Comparisons Not Required

I felt the familiar coil building in my stomach. “Wow….” I thought. “They really have it together! I should get it together…I should do more. We should read more novels aloud as a family, get out ice fishing again…ya. We should.” A familiar scene, playing out in my brain: silently berating myself for not being able to do MORE. Always, more.

I know that I am quite prone to the comparisons game, especially if I’m not on my guard, protecting my heart from it. I think that many of us women are. I don’t know if it creeps in on me more or less than it does for others, but I know that its partner can come creeping in shortly after: shame.

My husband and I attended a homeschool conference once, and while the details are gone now, I will never forget attending one seminar in particular on comparisons. The speaker talked about seeing a family with ten children, all dressed in matching clothing, all playing harps, beatifically. He spoke about that old feeling, that old comparison game, creeping in. He had lots of examples, and in one such example, the seemingly perfect family exited the stage, and once they turned the corner, the mask fell. Ripples of discontent and short answers ensued, proof that this family was indeed REAL and not some superhuman, unattainable standard. The image saddens me: a family that can look so real while performing and yet come off stage to rip each other apart behind the scenes with ugly words. The message to onlookers is that they are perfect, while in reality, IT ISN’T REAL. Because it can’t be.

Have you ever sat in church, at a conference, at any event, and seen that perfect family? The one whose children sit from largest to smallest, without making a peep, meekly obeying requests from their parents? I have, usually while managing a massive outburst from one of my own, while also realizing that another one of my kids is wearing their pants on backwards with their underwear on the outside. How did we not notice THAT before we left the house?! Because we are human, and we deal with an incredible amount of tasks every single day.

Much could be said about families that appear perfect, but I’m not going to go there, not going to pick apart perfectionism or label them as authoritarian. We all know those types of families, and we can feel compassion to them because that cannot feel good—to never be enough is to always be striving, and that is exhausting. I believe that people do well when they can, and that most people (most of the time) are doing the best they can with the tools they have. Most of us are grown-up children still struggling with unresolved issues: feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, looking for love and acceptance, needing people to notice us, needing validation. As kids, we don’t know these things are lurking in our lives; as adults, we might notice them but not know how to get rid of them, or we may not know some of these issues contribute to our unique set of behaviors or the corresponding survival methods we use every single day. Either way, they eek into our every day, into jobs, relationships, and—yes—into our parenting.

This is not a shameful thing, it is just something that exists. Accepting this is the first step in getting out of the comparison trap. If we can view ourselves as flawed, just like every other person on the planet, two things happen: we can forgive ourselves for not being perfect, and we can stop holding others above or below us because we recognize and acknowledge that all adults, no matter how privileged the upbringing, have flaws as well. The second step is acknowledging that we see what people put forward publicly, and they are going to put their best foot forward. How many times have I plastered a smile on, waltzed through my errands downtown, and come home to let my own mask slip? How many times have I not let on that I am tired; I am discouraged; and I really don’t know what to do about my own set of problems?

Adoptive families are particularly prone to comparisons, both by their own scrutiny and by those around them. This is really too bad because adoptive families, up to 65% of them, may be struggling at any given time, or so I’ve heard (I believe it). Speaking for myself, I see that I have children who are struggling behaviorally and emotionally. I see that they are struggling academically, and I know that they might not all catch up. That puts a lump in my throat. Other people may see that a certain child “does not listen” or is “disobedient.” Other parents may make comments or ask that a certain child not attend a group event “until they can listen.” While behavioral problems have to be addressed, adoptive parents CANNOT compare their children to the typically developing children around them. And we know that, but because the world around us does not know that we are parenting children from hard places, we can get comments flung our way that invite us to compare our struggling children and families to those who are not facing near the challenges we are.

From Keeping Your Adult Relationship Healthy in Adoption

(Ginther, Norma; Betsy Keefer, and Nan Beeler):

Parental Responsibilities: A Comparison (see, there’s that word again!)

