early afternoon hiking at our favorite nature reserve.)
I know, brilliant revelation, right? But it's something that I really struggle with - comparing to others' ways of doing things, and worrying that I'm somehow doing it "the wrong way." I'm actually not talking about reading blogs or going on Instagram or Pinterest and being intimidated by how good everyone's lives seem to be. I actually find that encouraging. I like seeing beautiful pictures of beautiful homes with beautiful children and moms who are able to pull together creative things. On rough days, I don't tend to compare myself to perfection on the internet. Pretty pictures online don't discourage me, they encourage me. I see a picture of a beautiful room online and think, "Hey, that gives me an idea for our living room...."
No, when I compare myself, I compare myself to the friends who I'm closest with. Even knowing that they all have their struggles, there is always a part of me that is afraid that somehow they're doing things right, and I'm not. Even when I'm judgmental of others, deep down there is that insecurity, that fear, that somehow I am falling short of my friends.
(Off to her first session at her new "library school!" She was so excited.)
My closest friends kind of span the gamut in terms of lifestyle choices. Most are Catholic to some degree, but not all. More than one works at least part time, and some work from home as freelance writers, independent consultants for companies, etc. Some aren't doing have any "side" work apart from their main work of raising children and cultivating a home. Some are beginning to homeschool, some have already put their children in preschool. Some plan to send their children to Catholic schools, some to public. Some are married, some are not. Some live at home with their parents and some are living on their own or with a spouse and children. Of those who are parents, some practice sleep training/cry-it-out methods and some co-sleep (and some do a combo of the two). Some of the moms breastfeed, some bottlefeed (like dear friend who recently wrote a beautiful post about "breastfeeding loss"). Some have one child, some have many.
So in other words...it's not as if any of these friends of mine have lives identical to mine. Sure, there are similarities between us, but across the board - no one's life is exactly like mine. Period.
But that doesn't keep me from comparing, and from letting those comparisons make me feel insecure. I worry, What if her way really is better than mine? Are my daughters deprived because I don't do x, y, or z? Is our life too busy? Is it not busy enough? Should we stay home more? Should we go out more? Is homeschooling the right option? If yes, what style of homeschooling? Maybe that mom's style is better than mine? Should I be doing more writing/work on the side? Do I spend too much time writing? Do I clean too much? Am I not organized enough? Do I support my husband enough? On, and on, and on. I'm sure you have a similar refrain going in your head.
(We were looking at these pictures from Sunday together, and Andrew joked, "There we are...the family of weirdos with their pants tucked in to their socks!" But I'll have you know we DID see a snake and not one of us got bitten by a tick or a chigger. So, I call that a win!)
But here's the thing - I'm not supposed to be doing things exactly like other people. And it's okay if it takes me awhile to discern how things should work in our family. Rome wasn't built in a day, as they say. I've already written before about how God gave you to your specific children for a reason. This is along the same vein. Are there any absolute rights and wrongs in parenting? Yes. Your children do need to be safe, need to be taught to behave and think morally, etc. But how you go about meeting their various needs? A lot of that is style. And a lot of that will vary based on your child.
For example, Therese and Maria are completely different when it comes to sleep. Therese has always been a champion napper, and has gone through stages of struggling with night sleep. Maria is the exact opposite. While we've applied some of the same methods to both, we've had to take a slightly different approach with each, and have had mixed results. We do do sleep training (as well as spending months soothing them to sleep prior to that) but both girls have had totally different reactions to the experience. Therese is happy to please, and picked up on the routine fairly quickly. Maria is beyond frustrated when she doesn't get her way - and is not afraid to tell us! (Which is why Maria took two half hour naps in her crib today and is hanging out with me at the moment, and Therese is napping away in her room and has been for almost two hours. Sleep like a baby? Sleep like a 3 year old is a more apt expression in this family!) On the flip side, Therese wasn't big on nursing to sleep, so when we did go through the stage where we soothed her to sleep, it was alot of work to get her down! Maria, on the other hand, always loved nursing to sleep as a baby, so it was much easier to soothe her. They are just different people, with different needs!
It is silly to think that I can take one way of doing things, declare it the "right way" and beat myself up about it when I don't do things "right." Yet, I struggle with that all the time!
(She is definitely our adventurous child...much to her cautious big sister's chagrin!)
I find the internet to be extremely helpful, as I said before. It's easier for me to write the internet off as being ridiculous (anyone ever read those BabyCenter forums?), but harder to write off friends and family as ridiculous. When someone I love gives me advice or does things differently than I do, it gives me pause. It makes me question, Am I going about this the wrong way?
Now, don't get me wrong...that can be a good thing sometimes! Some of the wisdom passed on to me from people who I love and who love me, has been invaluable. But some of it hasn't really applied to our family, and our children. And some of those friends who I'm comparing myself to? Well, they may be pros compared to me in some respects, but I know for a fact that there are other areas of life where they struggle.
So...who should I be listening to? Not the crazy buzz inside my head, that's for sure. Often not the opinions and advice of others.
But what about that "still, small voice"? What about the direction I feel God nudging me in?
It is so hard to come by the silence you need to hear that voice. It's so hard to pray, and to be focused enough during prayer to feel like you can sense God's promptings.
But it helps - oh, does it ever help! - to try to hear those little nudges from God. God knows Andrew, Therese, Maria - and me! - better than I ever could. He knows what styles and methods will work best for each of us. And He's patient. So, if it takes me a gazillion times for what He's telling me to actually be heard and sink in that's okay. God works slowly.
And do you know what else? God isn't comparing me to anyone else. He just wants me to grow into the saint that He made me to be. And part of that is discerning how He wants me to love the three little yahoos in my life. :-)
But ultimately, "going my own way," means learning to do things the way God is calling me to do them. It's learning to be the "saint that is just me":