Yet another page from the mother-daughter diary
“Mom, please tell me a story and put me to sleep,” my daughter requested. It’s a part of our routine. Sometimes I read folk tale books, and sometimes I play bedtime stories on YouTube (when I have a lot of things to wind up and anxiety kicks in thinking of the remaining agenda). But there are times when she demands stories freshly cooked up. She also hands me a few specifications, like certain characters, names of the characters, certain habits, and so on. Trust me, she plucks fruits of imagination from La La Land and lets me feast on some of the juiciest fruits. Once ingredients are given to me, the onus is on my shoulders to serve her with an enjoyable story, laced with a moral, of course.
So this time she wanted me to tell her a jungle story with a baby elephant named Daisy as the central character. To weave stories instantly is a difficult task, but parenting comes with additional features. Either you end up being a pro at multitasking or you nevertheless end up doing the job somehow. I fall into the second category. Let me go straight to the story. Don’t worry, I won’t make you fall asleep (the purpose of a bedtime story), and I will keep it short.
Daisy moved to a new jungle colony. Monkeys inhabited the area in large numbers. Daisy was delighted to make new friends. Her days would pass loitering around in the jungle, exploring every nook and corner while her friends were busy scaling high trees. Her mother was upset with how Daisy spent her days, doing nothing productive compared to her friends. “Why don’t you learn anything from your friends?” “You can give climbing a tree at least a try.” “You are giving me a lot of tension, mind you” her mother’s rant would go on and on. She even made Daisy participate in the area’s annual monkeys race. Daisy failed and failure has to some extent stirred resentment in her.
Daisy’s parents had to go to a nearby colony. They entrusted Daisy’s responsibility to neighbours. Everyone assembled on the ground, having general chit-chat. A rabbit named Bonny came running, breathing heavily. He had dreadful news to share. “Guys, I overheard hunters in the nearby fields; they are going to launch an attack on our colony.” “We need to think and act fast,” Bonny said, distressed. The gloom was in the air. As he was still speaking, a shot was fired into the air, setting off chaos. Monkeys were rushing to find a cover. A few of them were hopping on the treetops to locate the exact location of the hunters. Amid the chaos, Daisy considered using her strength to resolve the situation and help others as well. Creating hurdles for hunters, she uprooted trees and flung them over. That would buy time for escaping. A coordinated effort helped Daisy and her friends escape the hunters’ trap.
When Daisy’s parents returned, they learned about the entire fiasco. They were proud when everyone in the colony praised Daisy. Her mother patted Daisy’s back with her trunk. “I’m proud of you, dear,” she whispered. Daisy smiled and said, “But mom, I couldn’t climb trees as you would have liked it.” “I am sorry for that,” she said, leaving the place, leaving her mother pondering over her behaviour when she constantly compared her daughter to others.
As soon as I finished the story, my daughter made a quick remark. “Daisy’s mother is none other than you. You compare me to my cousins.“
When I made up this story, I knew that she was smart enough to find real-life references, though I wasn’t creative enough. I replaced fish with elephants. Yes, as much as I boast of being a cool Gen X parent, I am sometimes guilty of being an anxious and overly enthusiastic parent. I have no shame in admitting that I do compare my kids to others (sometimes). When I notice my daughter repeating the same calculation mistake every three days, the paranoia kicks in. A matrix of future scenarios’ permutations and combinations dangles in front of me. I end up giving her examples of her cousins who have a vast syllabus compared to her and a rigid education system.
But going back in time, I, and perhaps a majority of 80s and 90s kids, have witnessed a similar kind of parenting style (talking about the Indian scenario; I am not aware of how things were then in the rest of the world or, say, outside of Asia). Blame it on the cutthroat competition in every field, parents compare their kids (mostly academically) to their peers. My mother, being not highly educated herself, always dreamed of giving her kids a good education. The only way she thought was right was to keep track of our marks and tally them with our friends. Whenever I used to have a bad examination, nervousness would consume me. Nervousness about how to convey how badly I fared at the exam and the results that followed I used to share my woes with my brother. He had a perfect solution up his sleeves. He used to say, “Simply say that you did well, and when the results are announced, you can have your share of reprimand from mom. Why double your trouble?” Fortunately, things changed when I started my graduation. My mom no longer compared my results; rather, she started to believe in the process of learning, that is, to understand the concept. More importantly, she believed in me and said that I was responsible enough to take care of my studies. A breath of fresh air! And, happy to say that I lived up to it.
