Have you ever wondered why we spend so much time and energy comparing ourselves to others? It must be one of the single most self-destructive pastimes and yet I know I have spent years of my life comparing myself to others, which created nothing but insecurities and a deep sense of inadequacy.
The time I spent comparing myself to others wasn’t particularly obvious in my younger years. Doesn’t everyone look at their siblings, friends and classmates and secretly wish to have better clothes, hair, boyfriends, athleticism, and intelligence? It wasn’t until I became a mother that my self-comparison behaviors became more prominent. I wanted nothing more than to be the perfect mother that my children deserved. But no matter how hard I tried or the number of hours I spent in the kitchen, I could never quite achieve the Better Homes and Gardens life that the other preschool moms seemed to pull off with ease and efficiency. Looking back, I can see it was ridiculous. My parenting experience was different. I was the mother of a special needs child who required more than 30 hours of therapy each week. How could anyone pull off that sort of schedule and not burn a pan or two of gluten free chocolate chip cookies in the process?
As I sorted through the wreckage of my life after the death of my son Isaac in early 2007, I slowly nurtured my dream of creating a nonprofit that would help families touched by autism. While I still attempted to be the best stay-at-home mom I could be, I couldn’t help but feel isolated and alone with only small children as social companions. To pass the time, I became enamored with this up and coming site called Facebook. It was an easy way of maintaining relationships and connecting with distant friends and family. I looked forward to breaks in my day when I could read about the happenings of people I knew.
But over time, Facebook began to add to my growing list of motherhood insecurities. Scroll after scroll, I felt bombarded with friends who seemed to have it all together. Picture perfect meals, glowing parent-teacher conferences, relaxing vacations, and blue ribbon science fair displays. Meanwhile, I was surrounded by grief, overflowing toilets and preschooler golden showers.
With my self-esteem in the proverbial toilet, I decided to stop hiding my imperfections and thumb my nose at those parents I perceived as “the perfects” on my Facebook feed. I began sharing stories of what my real-life experiences looked like. Before long, my friends started comparing me to a modern day version of Erma Bombeck. Week after week, I posted the regular adventures of my sarcastic and witty elementary school-aged son; adorable super hero, crime fighting preschooler with an eccentric touch of autism; and a sockpants loving fashionista toddler who insisted on dressing herself every morning. I found that in my attempt to shock my friends with a sense of my daily reality, I was freeing myself of the need to compare myself to others. I began to let go of my insecurities and embraced the authentic me.
It seemed only appropriate that one day, while taking a break from reading the latest and greatest accomplishments of some of my more perfect friends on Facebook, a statistic jumped out at me from a national magazine. “Approximately 85 percent of people with Facebook accounts admit to keeping at least one friend that makes them feel better about their own life.” I couldn’t help but laugh. I am fairly certain that I am this friend for a large portion of my Facebook friend list. I’m also fairly certain I make a great many of my friends on Facebook experience a sense of normalcy as they live out versions of the daily debacles I feel compelled to share.
Recently, Krysten, program coordinator at The ISAAC Foundation, mentioned that a mother was requesting a meeting with me. The mother shared in her email a feeling of inadequacy as she struggled to balance daily life and the needs of a child with autism. “She seems inspired by your ability to balance your life while having children with special needs,” Krysten said. We stood looking at each other silently for several seconds then both burst out laughing. “Set up a meeting, but first tell her to send me a Facebook friend request. That should help normalize things for her in the meantime.”
Holly Lytle is the mother of three and is the founder of The ISAAC Foundation, a local nonprofit organization. In her free time, Holly enjoys chronicling her many adventures of motherhood for this column.