We’ve all heard that expression “comparison is
the thief of joy.” It’s generally used in reference to shiny, glowing social
media pages, as a reminder not to compare our lives to the curated glamour we
see online. Let me tell you what else comparison
is the thief of:
Sanity. Peace. Rest. Confidence.
I know this, because I’m sitting here at 1 am,
taking a break from what I affectionately call “second shift”– the hours after
my kids go to bed when I sit down at my computer again to systematically work
through anything on my to-do list for that day that isn’t crossed off.
I am maniacal with my to-do lists. I go all
cold and clammy without them. Sure, they keep me organized and on track, but
they also rule my life sometimes.
How did I get to this point of letting a slip of paper, designed to make life easier, make me miserable instead? My obsession with my mountainous, masochistic to-do lists was born of comparison.
Let me explain.
I have a pretty sweet job in marketing for a
software startup that is growing by leaps and bounds and doing some really cool
stuff in our industry. I love it. It’s challenging and creative and forces me
to jostle the dust off of corners of my brain that I haven’t touched in a
while. And please pardon me a brief flash of ego, but I believe I’m very good
at it most days.
Sounds great, right?
Now let me tell you what else I have:
An equally busy husband who is navigating his own job stuff.
A freelance writing career on the side that is
producing more work than I can handle most days.
Two bio kids and three stepkids.
An acre lot with a home that never fails to
produce a “This Old House” sort of project.
A cherished role as the pianist in our worship band at church.
A commitment and desire to read my Bible and pray and do the same with my children.
Two dogs, two cats and nine chickens who
follow me around like a little gang, alternately making demands and rewarding
me with undying love.
A chronic GI illness that I’ll have for the
rest of my life.
And then add to these “big list items” all of
the things that float in around the cracks and fill in any spare moments like lava—volunteering,
family time, running, cleaning, cooking…
Nearly every one of these things is a huge,
audacious gift. (minus the GI thing, obviously. That guy is a jerk.) But some
days, I feel like I’m failing at every single line item. Why? Because I compare myself to everyone
Let’s start with the fact my “everyday life list”
is so long. Could I whittle some stuff down? Sure, on paper. But in reality, my
life would not be my life if every one of these things was not a part of it.
I love my husband and my children beyond words.
My high-maintenance, mid-century home is cozy and warm and original–nothing cookie cutter about it.
Music and my relationship with God are part of my very being. Non-negotiable.
Our pets are a three-ring circus on a good
day, but let me tell you– until you’ve been heralded like a returning war hero
by a flock of chickens when you return from a run around the neighborhood–
well, you just haven’t lived.
The GI stuff…well…that’s my Biblical
“thorn in the side.” Whatever. I’ll survive.
And writing. Writing and I have the classic
love-hate relationship. I believe that the ability to write well is a gift. I
cherish it. But as of late, I’ve written myself into an odd corner with my
repeat clients. No joke, I have somehow earned the reputation of being the
foremost authority when it comes to whitepapers and blogs about the following:
Personal injury lawsuits.
The supply chain industry.
Doesn’t get any sexier than that for a writer,
folks. So why not quit? Here’s the thing: I am obsessed with having a fallback
plan in case something crazy happens with my day job. I need to know that if I
wake up tomorrow and my company closes its doors, that I can still feed,
clothe, and house my family. Writing is that assurance and insurance.
Yes, I believe wholeheartedly in the truth
that “My God shall supply all my needs.” He does. He has. He always will.
However, I teeter on an incredibly fine line between that truth and “God helps
those who help themselves.” (Yes, theologians– I know that’s not in the Bible.
God gave me the ability to write about propane
safety and get paid well for it. So, write I do. Onward and upward. Next time
you fire up the grill and don’t go up in a mushroom cloud, you might just have
me to thank.
So here’s the comparison part.
No one else on my marketing team seems as…stark, raving mad as I feel on any given day. Oh, I never let on to them that I’m one conference call away from losing my ever-loving fluff. But some days, I am so very close that the dogs even steer clear of me– having seen the glint of momsanity in my eye (I work from home full time– you may either insert pity or jealousy here. Either works).
