Saturday, August 13, 2011

that old green-eyed monster

At every major transition in my life - going away to school, getting hitched, moving, having a baby - I have gone through a little crisis of confidence in myself.  I think this is entirely appropriate, as I'm establishing new routines, new expectations, and getting my feet under me in each experience.  I've always wanted these crises to end as soon as possible, as they feel uncomfortable.  I always feel like I'm catapulted back to adolescence, with an awkward unsureness about myself and my decisions. 

One way that I naturally try to get my bearings in these situations is to compare myself to others.  I look around and think, "Wow - nobody else seems to be experiencing these feelings.  What is wrong with me!?"  The internet has allowed me to telescope in even further on others.  After I got married, in particular, I developed an unhealthy obsession with The Pioneer Woman (Ree Drummond).  She had chronicled the story of meeting and falling in love with her husband (it's now being made into a motion picture!), and it all seemed so peachy and picture-perfect.  I wanted my life to be like that!  I felt like life with Jeff was messy, and it was hard during that first few months.  We were setting new boundaries, learning new things about one another, and adjusting to a major life transition. 

So, when I had a baby, I started to do the same thing.  I scoured the internet as I stayed up late at night with Vicki Jo.  I felt like every step I took might be a misstep, and I just wasn't sure about myself as a mother.  Despite hearing time and time again, "you know your baby best," I just wasn't convinced that it was true.  And I compared myself relentlessly to the mothers I found online.  Why wasn't my baby holding her head up yet?  Why wasn't she reading?  Why wasn't I able to keep my house clean or my laundry done?  Other new mothers seemed to be able.  Plain and simple, I was jealous.  I wanted my life to look like the ones I saw online. 

I've always been able to use this competitive, comparison-making streak in myself to my advantage.  It's one reason I've always done well in school and at many other tasks that I set out to do.  I tell myself that I can do it better than (or at least as well as) someone else.

But the problem with this tactic for improvement is that you don't spend much time focusing on what you appreciate about yourself or others.  You don't spend time reveling in the moments that can't be reclaimed.  And you don't allow yourself or others to just be what you're meant to be, regardless of what anyone else is capable of. 

And the problem with comparing myself to what I find online is that it's not a global view of someone else's life.  We all know that we are able to present the side of ourselves and our lives that we want others to see when we're on the internet.  We don't share the darkest details, or the most unpleasant stories.  It's like having a flashlight to shine where you want on your life, as opposed to natural daylight exposing both flaws and perfections. 

So, I've decided to cut back on my internet browsing.  And I won't compare myself to what I find when I do look around.  Because my life, my husband, my baby, my house - it's enough for me.  And I want to count my blessings while I still have them.


Christine said...

I think there is a lot of wisdom here. The thing i have found helps me is spending time with other families with young kids. No one is perfect. Kids whine, messes are made, the babies cry and we don't know why. If they are my kids, they don't sleep through the night until they are a year and a half. Friendships with people who are honest about struggles are priceless to me. It keeps me real because I think in the honesty is where life really happens.

In some ways, it takes courage for a perfectionist to create space for her family to just be, and live, and thrive. The older I get the more jealously I guard those boundaries.

Emily said...

Thanks for this, Christine! I was talking with Jeff about this topic and he commented that I don't seem to have these feelings about the women in my playgroup, and I think it's for the exact reason you mentioned above. I see a reasonably whole view of their lives, which includes both successes and hard times. I think sometimes "online life" can get a little distorted in this way.

Stephanie said...

I think one of the most meaningful things I have learned in grad school is contained in a single comment my professor made without really thinking. She was just talking, it wasn't the main point she was trying to make. There is a woman in my program whose first response to doing something new is "I can't do that; I've never done it that way before." Every time. And it drives our professor mad. She responded, with frustration, "Well, Kim, the edge of learning is uncomfortable, if it's not uncomfortable, then you aren't learning anything new." That hit home for me, and I completely believe it. I'm glad you are giving yourself space to just be content. And, for the record, you do do everything better than most people. So, rest in that too.

Emily said...

stephanie: you are a sweet friend, but i'm afraid you overestimate me! sometimes i wish i was learning a little less.