A common ailment infecting modern mothers is comparison. Comparison has two forms. Comparison inferioritis silently sneaks into the hearts of the tired, vulnerable and lonely and has ugly side effects such as envy, resentment and despair. Comparison smugnessitis has been known to infect mothers in peak performance, manifesting as pride, pity and condescension. If left untreated, comparison can destroy friendships, cause feelings of worthlessness, bitterness, or superiority, and result in withdrawal of social contact and even lead to a reduction of maternal satisfaction.
Comparison can be hard to diagnose because initial warning signs appear harmless and are often confused with common interests, curiosity, compassion, asking for or offering well-meaning and friendly advice, and chit-chat. Comparison sometimes incubates asymptotically until a sudden eruption of pathological symptoms a mentioned earlier, however in most cases signs of comparison appear slowly before escalating to the damaging phase.
A mother is at greatest risk of developing Comparison inferioritis if she frequently asks herself “how come their baby…..(sleeps through the night, crawls already, walks already, talks already, doesn’t cry, is bigger than mine, feeds easier than mine) or “how come my baby ‘never’ (sleeps, feeds that well, lets me put her down). If the mother has a genuine interest in receiving information that is fine, as long as it is to benefit her family not to feed negative self-talk such as, “I’m a terrible mother”, “this is too hard”, or “woe is me my baby is so much harder to look after than other babies”.
Early symptoms of Comparison smugnessitis can be identified by thoughts or comments such as “oh that poor woman, that baby is so… (ugly, fussy, clingy, spoilt, demanding)” or “that baby is so (fat/skinny) I must help that woman understand feeding better. Comparison smugnessitis can also be recognised by the unwelcome offering of opinions with regards to sleep techniques, settling, feeding, immunisations, childcare arrangements and even the mothers personal appearance. You might also be suffering from Comparison smugnessitis if you find yourself thinking “my baby is so cute” (with the undertone “not like so-and-so’s baby, she looks like a carp”), or “my baby is so smart” (with the undertone “not like so-and-so’s baby, he is slow, he must be….”.
It is not uncommon for mothers to suffer from both forms of comparison simultaneously, as all babies have some strong areas and some weak areas. Some women try exposing themselves with smugnessitis as a cure for inferioritis. This is not recommended, as judging others has the potential to open ourselves up to judgement and making us more aware of our own faults.
It can be difficult to distinguish between empathy and friendly advice, and a case of smugnessitis. If you are unsure if you have smugnessitis yourself, examine your motives. Were you trying to help or trying to big note yourself? If you are unsure or were trying to help but think you may have offended the other mother, it is best to apologise. If you can do this you probably don’t have smugnessitis, or it is in early stages.
Comparison smugnessitis is highly contagious so use caution when attempting to diagnose cases of it in others, lest you come down with it too. If you find yourself thinking “that woman is so smug I feel like she is always judging everyone. What does she know anyway? Her baby looks like a carp. She doesn’t even do things right, she…….” then seek urgent spiritual attention.
Comparison is best treated by large doses of Holy Spirit, prayer, confession, and grace. For those allergic to religion, unable to believe in God or unwilling to believe in God, a recommended course of action is to state out loud, “every baby is different. I do not know the full story. I will not compare my baby with other babies or myself with other mothers. It is not my job to judge other people. I want to enjoy my baby and will do what is best for my family, even if it differs to what my friends are doing”.
Disclaimer: to the best of my knowledge Comparison inferioritis and Comparison smugnessitis are silly terms that I just made up. I am not qualified to do so but I just did. 1 am Monday 31/1/11. For those of you just burning to know, I myself am prone to both forms of comparison… But I still love you.