Why can’t you be more like your sister?

It’s one of the less desirable parenting techniques of the 70’s and 80’s. So many in my generation were cajoled into better behaviour by being told we needed to be more like so and so. “Why can’t you be more cheerful like your sister?” or “your cousin is studying Economics, why can’t you do that?” or the one I always used to get “see how nicely you’re your brother is eating, why can’t you behave like that?”

Comparison. We evaluate ourselves by looking at how well someone else is doing. The inevitable next step is wanting what they have. Green-eyed monster anyone?

For those of us who grew up being told we needed be more like our brother/sister/cousin/next door neighbour’s dog- anyone, just hurry up and eat, I wonder if this has engendered in us an innate desire to be someone else and never be happy with who we are?

It’s a conversation that I have had with so many of my friends. There’s always someone we know who seems to have it all together, and you berate yourself for not being more like her. But is it any wonder that we make these unhealthy comparisons, when all through childhood it was drummed into us that we should be doing that?!

Ok so envy is a common human trait that can’t just be blamed on bad parenting. We are always going to look at the person more successful than us, or the woman who is slimmer than you, or the colleague who gets the promotion and think “I want that”. A little healthy competition is good for us as it motivates and keeps us striving to do better. But take it one step further and it becomes damaging. Never being satisfied, let alone thankful with who you are and what you have achieved is simply soul destroying. If you are always looking to the next guy and wanting- envying- what they have, you’ll never become the person that only you can be.

It’s something that I have grappled with, particularly after I became a mum. I spent so long thinking- no, actually fixating on the things I thought I should be doing, because I compared myself with those around me who I thought were doing a better job than I was.

I remember in the early years of my freelance career, I tried to model myself on a good friend of mine who seemed to be doing such a good job of things. She juggled small two children and a domestic life that seemed like a well-oiled machine with a successful freelance career as a book editor and journalist. I was so envious of her work-life balance: she could pick up her kids from school, go on playdates and park trips, whilst having articles published, new book deals coming through, even going to book launches of projects she’d worked on. Yes I spent a long time thinking “I want that” and even dabbling a toe into the field that she writes in attempting to get published. I had very limited success and faced constant frustration to the point that I gave up.

It all sounds quite pathetic now as I put it down on paper, but at the time I was doing what I knew to do: look at someone else and desire to be like them.

I did eventually find what was right for me and life is much more fulfilling. I define success on what works for me and my family and we make that work for us. I guess the key thing is, um, not to do what our parents told us to do in being more like so and so, but to have a vision of your own and a little self-belief.

Luckily today as parents we are told to motivate our children to bring out the best in them, rather than point out their misgivings. Appeal to the child who likes to please by using reward charts. The competitive one is spurred on by a challenge like “who can tidy up the fastest?”  We are supposed to find what makes them tick and go with that. I’m not saying that our children are not going to be prone to envy; as I said before it’s a natural human tendency. But I do hope that their self- esteem will be a little more intact through guarding against damaging self-comparisons.

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