A couple of days ago, we were all sitting around the dinner table when Dan made a comment to the kids that he was lucky to have married the best girl in the world. He followed it up that Emma was the second best girl in the world but quickly amended it that her & I were tied for that title. Sitting on his lap, Emma quietly said “i think emily’s* the best girl in the world. she’s better than me“.
I felt such a sadness in my heart for my baby girl. How quickly children learn to compare themselves to others. They see all too early what other kids can do better and the things they imagine themselves to lack. Freshly 8 years old, Emma has already conceded to herself that she’s less than her friend. Regardless of the talents that she has, in her own mind they don’t measure up to what Emily has to offer. A thousand questions filled my mind… why does she think that? how long has she been feeling this way? what have i done to make her think that? And most importantly… how do i make her stop thinking she’s less than someone else?
Later that night, as I tucked her into bed, I tried to probe deeper into the subject. I asked her why she thought that Emily was better than her. Immediately, she rattled off a list of things… emily has a really great imagination, she can play the recorder, she reads harry potter books and she’s really smart. I quickly reiterated to her that she’s really smart, can play the guitar, she reads very well and is really good at math. Her response was “emily is really good at math too”. Ok, she might be. I reminded her of her special talents… that she just moved up a level in cheer, she was really smart and funny, that she was kind and cared about people. She shook her head like she agreed with me. Then I reminded her that it’s ok to see special things in other people and that if you like what you see in them, you can work to have it yourself.
I told her “if emily has a really great imagination and you like that about her, you can work to make yours bigger, baby. if you like something about someone, you can learn from them and become better. one of the best things about people is that we can change and become the things we want to be. isn’t that incredible?”. She nodded her head in agreement. As I said goodnight and closed her door, I wondered if she truly understood. Did she feel any better than she had before we talked? I hoped so.
I started to wonder what is it that makes us compare ourselves to others? I know I do it. I compare myself to other mothers, wives, homemakers, runners, writers… the list goes on and on. But how can my young daughter, who appears on most days to be bursting at the seams with confidence, feel inferior? It would seem to be simple human nature if even children do it. Something within us must be programmed to see how people shine and sparkle in areas that we may seem to only glisten. If this is how we were designed, how could I possibly trump mother nature? I felt a helplessness to teach Emma to stop judging herself.
Then another thought struck me. What if I teach her to accept that we’re all different? That inevitably we ALL end up comparing ourselves to others and in some way or another, we will ALL fall short. Those pieces in us that we consider deficient, we can choose to become better. Maybe we’ll never be as good as we think that other person is at that specific trait, but we can become the best we can be. We don’t have to be lesser for realizing that we have room to grow.
Can I teach her that other people will see something spectacular in her that they’ll be jealous of too? That God made us all with special talents and we all have weaknesses. Both of which we should strive to make better. Everyone of us should be working on becoming the very best people we can be. That it’s our choice whether we choose to do so. And maybe, comparing ourselves to others might not be a curse but a blessing if we decide to accept that we’re all on our way to becoming the people we were meant to be.
I hope so… for Emma.
*name has been changed to protect their identity
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