Critical comparisons, close conversation and connection.
So this is written in part from personal reflection, Bridge the Gap and NHS team discussion and watching as the past few weeks have seen the email inboxes of Bridge the Gap team GROW. We hear you all.
So many of us without realisation are comparing ourselves and our children on so many levels; academic, behaviour, emotionally; the list is endless.
I question where does this come from and who benefits? Who sets that mythical bar; decides what success looks like for each of us?
Society is exposing we are judged on our successes, social media is a careful balance of creativity and happiness but provides a pocket sized, immediate but false validation of our insecurities and own feelings of 'not achieving', the infinity scroll of comparison of our behind the scenes to the 'highlight reel' of others. No one perhaps wants to see a show reel of me heaving over the wheely bin full of maggots in my marigolds... Perhaps they do! Perhaps I should!
It's addictive and it's takes strength to really remain objective and with awareness of its impact on us, but our relationships around us, the connections we experience after this unpleasant prod of comparison.
These opportunities to be poked by the dirty end of the self esteem stick come in various ways; the supermarket run when your stood with tired littlies and a basket of beige on a Friday, with a token bunch of Bananas because the longest week has felt to much but there's still family to feed... the person in front appears to be 'prepping like a domestic wonder with organic produce and winning at life'
The school run chit chat about homework, coursework projects and book levels....those throwaway comments about a house bursting with scientific experiments or crafty wonderfulness, whilst your struggling to engage your child in a conversation or even attend school, 'hows she settling in, so great to be back isn't it!'
Whilst other families weekends appear to be a carnival of educational trips, garden jacuzzi sessions, movie nights, trophy/certificate award winning extra curricular activity extravaganzas all wrapped up in a YOLO bow....you managed a ice cream fueled scoot in the park; and I unashamedly admit the absolute win of my weekend is a confirmed visual of the bottom of the washing basket!
Let's not get started on the virtual meeting introduction 'share something interesting about you!'...(maggot extermination expert feels to real!)
Lockdown highlighted the importance of our mental health and the frailty of it. Who had even heard of Zoom pre March 2020, but we craved human connection and chit chat, we understood the power of small talk and human touch, the impact of routine.
Many of us reflected on our lot, our decisions and desires; relationships, jobs, family, our roles. Some of us just focused on making it through the day. But how many of us ticked off the 'LOCKDOWN achievement '
• Learnt a language
• Became a fitness adonis
• Baked our daily bread
• Decorated the entire house
• Smashed home schooling
Because admist a pandemic when life was turned on its head we needed a focus, a goal but why did so many pick the extreme...perhaps because
• Reuniting all the odd socks
• Sorting 'the drawer'
• Competing a daily/weekly self care activity
• Read a book
Just weren't instgramable. Were your true struggles to difficult to share, vulnerability is terryfying and yet with the right support and context empowering! Bridge the Gap is a true representation of the need for openness and realism, so many of our messages and emails start and echo each other - 'can you help me...' we hear you all.
If you've ever written a job application, profile blurb or dating speel the ability for us to focus on our true uniqueness, talents and beauty is so very hard, we could write it for someone else so easily but talking so positively seems indulgent and unattractive....'after all i won't be as good as...'
If you made a list of all the comparisons and negative thoughts aimed at you in a day would it fill a stamp, a post-it, a page...more? You wouldn't say it to your friend so why is it OK to put ourselves in this comparison negativity spiral. Children learn from mirroring and observation just like we encourage you to share those big and difficult emotions share those successes we feel, 'i feel so proud because I managed to get this project done at work today, it feels great! '
Reflect on the language both verbal and non verbal you are using; when a child shares its so easy to dilute that achievement or feeling of pride with our response no matter how well meant.
A child shares their spelling test score they worked so hard for 'I got 7/10!' our response... 'great! Almost 10! How did everyone else do?'
'everyone else was behaving at the party, why can't you just control yourself for an hour!'
'your sister was never angry like you'
'if you could concentrate like her maybe you'd be able to....'
We have conversations around our children all the time. Be mindful that our endless comparisons on ourselves, family and children can really affect self esteem, confidence and that willingness to share. Keeping open communication within any relationship will, in those moments when life is challenging, be everything. If communication is hard right now make this your first meaningful goal...
When our children are taking a more scenic route towards achievements I urge you to stop the easy critical comparison and instead ask internally and outloud; 'what does success look like for us/you right now', this isn't about lowering that bar or discouraging ambition but allowing open conversations, goal setting to achieve, and understanding what is meaningful for that individual. These successes are to be celebrated, it will increase self esteem, emotional literacy, confidence and, with practice, resilience. Children (and us) will develop an understanding of individual goal setting, personal achievement and reflection. This is contagious!
Thanks for reading my Saturday morning musings.
Finally, make the popcorn and share this analogy with your children because its one of positivity and reassurance that each of us are blummin fabulous!