From the other room I hear my children open and close the fridge door and shuffle through cardboard boxes in the pantry. They’re hungry. Again. (It’s been like a whole half-hour since they ate.) As they grab for another granola bar, I put another check mark on my mental “Mom Fail” list.
You see, the mom I wanted to be always has healthy snacks at the ready. She gets home from Costco and cleans and cuts 80 pounds of vegetables. Then, she places them into glass storage containers (no BPA here, folks). Somedays, she treats them to baked goods–fashioned from combinations of oats and honey and dried fruits. No refined white sugar or box mix junk of course.
Ahh . . .That mom. She’s awesome.
She also does crafts with her kids. She doesn’t throw away their Sunday School papers–in fact, she finishes the incomplete parts with them around the dining room table. That mom maintains a good mood. You know why, of course. It’s because she gets up like three hours before her children to exercise, spend an hour in devotions, clean the house, and then cook them a gourmet breakfast.
Like I said, she’s awesome.
I’m just an average mom. I buy the ten pound bag of carrots from Costco and then jam them into the fridge drawer only to be used when a recipe forces my hand. And while those potential snacks rot away in the drawer, my children feast on tortilla chips and Z bars. Lots of Z bars.
Of course, my children’s diet isn’t my only mom fail. I meant to teach them all a second language by age five. (You know, during those years when they’d retain it best.) I also totally planned to have “outdoor exercise time” with them every. single. day.
We watched the Spanish videos once. And, we all walked to the park last week. I may get up the energy to do that again one more time before summer.
This mom in my head–the mom I want to be–is so fantastic. I can’t compete with her.
She’s just amazing. And, sometimes, a lot of times, she brings me down. Comparing myself to her is a lose-lose.
Getting a Grip on Reality
I meet a lot of women who share with me this one simple sentiment: I don’t compare myself to others, I just compare myself to the self I want to be.
That’s a mouthful.
What they’re saying is that it’s not that they feel like they can’t keep up with Sally down the street. Rather, it’s that they can’t keep up with the person–be it the mom, wife, or woman–they wish they could be.
I get it.
They say things like, “I can’t live up to my own standards.” Or, “I don’t feel like a failure because of not looking like her or doing things like her . . .I feel bad because I don’t measure up to what and who I wanted to be.”
So, what do you do when your biggest competition is the “ideal” you?
Here are three ideas:
First: Separate the Ideal from the Real
When a woman tells me: “I don’t compare myself to celebrities . . . Just to the “me” I want to be.” My first question is always: Where did this “ideal self” come from?
A few years ago as I talked to a counselor about my body image struggles, he encouraged me to find a picture of my physical ideal self. It was the craziest assignment. I didn’t even know where to start.
But, as I gave it thought and combed through hundreds of images of different women, I realized that my ideal self looked a whole lot like . . . Are you ready for this?
Why Louise Mandrell you ask? (Some of you under the age of forty likely don’t even know who this is!) I grew up watching the Mandrell Sisters television program. Louise was always my favorite sister. She was the only one with brown hair, like mine. She also seemed smart–without being as bossy as her older sister Barbara.
Truth be told, I didn’t know to go looking for pictures of Louise as my “ideal.” But, as I wrote a list of features I wished I had and then tried to match them with a photo of someone I recognized from earlier in life, I soon realized that my ideal self was either a Miss America contestant circa 1989 or Louise.
Here’s Louise Mandrell from 1993. (I think she’s in her fifties now.)
This “find the image of my ideal self” exercise stunned me.
So, subconsciously, I felt a ridiculous internal pressure to look like a country singer from the 1980s? Ridiculous, right?
Another interesting personal observation: Although there are thousands of unique ways to be physically beautiful, there was one particular type of beauty in my head that I felt like I should try to match. I didn’t feel pressure to be beautiful like Taylor Swift or Kim Kardashian or even Heidi Klum. I had a specific ideal of beauty in my head that was driving me.
If you are driven by a specific beauty ideal, stop and ask yourself where these “ideal self” ideas originated.
If pressed, we’d all have to admit that we’ve fallen victim to our culture’s marketing ploys. Some of them direct, like: “Get smooth skin” ads or Nutrisystem commercials. Some more subtle. Social media posts for example–where you see one friend’s legs only and spend about fifteen minutes looking at yours and wondering if they’d look that skinny in a photo.
If you stop and pray about where these “ideal self” concepts come from, I think you’ll find the same truth I did. They weren’t actually in me, they were inspired by an outside force and adopted as my own. I talk about this in my book, The Burden of Better.
Second: Priorities. Priorities.
One of the best ways for me to separate who I really need to be from who I “ideally” would like to be is by writing a list of priorities.
What’s most important for my children to know and do today? What’s most important for me to do today? Are there activities that I need to accomplish today for the sake of our family’s well-being? Are there work commitments to be held? Things I need to do for the sake of our marriage? These must be my priorities each day, and anything above or beyond accomplishing these tasks is a bonus!
Then, with only so many hours in the day, I have to focus on first things first.
Not spending hours at the gym is not a “fail” for me because, on the list of things I must accomplish each day, there is no time to give my family what it needs while dedicating hours to daily exercise. This doesn’t mean I should assign some time to my personal well-being. Rather, I can’t beat myself up for only doing what I can reasonably do each day.
If you struggle with not “doing” enough each day, then let me encourage you. Write out the top five things you should accomplish each day and focus on getting these done first. (I realize, sometimes later in the day may be the only time you have . . .) This is actually a tip from the late Mary Kay Ash. And, I’ve found that it works at home and on the job!
Third: Know Who’s Approval You Really Need
The biggest reason I battle feelings of failure when compared to my ideal self? I’m looking for approval.
Sometimes that approval isn’t even from other people–it’s that I’m seeking my own approval.
I want to be able to rest in the fact that I met some standard I set for myself.
But, I wonder if that’s even biblical. I don’t think it is.
I don’t get to set standards for myself to meet and then reward myself when my goal is met, or punish myself if I fall short. Only God gets to do that.
To set my own metrics of when I’m valuable, when I’m worthy and when I’m acceptable is to try to act as if I am my own god–somehow able to save myself through being “good” enough.
And, I’m not.
God sets the standards. And, (what’s even more amazing) then he’s the one who offers grace. The beauty of the Gospel is that we don’t have to perfect ourselves to be accepted. We have a perfect Christ who has made the ultimate sacrifice for us, his imperfect people. To accept the Gospel is to surrender the ways I don’t live up to my own expectations of me, and instead rest in knowing that it’s only his approval that I need.
That, my friends, is ideal.
What do you think?
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