So can you blame me for the occasional “look at them” behaviour? (Ideally, you can; I am guilty and have no qualms accepting the same.) But I have been privy to such an environment, and it makes its presence felt in my thought process sometimes.
Coming back to my situation, I train my brain not to fall into the temptation of making comparisons of any sort. But as the flawed character I am, I do fumble sometimes. I compare myself with other successful women (the definition of success is debatable). I have a specific set of problems, and the people I compare myself to have their sagas and woes to share. But everything becomes opaque to me, and I turn a blind eye to the obvious. This is where self-doubt takes good control over my senses and abilities as well. I want to make special mention of my husband’s role here. He never compared kids to others, for he had the same experience as mine as a kid. According to him, comparison connotes pain and misery. He is convinced that such a juxtaposition elicits (most of the time) negative emotions. It kills confidence. He clearly stated, “I wouldn’t mind even if my daughter decides to be a worker with the garbage cleaning department as long as she is happy and an honest person.” (As a child, she expressed an interest in becoming a garbage collector. Now her favourite jobs have changed for a while. He got his priorities straight, I must say. A lot to learn from him.
Let’s have a broader perspective:
Is comparison completely evil? Or can it be a tool to leverage better performance? The impact of comparison on our lives depends on how we are applying it. I believe we can not completely do away with comparison. It is omnipresent on both micro and macro levels, essentially dealing with quantifiable things. The purpose is to improve. We are a part of the social fabric, and comparison among us seeps through at one or the other point. If used as a tool of introspection, it paves a way for implementing a concrete plan of action to reach the goal. Comparison is a tool to leverage introspection only if we are ready to accept our weaknesses, identify our strengths and prepare a unique path to tread. We shall be able to enjoy the process of learning (from others) and understanding (ourselves). Customization is the key because of the uniqueness of every handler who is using comparison to optimize the results. Precisely every journey, destination and path is different. But what if the element of customization (understanding our own circumstances) is missing? You are either blindly fancying or ranting about someone somewhere in a better position and messing up with your own life. In my mother tongue, Telugu, there is a saying that translates to: “A fox burned its skin to have the look (stripes) of a tiger.” The underlying meaning is to imitate someone by being in their place or position. It will only lead to pain. If the purpose of weighing or comparing oneself is to achieve acceptability, to meet certain notions and standards, then pushing the envelope to reach there can lead to irreversible losses. For example, fashion influencers do a fashion haul every two days. They purchase clothes from brands and showcase (read: show off) them to gain traction online. The vanity of such behaviours rubs off on their primary target audience, which is young people. The clock of comparison ticks, “Let me get the same dress.” “Let me lay my hands on the same brands.” “I need to amp up my wardrobe just like the influencer/star.” Their actions therein without assessing their needs and circumstances could have rather serious implications. They could be mental, financial, and, in this particular case, environmental as well. Case study of how fashion haul impacts the environment: READ HERE
That is one off-beat example (out of the context of the current conversation).
Conclusion (moral of the story):
Comparison in a jungle colony as Daisy’s is completely futile undoubtedly. But for homo sapiens, the tool of comparison could be either useful or frivolous. It all depends on the acceptance of the conditions, the enjoyment derived from learning and carving a unique path to reach the goal. The aim of comparison should be to induce betterment and not to belittle or make one feel miserable.
Last but not the least, I shouldn’t be giving this heavy speech to my 7-year-old daughter. I better stop comparing her to others, for she is precious and carries her own set of capabilities. Mindfulness mode should be on default mode. For myself, I must concentrate on the path, customization you know!