I honestly don’t understand how everyone else
seems so calm about their to-do lists
and I am just one flu bug away from flying off the rails (Which totally
happened this week. Another story for another day.).
But do you know what I realized tonight? Just
NOW? I am constantly comparing myself to
people who aren’t living MY life.
(Don’t go. I promise there is an actual epiphany coming. You’ll like it.)
Here’s what hit me like a ton of bricks. No
one else on my marketing team is raising young kids. Or even old kids. Or any
kids in most cases. No one. And let me assure you that not a blessed soul on my
team has a needy 1950’s house, nine chickens, or is running a burgeoning side
hustle as a propane expert.
When my colleagues book a business trip, they saunter into the home office refreshed, like they just emerged from a spa vacation. I, on the other hand, have split the space-time continuum, solved at least nine of the great mysteries of the Earth, and broken 17 Guinness World Records just to keep the plates spinning while I’m gone.
(And the litter box still won’t be clean when I get back.)
By the end of my trip, I fall exhausted into
my window seat, too tired to work on the flight home, but still dreaming about
work as if I had. And then I get home and I jump right back into my life and my
to-do lists and I wonder and obsess about why my co-workers seem so much more
in control of everything.
Please don’t misunderstand me– I know they
all have busy, full, rich lives. They are wonderful people. Their brand of
chaos just looks different than mine and they manage it privately, just like I
When I compare my inward definition of chaos
to their outward appearance of calm, it amplifies everything that seems to be
swallowing me whole. I let comparison whisper lies that weave into my brain
like the tendrils of a weed.
“I should be able to manage ‘it all’ without
feeling like ‘it’ is managing me instead.”
“I’m not doing enough for my family…my
“I’m not good enough at any of it and someone
is going to find out and call me a fraud.”
Comparison is the bully behind it all. It
doesn’t just steal my joy. It steals my light and my lightness. It makes me
heavy and sluggish with dread and fear.
You don’t have to have a list that looks exactly
like mine to fall prey to comparison’s trickery.
Maybe you are taking care of aging parents.
Maybe you have a family member with special
Maybe you’re struggling with an invisible
Maybe you’re a stay at home mom trying to keep
a busy household afloat.
Maybe you’re struggling to make ends meet while
the bills keep rolling in.
Our lists are different, but our human tendency to compare ourselves to others and imperiously declare to our own minds that we are not enough is exactly the same.
Enough is enough. I am enough. You are enough.
Comparison has stolen far too much from us
A few years ago, my parents bought a new lawnmower. It isn’t just any mower. Oh, no. This bad boy is a zero-turn, superspeed, grass-chomping terror mobile.
It has a seatbelt.
It needs a seatbelt.
It’s one of those mowers with the handles that move in opposing directions to steer it. My mechanically-inclined brother swears it’s very easy to steer. I beg to differ. You can’t convince me that those handles aren’t arbitrary doomsticks, producing random results with each push and pull. It’s like a slot machine on wheels, only with sharp blades and tons of horsepower.
Side note: I am a pianist. I’m quite used to my right and left hands doing different things at once, while my feet do something entirely different. But this mower. THIS MOWER. I am telling you– it’s sentient. It scoffs at my ambidexterity.
While I was visiting my mom this week, I offered to mow her lawn. Now, when I say “lawn,” you should be picturing several acres, dotted by trees, flowers and other beautiful obstacles, just waiting to be crushed by 1,000 pounds of steel. It’s the penultimate Mario Kart track. I’ve never driven this mower (let’s call it “Megatron”) for longer than a few terrifying seconds on my parents’ driveway. After considerable effort and a number of lucky guesses, Mom and I successfully get Megatron to start, and I buckle up and ease out of the garage, hand trembling on the throttle. Megatron bucks and roars and veers every way except the way in which I wish it to go.
I avoid approximately 4,000 trees on my way to the open field that Mom suggested as a good “starter patch.”
So far, so good. I’m sweating a little, but I haven’t hit anything. Oh, wait…I just hit something. Did Mom notice? No? Onward.
I make it to the field, feeling very much like Bambi stepping out into the meadow.
I make it one lap around the field.
