I’m lucky enough to live in a townhouse community where I know most of my neighbors, some of whom are colleagues and many of whom are friends. We share a wall with another young family: Missy is a friend of mine, her husband teaches at the same university as my husband, and their two kids go to the same school as our kids.
I don’t see Missy nearly enough as I would like to, because she has what I jokingly refer to as “a real job,” in that she is paid to do something other than be a great mom. But when both of our sons ended up on the same T-ball team last year, we got a chance to know each other better over the course of many practices and games.
On one of our weekday games, her husband was volunteering at the snack shack and his shift went long. Our game ended, and her kiddos were tired and ready to go home. Since they had only taken one car, I volunteered to watch her kids at her house when it was time to go pick up her husband from his shift.
She texted me at seven, and I walked next door into the mirror image of our town house. I’d never been in Missy’s house before and I was curious to see how they had set things up. Her daughter was watching a show, but her son was eager to give me the grand tour as soon as his mom had left.
After he showed me his room and his sister’s room, he wanted to show me his parents’ room, and their master bathroom, and the guest bathroom, and really, every nook and cranny of their house. It felt a bit intrusive, but it was hard to say no to his smiling face.
Here’s what I noticed about Missy’s house: it was very clean. There wasn’t anything cluttering her kitchen counters, her baseboards were sparkling white, there wasn’t any toothpaste splatter on the mirror of her master bathroom. Nothing needed to be dusted and every surface was gleaming, even her kitchen floors.
My eyes grew wider with each room. Missy hadn’t known I was going to be taking a tour of her house today… she hadn’t even known I’d be coming over at all until about an hour ago. How was her house so clean? She had two kids just like me, plus she worked a real job from 9 to 5.
Clearly I am a slob, and the laziest of all housewives.
This is the conclusion I came to that night. I ditched all my plans for the next day and let my four year old watch TV to his heart’s content while I shame-cleaned my entire house from top to bottom. It took most of the day and I was pretty sore by the end of it, but I felt like a respectable person again and so it was all worth it.
At our next T-ball game, I got up the nerve to mention the house tour her son had given me.
“I was so impressed with how clean it was, that I scrubbed my own house from top to bottom the next day!” I admitted.
“Oh,” she laughed. “Yeah, I have help. I don’t have time to deal with all that, so we have a housekeeper that comes once a week.”
I could have saved myself a lot of guilt and shame if I had known. I had created an impression of her – that she could handle more than I could and could do it even better – and had pitted my own performance against hers. I made motherhood into a competition and found myself lacking. In short, I played the comparison game and lost.
And that’s how the comparison game actually works: there are no real winners and we perceive ourselves to be the losers. We create scenarios and make false assumptions and end up feeling sorry for ourselves, when really, we don’t know what goes on behind the scenes.
We compare outfits and conclude we aren’t stylish enough.
We compare birthday parties and conclude we aren’t creative enough.
We compare houses and conclude we aren’t rich enough.
We see that mom who looks so put together with her kids who never act out, and conclude that our own family is a chaotic mess.
What if instead of jumping to conclusions, we extended the benefit of the doubt? What if we paused to consider that we don’t know what goes on behind the scenes? What if we were quicker to extend grace instead of judgement – both to others and to OURSELVES?
It would be a much gentler and kinder world. And that’s the kind of world I want to live in. Join me?
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