One day, in about 10 years, one of my kids is going to come and ask me why we don’t drive a BMW like their friend’s parents do.
What am I going to say to that? How am I going to show them the danger of making comparisons like that one?
Maybe I’ll tell them of a friend of mine who asked a similar question about 30 years ago. I’ll tell them how hard he worked and how much he sacrificed to get that first flash car. His relationships, a little bit of his integrity, his time. How it satisfied him for about a month until he set his eyes on an even nicer car. Within another month he has traded his in for another, losing a bit on the trade. I’ll tell them how this cycle repeated.
And it wasn’t just with cars, it was with everything he owned, or didn’t own. At 30 he’d already had a string of failed relationships. Failed because of him working too hard, or just finding someone else more ‘suitable’.
Then he decided he needed kids, everyone else was having them.
Maybe I’ll tell my daughter or my son how by 40 he’d left the mother of his children because she was too much of this, and not enough of that. He deserved better. He did love his kids though, very much so. But he only got to see them every second weekend. Even then he was often too busy moving and shaking at work or socially to really enjoy them.
But he knew he had to make sacrifices to keep climbing the ladder, and his lifestyle needed the paycheque.
When he did have his kids he made sure they got everything they wanted though. He didn’t want them to feel somehow less loved than other kids. If he didn’t spend as much time with them he made sure he spent money on them. That was his measure.
Maybe I’ll go so far as to tell my kids that he recently told me that he’s never felt really close to anyone. Sure, he has plenty of female companions but no one he’s felt truly content with.
Perhaps this will get through to them, perhaps it won’t.
How do I tell them that you can never win the comparison game, not that one at least.
Sure, I can balance it with an example of good comparisons. Maybe there’s a better player on their sports team who constantly challenges them to try harder. They may never be as good as that person but that’s a good benchmark to work towards.
They’ll hopefully figure out that you need to decide on what you should compare to and what you shouldn’t. And most of all, why make the comparison at all. If it’s to improve because this improvement is important, then great. If it’s to help them be content, i.e. I don’t have the latest shoes but at least I’m able to afford shoes at all, awesome (even better, how can I help those people who can’t afford shoes).
If it’s just because someone has something better and therefore we want (need) it, wrong answer.
It’s so easy to measure ourselves by money or material possessions. But it’s a game we can’t win, no matter how hard we try to have the most, or the best. If that’s the only reason you want it, you’ll always find someone with more, or better. And if by some slim chance you do get the best or most, that’s only with the things you can change.
What about the things you can’t?
Taller, better looking, more successful kids, better health, more hair. What happens when you start comparing these things?
It’s a slippery slope that only leads down.
How can I help my children understand that comparisons of this type are toxic. That there are some things we can change, some we can’t, but the one thing we can always change is our response to our circumstances. Is it one of gratitude, or envy? Contentment or entitlement? A challenge or impossible?
I don’t know what story will be the one to open my children’s eyes. In the meantime, I’ll just keep telling them. And showing them.
I’ll show them the beauty of a sunrise. How this happens no matter how they’re feeling, and there’s nothing they can do to stop or start it. All they have to do is sit and appreciate it.
They’ll learn that they don’t need much to survive. How they can get their own water, and food, and how they can build their own shelter. How anything more is a luxury.
I’ll show them how an evening around a campfire with good friends is one of the most satisfying things one can do. I’ll take them to one of the Pacific Islands where people with almost nothing by our standards act like they have everything. Or everything they need. The happiest people in the world.
We’ll go and volunteer at a soup kitchen and hopefully they’ll see that making someone else’s life better actually enriches theirs.
It’s probably not one single story that gets through to them. It’s more likely the consistent story I tell, not only with my words, but with my actions.
Even more so with my actions.
Maybe if I do this, they won’t even ask me the BMW question at all.