So why am I telling you all this? To tell you that since meeting her, I've realized I have a problem. Though my confidence is certainly not what it used to be, I manage to make it through most days without giving my appearance too much thought. And on many days, I have learned to be content with what we have and where we are. We are actively paying down the debt we stupidly acquired and living on a budget. Though there are splurges, day-to-day, we live like people who make a lot less than we do, out of necessity. We are not extreme couponers, and some of the super frugal bloggers I've seen would scoff at our budget. But we are driven to correct these mistakes now while living a life that has some comforts so we are motivated to stay on track and move closer to the life we want to be living. Mostly I am proud of how far we've come, and I can focus on our goals instead of the challenges.
But hanging with a gorgeous and wealthy new friend (who happens to be younger than I am) has challenged me. I am not proud of it. I am not writing this so friends will say, "Don't be silly, you are (fill in the blank)." I am writing it because it makes me angry. I am embarrassed that my self worth apparently hinges on so little, and at the larger issues this friendship has forced me to address.
Over the last year or so, as I've often written here, Daniel and I have tried to be much more purposeful about a lot of things. We now try to be more thoughtful about what we bring home in the first place, what we hold on to, and what we give away. I continue to take steps toward a healthier, natural lifestyle for our family. We have made strides, including joining a CSA, having our milk delivered from a local farm, going organic in certain items, moving away from white grains and cooking from scratch as much as possible, but sometimes I feel like we still have so far to go.
I read blogs and books from women who seem superhuman. They eat an all "real food" diet, calmly parent brilliant little kids, whom they homeschool, they are active in church and other ministries, and run successful businesses (from home), all while wearing cute, dangly earrings and keeping their homes clean and clutter free. I know this is isn't really true, at least I think it isn't. But it seems that way. And I'm sure that, for most of them, their intent is not to make anyone feel bad. On the contrary, they are probably trying to teach, to inspire, to share. I know we're all more excited to share our successes than our failures. I know we all focus on certain things at the exclusion of others. But, maaaan.
Sometimes I need to take a break from reading that stuff because I fall into comparing. If you are one of those women, and you are my Facebook friend, don't get your feelings hurt if I occasionally block your status updates. I don't bake my own bread and sometimes my kids eat macaroni and cheese out of a box. Sometimes our eggs aren't cage free because our budget took a hit this week and I needed to shop at Aldi and they do not concern themselves with such things, and I just couldn't bear the thought of making one. more. stop. Most of the time, I just don't measure up.
But then I get around other people. Maybe they are more mainstream than me or just more permissive parents than we are, but in any event we are not the same. They might be people whose kids base their Christmas lists off TV commercials, people whose idea of cooking is assembling prepared foods, or whose idea of news is a steady diet of FoxNews. I get around them and I feel better. "My kids don't watch commercials," I said in a conversation with a co-worker recently, which is true. We "killed" our TV in July, and while we do get a few channels, our girls' TV diet is limited to a few episodes on Netflix here and there. There's not really a way to say, "we don't eat that" or "we don't watch that" or "the kids aren't allowed to see that" that doesn't make me sound "other" and, possibly, like I feel like I'm better than. And, while I'm being honest, sometimes, for just a second, comparing does make me feel better than. And that's ugly.
At a training session for our church's Christmas outreach event, we talked about how to build relationships with the people we would be ministering to, people who were, in many cases "other" from us. Handouts are one thing, but relationships are harder. Our pastor warned us to avoid comparison, calling it the "killer of compassion." I felt a twinge.
When I compare, I am susceptible to pity (on myself or the other person), self-righteousness, and envy. All of which cause me to focus on ME. My discomfort with my new friend, or the supermoms I admire, or the less fortunate I meet has nothing to do with them. It's all about me feeling insecure in my skin, in my role, in my position. My new friend doesn't know it, but meeting her has forced me to face something I didn't even realize was plaguing me. If I compare myself to you, then I can't love you; if I can't love you, then I've failed.