When I started graduate school, I had a post-it note on my desk that had a famous quote from President Theodore Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I wanted the daily reminder that my primary goal was learning. I knew that if I was comparing my grades or progress to anyone else, I would be robbed of the thing I had set out to do — learn and grow. It seemed a simple thing at first, but further into that first semester, I realized that it was going to require immense focus. I’ll admit, it was difficult at times and required sacrifices that I didn’t anticipate, but I look back on that season with immense joy. I set out to graduate with my masters degree and I did it. It took me a little longer than some of my peers, but I continued to show up and put in the hard work and it paid off.
Motherhood has often felt similar to me. I remember finding out that we were expecting and feeling so excited. The very next day, I was scrolling through social media and was immediately overcome with doubts. Can I actually give birth? What if I mother my child differently than my friends? What if we have different house rules? How is this going to change my primary relationships? I put my phone down and had a few moments to myself. I realized that motherhood was going to require that same immense focus. I was going to need to stay in my lane, continue to show up and do the hard work and know that looking back on raising this sweet little man, I want to feel that same deep joy I felt finishing my degree.
Okay, so what? You may be wondering, “How do I avoid the comparison trap?” I’ll admit, in the age of social media where every single aspect of our lives (and the lives of others!) is on display — it’s tough. But it’s doable! Here are the top three things that have helped me combat comparison and live joyfully as a mama:
1. Show up and be present. This might sound easy, but it is becoming increasingly difficult in a world that is constantly demanding our attention. The first few nights at home, I realized that I was spending the time feeding my son while scrolling social media. I was exhausted and trying to stay awake but one early morning feed that first week, I forgot my phone in the bedroom and I realized what I had been missing. There was this beautiful, tiny human relying on my care. Soaking in those special moments is what I mean by being present. Make your time together with your babe memorable. Be intentional with your family time. I know the days feel long, but being present is not only a gift to your family, it's a gift to you -- the best form of self care.
2. Practice Gratitude. Those early days are hard, mama. Laundry piles the likes of which you've never seen before (who knew little humans needed that many outfits in a day!?). The ever-growing list of household chores that are not getting done. More takeout instead of home cooked meals than anyone would ever care to admit. But life doesn't have to be perfect for us to be thankful. I kept a brief list and would write down 1-3 things a day whenever I got a chance. Maybe it was a good nap for my little man, or a friend bringing a home cooked meal to our house. Sometimes it was just recognizing those simple but special moments that helped me stay grounded.
3. Lean into the imperfect. I get it. It’s hard. None of us like things to be imperfect…especially mamas. I’m not saying that we should just let it all go, but don’t dwell on the things that are not exactly as you expect they should be. The mama you follow on social media who always looks so put together — she doesn’t wake up like that, those are called false eyelashes. The family picture you see of your distant relative with her perfectly smiling and sitting children — there were a lot of outtakes to get that perfect image. The reality is that life is too short for us to have it all together. Even as I write this, I count 10 books on my dining room table, 2 laptops (because COVID-19 and working from home), a baby toy and 2 tubes of chapstick. But last night, I prioritized my son. Would I like a cleared off dining room table? Of course; however, I prioritized a walk and our sweet bedtime routine. Those are the moments that we’ll both remember and cherish.
Keep showing up. Keep putting in the hard work of leaning into the imperfect and keep practicing joyful gratitude at every chance you get. These days won’t last forever and if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to look back on these long, tired days and feel joy and pride in what you’ve done in raising tiny humans.