Surveying my work, it looks like a badly failed field sobriety test. Another trickle of sweat drips down my back. Just as I start to ease the doomsticks back into some sort of forward motion, I see the neighbor approach the fence. I gingerly climb off Megatron, careful never to turn my back on it or break eye contact with it as it roars at me and inches nearly imperceptibly down the hill. The neighbor looks at Megatron, then back at me, then at the bead of sweat running down my face.
“Is it that obvious?”
He gazes over my shoulder at my mowing progress, which looks a bit like the gameboard from “Chutes and Ladders” and then back at me.
I say, “I hope that if God lets people peek down from Heaven on loved ones, that Dad isn’t peeking at this mess right now. He was an expert on this thing. Made it look so easy.”
The neighbor smiles at me and says, “You’ll be fine. Here’s what you need to remember: You can’t white knuckle it– makes it even harder to control. Use a light touch. Secondly, when you’re in the straightaway, use that time to prepare for what’s next.”
Light touch. Prepare for what’s next. Got it.
Climbing aboard Megatron once more, I baaaaaarely touch the doomsticks in the direction I want to go, and miracle of miracles– it works. As I breeze down the straightaway of the field, I think about the sharp turn ahead and mentally calculate what I need to do next.
I am ready for it. And I make it.
I mowed that whole field (only hit one pole just a little), another open area and the whole front yard with its smorgasbord of traps (hit a power line guidewire just a smidge. It’s fine. We’re all fine). Megatron was placed back in the garage, appropriately humbled to have been broken by a mere mortal like me, and I went triumphantly into the house to pat myself on the back (Literally. Had to check myself for ticks).
I love a good analogy, so here it comes.
I’m a (slowly) recovering control freak. I white-knuckle my way through most things. And the more I latch on with my death grip, the more out of control things seem.
This isn’t all up to me. Life is a machine made up of many different parts– all working to make the whole thing go. It’s not all doomsticks and death grips. There are other mechanisms to help us steer.
When I pray, I let go a little. When I read my Bible, I let go a little. When I talk through my feelings with my family, I let go a little. And it all feels more manageable when I do.
And that advice about using the straightaways to prepare for the curvy parts? That’s genius.
Our kids are entering new and unknown seasons of life in different ways. I’m entering a challenging, but exciting season in my career. Life is changing at breakneck speed.
Now is the time to prepare for what’s next. The twists and turns that we can see, but also the ones we can’t yet. Be present, but be prepared. Life is anything but predictable, but we can still handle it with a light touch. It takes practice and patience. I am not there yet, but I’m easing my way out of the garage, anyway.
Get out there and show your Megatrons who’s boss, friends.
I’ve been gone from this blog for a while–a year and a half, to be exact. While I’ve been writing nearly every day, it’s limited to freelance projects and marketing content. And while I’ve felt the pull to come back to my blog, it was met with a feeling of melancholy and fatigue. And later, with guilt for neglecting something that I consider a gift– the capacity and desire to write.
I couldn’t figure out what the problem was, so I hid from the call to write.
For 18 months.
Champion hider, I am.
When my Dad passed away two years ago (today, in fact), I poured out my heart and soul and the immensity of my grief in a blog that I read at his funeral. I wrote one more blog on the day we buried him, and another to mark our first Christmas without him. After I managed to get all of those hard feelings and acutely personal words on paper, I felt empty of any desire to write another word.
The genesis of this blog was the rosy, doe-eyed hope that I had something profound to share with other blended families. (I just giggled writing that sentence, you guys!) I don’t.
I. Do. Not.
Five years post-blend, I have absolutely NO idea what I’m doing. None. 2016 marked our third year as a blended family and it was the hardest year of our life together so far. One of those “Murphy’s Law” sort of years. By the time we lost Dad, and my mom made it through a hard battle with her own health (two weighty things among a steady stream of other wallops), I was just tired. Tired of being Pollyanna about everything. Tired of trying so hard to create an image of a fully-functioning, “look at us go!” blended family when most days it is JUST SO HARD. Don’t get me wrong– if I could go back, I wouldn’t change it. I would still marry my wonderful husband and I would still welcome my three stepsons into this house and this family with an open heart (not open arms, because we aren’t huggers and that would be super awkward for everyone, but…heart, yes). But if I could go back five or six years and talk to my shiny, naive, “go-getter” pre-blended self, I would sit her down and tell her a few things.
