If, as a mom, you ever come across anything advice-y anywhere about comparing yourself to other mothers, the general consensus out there seems to be that this is something to avoid. Something to try really hard not to think about so you don't feel terrible. Don't think about how her floors are always mopped! Or how her kid never watches too many cartoons! And how she had time to make the cookies for the fundraiser thing! And all that stupid shit.
It is often discouraged in a piece like this that warns that comparing yourself is "normal" but "never healthy," a damaging shame spiral that will leave you in tears, a lose-lose game that can only make you feel like a giant basket of unwashed failure laundry. (I'm picturing lots of stained hoodies and unexercised-in yoga pants.)
I say do not wash your laundry of failure. Totally think about it. Sit with it. Sniff it! Why do you care? I mean, really, why do you actually care? Is it actually something you want to do? Or just a game you feel you can't opt out of? There's a valuable takeaway here. I know a mom with whom I have a running joke about how into seasonal decorations she is, and how I always always forget to do that shit. Sure, it's fun, but at the end of the day, this is not going to deprive my child of unconditional love. (Plus, now she buys my child seasonal dinner plates. Win-win!)
Also, feeling bad is OK. Feel bad sometimes. Obviously if you feel bad all the fucking time there's a problem and you don't need me to tell you that. But this general idea where feeling bad is just awfulness we can't learn from, and we need to go dig a ditch and fill it with our bad feelings and then take a dump on it so we never have to touch them again, is just weird. Look, the only way out is through, yo.
Take this Parenting Magazine poll from September, for instance, which found that the main thing moms envied about other moms was "her organized life." 41 percent said, "Your family just seems happier."
Seems, k? Look, everyone around me seems to be happily skipping through life like a polished rock on a ripple-less pond, but you have to by now realize that people are all liars, right? Well-intentioned liars? We are all actors in a play called Make Sure No One Knows How I Have Any Problems. Right? We all get that, right? How someone "seems" as an indicator of their actual lives is about as inflated as an interest rate on a payday loan.
Like, if another mother seems super worldly, she might be super worldly, but she might also have mad shits all the time that prevent her from doing anything fun, like yoga, or running. I don't know. Get creative. You see where I'm going here. She also might seem really happy because she actually is, because she's figured something out you could learn from. That's OK, too. It's not cause for a shame spiral. It might inspire you to change your life, be better, do something whimsical, do something you've always wanted, or adopt a new approach. Or not. That's what is so great about thinking something over!
Other mothers who are not you are exactly that - other mothers who are not you. They are not me and they do not have my kid, my life, my outlook, my ability to drive a stick shift while putting gloves on a toddler in the backseat. They parent their own way, and they are helpful barometers for the going trends, but like the Pantone color of 2013 or the percentage of freshness a movie gets on Rotten Tomatoes, it's a suggestion, not a freaking mandate.
I'm not saying I don't ever compare myself to another person and come up short. But if we accept ways in which we feel less than someone else as merely valuable information about ourselves, we could take from it what we can, change what we can, and accept the rest.
With that I will point you all to the life of the mom I would totally be if I could get all my shit together and the shit of all my family to do it. My current obsession is "Almost Fearless" — a blog written by the hilarious Christine Gilbert about her life with her family in international transit. Basically, she quit a well-paying corporate job, took up photography and writing (and was just instantly great at it!), and she and her husband sold a house and hit the road (portable job, graphic designer).
Now it's 38 countries later and an easy life full of adventure and glamour. Just kidding, it's not like that at all. There's adventure aplenty, but also all the waiting and chaos and uncertainty you'd expect from international travel.
But the oh-shit factor to me is that they also have a toddler. And she's now expecting her second child. As someone who has trouble getting through a weekday Trader Joe's run with a toddler who hasn't napped as well as I'd like, I find this all to be breathtakingly courageous.
Who wouldn't admire someone who just goes for it?
You see, it's not about the job, or the money or the stuff. It's how when you're 31 and you've formed this life and worked very hard on your career, it suddenly becomes part of the fabric of who you are-at least who you think you are. It's the first thing people ask you (here in the US anyway) when you're at a party. It's the way your parents impart the message to their friends and relatives that you are doing well, "Yes, Christine's a big fancy manager at XXX fancy company". It even becomes how you talk to yourself, in some ways, when you're unsure about what you're doing in life-"at least I've done one thing well".
Now, I was going to take that all away. Willingly amputate a piece of myself, for a whim, for travel, for who even knows-a career as a writer? It seems like the height of indulged American selfishness to demand from the world a career that I like, when I have a perfectly good one already. My internal editor would say, "So what if it you hate it! It pays well, suck it up!"
Umm, I thought all that stuff in my late twenties and early thirties, too, and wanted to pack up and get adventurous. And then I proceeded to, uh, keep working at my copy editing job for five more years. And have shitty boyfriends. And not go anywhere.
So it also pains me to say that she and her husband, now part of this first generation of digital nomads who are able to earn a living entirely remotely and traveling as a result, are also doing a super cool documentary about this experience. They do their own jobs, of course, but they also come together in a kind of Charles and Ray Eames kind of way. Um, we had fish tonight. My husband made the fish and we ate the fish and it was good.
But the blog's real appeal is its author's basic courage to keep plunging into new experiences with a ridiculous amount of bravado. And it's fucking helpful! There are tips to learn any language quickly, deliberations on where in the world to have your baby, culinary adventures to become despondent over and gorgeous photoggery. It's no wonder she has a book forthcoming.
By the way, if "having it all" is a real thing, for my money, it has to be something like this: an imperfect, unglamorized kind of happy chaos in the pursuit of experience and adventure.
Make no mistake, this is all absolutely reason enough for a shame spiral. That was supposed to be MY LIFE PEOPLE! Only I've never traveled outside the U.S. except for going to Canada once. And, sure I plunge into things all the time, theoretically. I read a lot of travel blogs? Did I mention I still haven't even taken my kid on a plane yet?
But more importantly, I could drown out all this mom-envy chatter so I don't ever have to feel bad or whatever. But if I just shut it down so I don't have to think about it, then I also don't get to read her hilarious blog and live vicariously through it and plan my own adventure. But without the mad shits.