In collaboration with HERE for you for them
We live in a world that offers endless possibilities for us to compare ourselves to others. But do we as parents really help our children by modelling comparison as a coping strategy?
Before the insurgence of social media, parents’ exposure to fellow parents was limited to the school gate and family gatherings with established friends. Not that these two didn’t occasionally trigger stress hormones. But modern-day parents have the added luxury of 24-hour access to all the perfect parents across the world. How lucky are we!?!
As far as comparisons go, we seem to have two choices. Downward comparison is a method to help boost our sense of wellbeing by contrasting ourselves with those who are worse off. Who doesn’t remember their parents telling them about all the hungry children in the world who would be very happy with those vegetables? I, for one, recall how this guilt trigger added a rather bitter taste to my greens.
Upward comparison, on the other hand, is very popular in situations where we feel or are made to feel overwhelmed by others’ apparent strengths that we ourselves lack. Let’s again reach back to our childhood and evoke one of those moments where you were invited to wonder why other children weren’t behaving as badly as you. Remember how helpless this made you feel?
Psychologists would no doubt confirm that both types of comparison are human strategies that help us deal with threats, build resilience and establish identity. And yes, it does indeed make sense for us to establish where exactly we stand in various social environments. But what other, perhaps even better, technique could we employ instead of this often rather unkind variety?
We evidently do a lot of thinking about our life and about how it holds up in comparison to other people’s lives. Regrettably, a great deal of our thoughts appear to be critical. Rather than reacting to a situation with the flawed strategy of comparison, it makes sense for us to assimilate and model to our children a response that is kind to both our self and others. This is where the mindful practice of gratitude could help. Gratitude feeds contentment because it is sourced from within and does not need others as a benchmark.
So how can we introduce ourselves and our children to this kinder alternative coping mechanism? Through trial and error, our family has come up with an – almost – daily gratitude ritual that works both for us and our 8- and 6-year-old. While enjoying our evening meal, each family member gets to share one thing they are the least grateful for and three things they are the most grateful for. The setup is pretty informal, but the one strict rule is that nobody is allowed to interrupt or comment, unless advice is asked for.
We have consciously included the one ‘sorrow’ because we feel it is important for our children to know that in order to be content and blossom you do not have to be happy all the time. An unexpected bonus of this inclusion of sorrows is that it provides a platform where uncomfortable subjects can be brought up.
In our experience, the family gratitude ritual we have landed on offers the perfect moment to cherish the positives in our own personal lives, without the need for comparison. An opportunity to bring grace to sorrows and occasionally even learn from them. A beautiful evening ritual to revel in unbiased support for negative things and communal joy for positive things.
With many thanks to Dana Dyskterhuis and Jen Armstrong for giving me the opportunity to post my musings on their platform. It has been a real privilege to get to know these two elegantly powerful ladies at HERE for you for them and to be playing an ongoing part in OM:POP - their Mindful Kids & Families Pop-Up Events.
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