Friday, January 8, 2016

Free Your Kids and Yourself from Comparisons

July 10, 2013

Happy Independence Day! The Fourth of July is about Freedom -- but freedom is not about doing what we want, when we want, with whom we want as depicted in popular culture. Independence is about developing competence and taking personal responsibility. We all need a place of belonging, but we are individuals within communities.

It's a joy to watch my grandchildren grow. One day, I heard their mommy tell them to put on their shoes. It was not as easy for my grandson (age 2) as for his big sister (age 4). But he tried and felt good about himself. Imagine how he would feel if Nainai (me) rushed to help?

Each child is unique. How can parents develop children as loving active participants of their family? When my granddaughter was two years old, she was already good with words. She could use three-word sentence structure to tell adults what she wanted in a polite manner, e.g., "Please Baba, water" and, "Please Nainai, play." My grandson was naturally an action-oriented boy at age 2.

In spite of age difference, my daughter-in-law creatively involved both kids in dinner preparation. She trained her 4-year-old daughter to set the table. There is usually a center piece (as simple as a small figurine on a handkerchief), and each of the settings have plates, bowls, forks, spoons and napkins on the table in front of each chair. 
What can a 2-year-old boy do? One day, I walked into the kitchen when he was standing on a chair next to the counter. Seeing me, his mommy told him, "Show Nainai how you help with breaking garlics for Mommy."

Kids study adults and learn from their parents. Parents influence children mostly through healthy relationship and modeling. Rivalry among siblings may be natural, but you can help instead of making the matter worse.

Free Your Kids and Yourself from Comparisons

When I first met James' family, I loved how his dad introduced his four children:
"This is my favorite oldest daughter;
this is my favorite oldest son;
this is my favorite youngest daughter;
and this is my favorite youngest son."

In his eyes, each one of them (regardless of gender, regardless of age) are special. They seemed very comfortable with themselves and theirs was a close-knit family. In the beginning, I idealized their family. But after marriage, I started to feel uncomfortable and resentful, especially when I started to compare...

As human beings, comparing ourselves and our loved ones to others seems to be ingrained into us. We notice similarities and differences. It's one way we learn to navigate our world.

The trouble comes when we notice differences and then use that information to feel "less than." For instance, rather than noticing someone's success and letting that inspire us to take the risk we've been wanting to take, instead we may despair, believing that we could never have that kind of success ourselves.

Imagine the pressure on many teenage American-Born Chinese boys after Jeremy "Linsanity" Lin miraculously rose to stardom. Some have told me, "My parents used to pressure me to get into Harvard, now they want me in the NBA also. That's crazy!"

So while comparison doesn't have to be a destructive practice, much of the time it is, leading to tumbling self-confidence and harming our ability to be happy in the world. And when we compare our children to others, we also run the risk of damaging our relationship with our children as well as their self-esteem.

As Judith Orloff writes in her book Emotional Freedom, "Comparing yourself to others can preclude a bond of common fellowship and is a barrier to finding true worth." In short, the habit of comparison is a good one to break.

Many Christian parents wish their children would one day say, "I praise you (God) because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well" (Psalm 139:14). But we have to start with our own perspectives.

Here are some tips to help you stop comparing yourself and your loved ones to others:

Pay attention. Become mindful of those moments when you are feeling jealousy, envy, or a sense of inferiority. Awareness of making the comparison is the important first step.

Try to adopt a more realistic view of others. Nobody's life is perfect. The next time you find yourself agonizing over someone else's good luck, try to put yourself in his or her shoes...remember that everyone has struggles and moments of happiness.

Cultivate gratitude for what you have. Look around and notice the aspects of your life that make you happy. Make a daily list of those blessings in your life.

Give to others what you most desire for yourself. If you want love, give love. If you want attention, give attention. Helping others is one of the best ways to build your own self-esteem and escape from destructive mental traps.

Redirect, build and affirm. When you find yourself engaging in harmful comparisons, redirect your thoughts to your positive traits or to the wonderful traits of your loved ones, and then compliment yourself or them. Complimenting children not only builds up their self-esteem, but it helps prevent them from adopting the habit of comparing themselves to others.

Focus on your strengths instead of weaknesses. Rather than thinking, "I'm fat and she's skinny," celebrate your strengths. Be proud of your uniqueness, special talents and skills.

Growing up, I was considered the "smart girl." My mom always told me not to go into the kitchen. She wanted me to study hard so that I could get ahead in life and do not have to depend on anyone. For years, I felt proud when I did better than others, and I felt inferior when someone else did better than me. As a young wife and mother, I compartmentalized my life and worried about not fitting in. As you can imagine, my self-esteem went up and down depending on performance and approval!

Take a better look. By comparing, we are taking the win-lose view. How about win-win-win?

"Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." (1 Corinthians 12:27)

Although this verse describes the church, it is equally applicable to any team of people. Think about it, each of us have different personalities, skills and talents, yet God put us together as members of one family.

With awareness and practice, it is possible to cultivate a life that is relatively free of comparison -- a life in which you and your loved ones are much happier and more content. 
Author's content used with permission, © Claire Communications

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