A few years back, I saw a picture of a family whose kids were laughing hysterically as they laid sandwiched on top of each other. The caption was, “The family that piles together, stays together.”
The next day I asked my kids if we could take a “fun” picture together.
They were confused.
“Like just have fun together, and I’ll capture it. Maybe you all could lay on top of each other.”
“What the heck, mom?” was my eldest’s response.
The result was a picture of my kids giving half smiles while standing stiffly next to each other.
So, I spent the rest of the evening frustrated for no good reason other than the fact that I kept listening to the ridiculous mantra that reeled through my head: I wish MY kids acted like THOSE kids.
The Social Media Cause
Social media is not the only thing that contributes to the temptation to compare your family with other families, but it sure is a legitimate culprit. Proverbial “scrolling” causes us to create false ideologies of what families are supposed to look like and act like.
We perceive consistent happiness in others, and then wonder what is wrong with our family when the smiles are lacking. We see a mother revel in the scenes of her son’s senior year, so we become embarrassed that his course doesn’t look like their course. When the ideal snapshot of another family is captured and displayed, we begin to feel like we are lacking, and our kids don’t measure up.
Ironically, for every family that appears to be excelling from our vantage point, they are looking to another “Joneses’ family” who seems to be doing it better than they.
The Envious Effect
To some degree, we are always going to evaluate others, but the temptation to compare becomes a sin when we give too much weight to our faulty evaluations and become envious.
James 3:16 says, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” The fruit that is born out of envy is disorder and confusion. Wherever it is that you are caught up trying to look better than others, “things fall apart, and everyone ends up at the other’s throats” (The Message).
Envy also suppresses the ability to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). Rather than being excited with a friend whose child has succeeded in a particular area, envy causes us to put on a fake smile and swallow the grunt before it spills from our lips.
Eating the fruit of envy causes insecurity and anxiety. We have all experienced it at one time or another: the sideways glances trying to determine if our kids are dressed as nice as those sitting next to us or are as well-behaved as the ones sitting on the other side. And then when a child acts like a child, or a teen dresses like a teen, we become uncertain about our abilities as parents to raise our child appropriately.
The standard of “appropriate” is subtly set by the family to our right and the child to our left, it seems.
The Biblical Solution
It’s far too easy to become entrenched in comparison. When this happens, we need to stop, take a step back, and remember what the Bible tells us is our responsibility as parents. And why look to the Scriptures? Because it’s Jesus who sets the standard for us. Not our neighbors or our close friends, but Jesus.
And his standards are set with abundant grace, knowing we won’t parent perfectly. Jesus’ standards are set with unconditional love displayed on the cross, setting us free from the burden of doing everything right.
And when we fall short of the standards, there is always forgiveness. Jesus will cover the sins that entangle our heart, including the times we fall to the temptation of comparison and the sin of envy.
Deuteronomy 6 instructs, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might…You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (vv. 5,7).
These verses remind us that the biblical standard is to love God, and we are to teach him to our children at every opportunity we are given as we live our everyday lives.
The way that practice is implemented will likely look different for every single believing parent. Our heart should not be consumed with whether our child looks or acts like someone else’s child, but it should be burdened with the significance of cultivating their faith in the places they are, with the means God has given us.
Author and speaker Bob Goff wisely tweeted, “We won’t be distracted by comparison if we are captivated with purpose.” What is your purpose in parenting today? Is it to try and conform your family to fit a certain mold you’ve created out of someone else’s images? Is it to unduly push your child down a certain educational or sports related path because that is what others have deemed successful?
Experience the freedom that comes from laying your comparisons at the foot of the cross and instead become captivated with the purpose of knowing Jesus more and pointing your children to him.
May we trust the Lord with everything we have and listen to the voice of Jesus rather than the images that speak falsely through social media, or the lies we tell ourselves about our families and their inability to measure up to a certain standard.
Jesus is guiding you as you parent the child that he has purposefully placed in your care. And he is guiding your child in every path they take, and in every place they will go, even when the journey looks a little different from the Joneses.