Families with children

Adoptive families parenting traumatized children

Money management

Everything on the left, PLUS…

Time management

Infertility, stepfamily relationships and/or other family building issues. “Uneven” motivation between partners about adopting

General parenting tasks and responsibilities

Lack of informed support—formal and informal—for adoption from family, friends, and professionals

Household chores and tasks and repairs

Lack of information about new child’s history

Jobs

Adoptee’s mental health issues and development delays

Childcare

Conflict between birth and/or typically developing adopted children and adopted children with special needs

Dealing with schools

Managing openness in adoption (sibling visits, foster parent or birth parent visits)

Illness, deaths in the family

Locating adequate childcare; summer camps for children with “issues”

Social endeavors for the family—vacations, general fun

School issues related to special education, negotiating, IEPs, phone calls about misconduct, inadequate school performance

Social endeavors for the parents—leisure, maintaining friendships, volunteering

Learning how to talk to adopted children about birth histories

Holidays and vacations

Understanding and dealing with triggers for adoption-related issues

Intrafamily conflict (extended family)

Understanding and dealing with triggers for trauma or neglect related issues

Social conflicts outside immediate family resulting from hurt child’s behavior problems

 

Adoptive families’ extra workload does not end when the home study is completed and a match has been made. The hard work has just begun! While some adoptive families may find themselves parenting a well-adjusted child with few difficulties, I have seen more of the opposite. I quote from www.thebeautyandthebeard.com: “No matter how happy and well-attached our kids are or what fun memories we make or how great our life as a family is, adoption is never going to not be the foundation of how we were built. We will never not have our roots buried deep in the soil of another family’s ashes.” This is significant. For some families, even just the magnitude of this statement may sum up the continued fatigue that is often felt in daily life. And this is all the more reason to drop the comparisons and focus on what is important: the children.

For some of us, it might be hard not to compare our children academically or behaviorally. It might be hard to know that we are constantly being compared because we are different, and people don’t understand our differences. It might be painful because we know people are drawing their own conclusions and comparisons about our children, and it hurts because it doesn’t seem fair. We all want to look like competent people, like we know what we are doing. One of the most important things we can do is chuck the idea of what other people think about us and judge us for actually matters.

For those of us in the fostering world, we all know those families that seem to never turn down a placement, are always able to take on more, AND volunteer at a million community events and have absolutely never struggled with a placement. Actually, us adoptive families might have one in our adoptive circles, as well—the family that has seemingly never had a child disrespect them publicly, make a scene, or has adopted a sibling group of 56 and makes it look like a breeze.

Well, hold on a minute, because that is not real.

While what we see with our eyes might look real, we need to remember we are talking about human beings. Just because you haven’t seen the foster or adoptive mom sigh in exasperation, just because you haven’t seen her with dark rings under her eyes, and just because she brought home baking to the potluck doesn’t mean it is always that way. I would bet, my friend, that she is just as human as you and I. I would bet that she is a truly amazing person with plenty of special giftings like you and me, but I also know that she sometimes loses her patience. It is a guarantee that her babies don’t all sleep through the night, all the time. It is for sure that she and her husband have not always seen eye to eye, and it is possible that the home baking was made by her mother or aunt or grandma as a gift to help her out. If you don’t know for sure, you don’t know. If you start to suspect that someone—anyone!—is superhuman, and so much better than you, stop. It is not real; it is not so. Comparison not required because you, being you, cannot actually be compared to any other person on earth. We are all too different, our kids from different pasts with different sets of skills and setbacks and traumas. Comparison not even possible.

The one little hitch in my theory here, the hardest one for me, is the foster family that can take all placements, the adoptive family who can always take one more when my family of 7 is struggling in the daily grind.

Stop.

What one is called to, another is not. I homeschool and not everyone can do that. But, I don’t shame or blame or ridicule anyone who doesn’t homeschool. It just is something that isn’t for them. You can be an adoptive family with one child or an adoptive family with 20. You can be a foster family who only ever took one placement or one who is pushing 150. Either way, YOU have made an eternal difference to a human being. Let that sink in.

It might have been easy—seemed like the pieces just fell into place—or it might have been a fight all the way. Maybe you had to end your placement. Maybe it did not work. Maybe your adoption disrupted or dissolved, and you feel like a failure. After all, look at them over there; they adopted 10, with much higher needs, and they seem fine.

STOP.

No matter what your adoption story is and no matter where your journey has taken you, you are worthy! Not one single other person on earth has been or ever will be me: Jamie Giesbrecht. Not one single ever person has had to walk my hard times, battle my battles. Not one single other Jamie Giesbrecht has wrestled so hard to get to where she is now, and because of that, not one single person can be compared to Jamie Giesbrecht. No two humans, let alone two families, will ever, ever face the same set of challenges, and so no two can be compared. Let that flow through you, let it set you free. You are free to do your adoption journey your way, without fear and without being held to someone else’s standard. Your children are free from being held up to a chart and found wanting. You are free! Comparisons not required.

(And I may have just written this to myself, as a reminder, for next time.)