“You need to watch your sister do vibrato, she’s better than you at it.”
As soon as the words left my mouth, I regretted them. Oh, I tried to make up for it, telling my daughter I wasn’t telling her she was bad, I was just encouraging her to do better. I gave examples of things the other sister should watch her do, because she’s better at them. I went into a long spiel about how we could all “learn from each other” and blah blah blah, but no matter how I twisted or tried to justify it, from the look on her face, I knew I’d created a wound in my daughters heart.
As I lay in bed thinking about it last night, I realized that the problem wasn’t in the acknowledgement that one sister is really good at something and the other could learn from her. The problem was that one sister felt less than because the other sister was better. And for the first time, I saw how, over the years, I’d created an environment for my kids that made them measure their own self-worth by comparing themselves to others.
I was reminded of an article I’d read only a few weeks before: Yardsticks: How the hidden Dangers of Comparison Are Killing Us and Our Daughters. Ann Voskamp writes:
… There will always be people who see the world in measuring sticks instead of in burning bushes… There will always be people who see everything in the world as a measuring stick of their worthiness, instead of as a burning bush of God’s gloriousness.
If your life looks like a mess — to them — they whip out a measuring stick and feel confident of their own worthiness.
If your life looks like a monument — to them — they whip out a measuring stick — and start cutting for their own empowerment.”
… The thing is … The world isn’t a forest of measuring sticks. The world is a forest of burning bushes. Everything isn’t a marker to make you feel behind or ahead; everything is a flame to make you see GOD is here…
Comparison is a thug that robs your joy. But it’s even more than that… Comparison makes you a thug who beats down somebody — or your soul.
… Measuring sticks try to rank some people as big and some people as small — but we aren’t sizes. We are souls. There are no better people or worse people — there are only God-made souls. There is no point trying to size people up, no point trying to compare — because souls defy measuring.
You can’t measure souls.
(Click Here to read the full article, it’s well worth it.)
Today, I sat down with the kids and apologized for my words from yesterday and for the ways I’d compared them in the past, and the ways I’d raised them to compare themselves to others. It was subtle, so subtle I didn’t realize I was doing it, but I was. And I read Ann Voskamp’s article to them.
After reading it through a few times and praying about it, my daughter mentioned how she’d given herself a goal of catching up to one of the girls in her group class. In the course of the conversation, we realized that seeking affirmation according to where someone else was in their life (ie. three songs ahead in the music book, homeschool supermom, wearing size 6 jeans, etc.) could easily rob us of the joy God wants to give us in our lives. The reality is that my daughter might not have the time to practice as much as the friend in her group class, because she has other responsibilities at home. If her goal is to do as well as someone else, how long will it take before she starts to resent the blessings in her life (milking and taking care of the goats, spending time with her siblings, reading a good book, etc) that keep her from practicing enough to achieve that goal? By measuring herself against someone else, she can easily rob herself of the blessings God has given her and the joy that makes up her life, and her circumstances. She will begin making sacrifices she ordinarily wouldn’t have made, (or resent the things that keep her from doing so,) in order to affirm her worth based on someone else’s life.
I’m sorry to say it’s a trap I have fallen into many, many times. Just a few days ago, I was wondering if we ought to put the kids in summer lessons so they didn’t “fall behind” the kids in their class. By whose standard was I measuring their progress? And if we’d done it, what kinds of sacrifices would we have been making? Beyond the financial strain of summer classes, we enjoy our breaks from town and we enjoy the quiet peacefulness of a season at home, and the work the farm brings as we use that time to get things done around here. This year, I’d even had a special music project planned for the summer, which the kids have been really excited about. All of this could have been sacrificed by my comparisons, and I didn’t even recognize them as such!*
All day today, the kids have been coming to me with examples of ways they have been comparing themselves to others. I had no idea how much of that was going on (and I don’t think the kids were conscious of it, until now.) In fact, I’d always thought I was doing well in raising independent, confident kids!
I’m very, very thankful for the lesson we all learned today, and pray that God will keep it in the forefront of our minds and help us to throw away our measuring sticks…
Into the burning bush.
Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct (Galatians 6:4-5 NLT).
* I was talking with a friend tonight and thought I ought to add… What we call “comparison” can be both good and bad. Acknowledging good in someone else and being inspired to rise to their level is NOT the kind of “comparison” I’m talking about here. That kind of comparison is inspiring and encouraging and has a completely different feel to it. I definitely want my children to experience that and set goals for themselves and work REALLY hard to achieve those goals. In another set of circumstances, my comparison of the girls vibrato could have been encouraging to both of them. But because I’d somehow laid a harmful foundation where comparison was concerned, it was not. Were the kids teachers to tell us that they should take summer classes because it would benefit them or because they were losing valuable skills during the break, that’s a completely different thing than me wanting to put them in summer classes because they’re “falling behind” in comparison to their peers. I think there is probably a fine line between the two and I’m sure we’ll have lots more opportunities to pray over this in time to come.