I Don’t Know How She Does It: From Comparison to Contentment
Have you seen the 2011 film ‘I don’t know how she does it?’. Adapted from Allison Pearson’s 2002 novel, ‘I don’t know how she does it’ features a woman named Kate (Sarah Jessica Parker) who to quote the cliche ‘has it all’. This film fairly accurately depicts what women go through to balance work with home. There are so many plates to spin. She feels torn. Frantic, frazzled even. So many of us can relate, whether we work outside of the home or not. This film also highlights the tensions that sadly sometimes exist between ‘work outside the home mothers’ and ‘work at home mothers’. However, the phrase ‘I don’t know how she does it’ is not just applicable to the ‘mommy wars’. Yes it is very relevant to mothers, and mothers on both sides of the fence can experience ‘mummy guilt’, and may engage in the tendency to compare themselves with other ‘perfect mothers’ who in fact, don’t exist.
However, the phrase ‘I don’t know how she does it’ is not just applicable to motherhood. It can easily apply to all women and the modern exhaustion that often accompanies modern womanhood. You don’t have to be a mother to see that the modern expectation of women is the expectation to ‘do it all’. Granted, life has ever been easy, but many older folk observe that there seems to be more stress around today, and that there is significant pressure placed on women, and on families. And is that why women often seem to attack each other?
The fatigue that frequently accompanies the female species could be the subject of another blog post entirely. But this week I wanted to write about our tendency as women to compare and contrast ourselves with one another. We can often look at others and wonder ‘I don’t know how she does it.’ I know that I have, frequently. They are all around me. The ‘superwoman’ who works eighty hour weeks, the mother with four children under five, the mother who starts a business when her child is six weeks old. And friends I have met in blogland such as the mother of eight who bakes apple pie every day, homeschools, and is still sane! Admittedly, a few people have asked me how I find time to write this blog. (Er, um, sometimes the folding of Mt Washmore just has to take a back seat).
Inherent in our human psyche is the tendency to compare. We compare all the many details of our lives. We evaluate what we do and how we spend our time, but we also compare many other aspects of our lives – our personalities, appearance, how fit we are, our family, our backgrounds and education, what we have, and what we have not. And then we compare our children, from the moment they are born, their birthweight and milestones, to how well they sleep. It’s an unhealthy game, this comparison game. Comparing can be such a trap. We are all so different, and we are uniquely wired with different callings, passions and giftings. If we want to spend hours planning detailed birthday parties for our child because we enjoy it, then why not?
When we stop comparing ourselves to others and get to know who we are in Christ, we find a freedom and security like we’ve never known! Celebrated writer Ann Voskamp published a post several weeks ago about ‘The Greatest Challenge Facing Women’. What would you guess might be the ‘Greatest Challenge Facing Women’ today? No it’s not busyness, fatigue, or the pressure to ‘do it all’ (although those challenges would possibly be up there). Would it surprise you to find that the greatest challenge may be the challenge to stop judging one another? Voskamp talks about the importance of breaking the measuring sticks of comparison, or it will break our souls.
Voskamp writes that ‘There will always be people who see everything in the world as a measuring stick of their worthiness, instead of as a burning bush of God’s gloriousness.’ As she explained to her daughter –
‘If your life looks like a mess – to them — they whip out a measuring stick and feel confident of their own worthiness.’ But ‘If your life looks like a monument – to them — they whip out a measuring stick – and start cutting you down for their own empowerment.”
She also writes: “Walk through life with a measuring stick – and your eyes get so small you never see God.” and that ‘There is no point trying to size people up, no point trying to compare –because souls defy measuring.You can’t measure souls. There are some beautiful truths there.
The Bible also talks about the importance of not comparing ourselves with one another. In Corinthians 10:12 it says ‘Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.’
But I’m not so sure that comparing ourselves against the ‘Proverbs 31 woman’ is all that helpful either. The ‘Proverbs 31 woman is often heralded as the pinnacle of biblical womanhood, something to aspire to. But how did she do it? She was certainly a gracious woman of true accomplishment. But her to-do list looked rather exhausting to me. Did she have a performance orientation? She didn’t seem to need much sleep, and I for sure, need my sleep. But there I go again – comparing. And is it helpful to compare oneself to someone who lived in a very different culture and time? For one, she had maidservants! Wouldn’t that be nice.
Furthermore, it’s not up to me to analyze the Proverbs 31 woman. We can’t judge the motives of another, why they do what they do, and neither should we want to. But fast forward a few hundred years and in the Gospel of Luke, and we meet a woman named Martha. We see that Martha had her eyes on everyone else. She was comparing herself to Mary. “Martha, Martha,” ‘the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has”.(Luke 10:38-42). We learn from Martha that we will never have peace when we worry what other people think.
I’m learning not to compare. I won’t judge you for your fitness level (or lack of it in my case). I won’t judge you for your dress size, or that you yelled at your kids (because I’ve been known to yell at mine too). I won’t judge you if you work, or if you don’t work. And I won’t judge you for your house or the inside of your oven (because heaven know’s mine could be improved). I will try not to compare my children with yours, what age you sent them to preschool, how big your house is with how small my house is an so on. I’m learning the fruitlessness of such comparisons.
Instead of the ‘women wars’, the subtle and less subtle attacks on one another, both virtual and over the fence, what if we could catch glimses of grace in the way that we treat one another? Could we build one another up like it says to in the Bible, admonishing and encouraging one another? Can we put away the scissors, rejoicing with those who rejoice? Perhaps this is a difficult one for our kiwi mindset to get our head around sometimes. Can we revive one another, instead of revile one another? Can we empower and champion one another, rather than compare? I had to chuckle when I saw a sign this week that said ‘Relax…it’s not a competition. We are all a little crazy.’ How true.
Can we also remember that ‘A soul covered in prayer is less likely to compare!’ And above all else, can we have the courage to just be ourselves, and give others the permission to be themselves, just as God created them to be.