You will never be blended and it will never be smooth— it just won’t. The blending never stops, because the ingredients just keep coming. Once you have the elementary and pre-teen years figured out, here come teenage problems and a whole new set of things to navigate (graduation parties with exes, family events with exes, new drivers, knowing when to show up to events and when to be invisible). None of it is particularly intuitive, because it all involves other humans and their very human emotions, as well as your own very human (sometimes even irrational, if you can believe it) emotions. You just have to do your best and pick your battles. Bit by bit.
Don’t wait for the finish line, my sweet, naive stepmom-to-be. It never comes. And once you realize that, it’s so much easier to cope with the twists and turns.
Sometimes it’s okay to disengage– Gracious, this one is hard. And it took me a long, long time to figure out. I tend to put myself out there when I take something on. I am a bit of a workaholic and super-competitive–driven to do my best in everything. It gets me in trouble sometimes. Not because my intentions are flawed– but because I’m flawed. I don’t take failure well. When I put my heart on my sleeve as a stepparent and it’s met with ambivalence at best and animosity at worst, I literally shut down like a giant, angry baby. One day (and my husband likely remembers this day), I decided that I was done with this perpetual “whole heart, both feet” effort to stomp the funky grapes of our complicated family dynamic into a fine wine.
Most days, it’s more like clearance Boone’s Farm up in here, and I’ve completely come to terms with that.
By backing off from the panicky drive to make everything perfect, things have actually improved. I am far less stressed and resentful because my expectations are realistic. Is our family a failure? Good heavens, no! Our kids are great. Smart, athletic, Jesus-loving, (mostly) respectful…great kids. Every one of them. But I no longer feel personally responsible for making sure of it. There are three other parents in this baffling equation and it isn’t all up to me and my crazy, self-imposed expectations for how this should go.
Fact: (and don’t you dare judge me…I have no regrets) After a particularly tough weekend with one of the kids, I decided to just pretend said kid was invisible for a little bit. Like a few days. And you know what? It helped. I wasn’t rude or hurtful. I was just absent from the tremendous weight of caring so gosh-darned much for a few days while my husband took over all things related to said kid. I don’t even know if said kid noticed I pulled back, but the difference it made in my own mind was immeasurable and good for both of us. Pull back before you splat into an emotional mountainside. It’s fine. Blame me when everyone thinks you’ve gone off the rails.
You HAVE TO protect your “little family”– Your “little family” is the family you dragged into this circus with you on the day you said, “I do.” For me, it’s my son and daughter. For my husband, it’s his three boys. While we are a family of seven, and I refer to all five kids as “our kids,” I’ve learned that our O.G. families need the security of our targeted time and attention. It might be popular opinion to say that you have to keep everything even and do everything with everybody every time, but I’m going to just tell you that’s all complete crap.
Kids have love languages. Kids have individual needs. And your kids didn’t ask for any of their needs to be sacrificed for the sake of “keeping it even” when no one but you is keeping score. The least I can do is acknowledge and delight in the fact that they still crave time with just me. It will come in different forms as they get older, but I can’t emphasize enough how crucial it has been to the well-being, self-confidence and comfort of my biological children that I make time for the three of us to remember and celebrate that we are a strong “little family” inside a crazy, wonderful “big family.” And while we do lots of vacations and activities and dinners and movies with the “big family,” I will always make time to celebrate the three of us, and it makes a difference. So by all means– show love evenly in your family, but don’t be afraid to do it in varying equations and in creative ways. No one has a tally sheet, making sure it’s all in perfect balance.
Find out what matters to your kids and do that.
To that end, I took a quick camping and horseback riding trip with my son (just the two of us) while my daughter was at church camp, and it was so refreshing and encouraging, that it spurred me to find my words again (no pun intended). I may not have any of this figured out, but I no longer feel like a giant fraud because of it. I’m happy to have learned a few things, and whether the rules change again tomorrow or in ten years, I know that through God’s grace, it is (and I am) enough.
Feels good to be back in the saddle. At least for today.