Sarah and I just got done recording a Best of Both Worlds episode on the “compare and despair” phenomenon that social media seems to engender. I have been thinking about this topic a lot lately, especially after Sarah posted about trade-offs, and which ones we see and don’t.

I have a great life. And yet certain social media posts still get at me. It’s not about cars or homes — I’m perfectly happy there, so these don’t inspire much jealousy on my part. Instead, it’s people waxing eloquent about their relaxing and wonderful family vacations, or those large family pictures where the kids are all in matching lovely clothes and the mom looks polished and put together. A close runner up is anyone talking about the long retreat they took to write their book next to a babbling stream.

I know plenty of this is unreal. Who is taking those family photos of the whole family? This is not setting your iPhone up on a tripod. It’s clearly a commercial enterprise, and those “relaxing” family vacations were paid for and arranged, in full, by the hotel/resort/amusement park sponsoring the post.

That said, I think it’s wise to recognize these exact triggers because they often tell us something about our lives and what we might want to change. In my case, the existence of the toddler means that relaxation is hard to find — on vacation or any other time. But not impossible. I’ve set up a few hours of weekend childcare for the baby over the next few weeks so time will feel less frantic. I suppose if I wanted to hire a stylist and a photographer to follow me around so my family scenes looked more polished I could do so. I probably don’t care enough to make that happen, but I could invest a bit more in my appearance (hello coming out of Covid into the real world again…). And I’m analyzing my time to make sure I have more uninterrupted writing stretches. I have removed myself from the camp runs today for instance. It’s not weeks of solitude along a babbling brook, but I’d probably get tired of that pretty quick.

What sorts of posts most send you into these musings? I’ve pondered pruning my feed down to only people I know in real life and dollhouse furniture accounts, but on the other hand, the matching outfits are pretty cute…

Photo: A relaxing vacation drink, though abandoned about halfway through when something or another happened

24 thoughts on “Comparison

  1. I’m with you. I don’t care about cars but the vacations get to me. I’m just not ready, post pandemic.

    The neat and styled houses bug me, as do the kid brags.

    Good for you for recognizing and taking action. I need to do the same! Hopefully you can fully enjoy a tropical beverage soon!

    1. I would have put you and your family in the category of a mom who looks put together and seems to have some matching outfits (pajamas?).

      Any post about a good night of sleep sends me spinning because that hasn’t been a thing for 4 years. The posts of “mom tribes” somehow out drinking margaritas at 4pm on a Tuesday (despite having multiple children and power careers…) really get me too.

      1. @Jamie – we do have matching pajamas that we all got for Christmas! Got one photo…and that is the extent of anyone’s matching outfits for the next year. Still didn’t have all of us in the picture because someone has to take the shot (I really need to get that Instagram photographer to follow me around!)

  2. I think for me, it’s probably pictures of moms who have totally bounced back after having a baby in a very short amount of time. In many cases, it is probably their hard work that resulted in that. For many, it’s genetics. Breast feeding is just not a weight loss strategy for me. It is for some many women it seems, but my body seems to hold onto weight when I’m BF’ing/pumping… So I try to just let it go and not be so hard on myself but I do not love the way I look right now so seeing photos of moms who look amazing is a bit triggering for me (but that’s totally on me, of course…). I’m barely pumping enough during the day to cover what our son eats at daycare during the day (18 oz!!!) so I don’t necessarily want to cut calories and risk having my supply decline. So I’m telling myself to let it go until I’m done BF’ing around a year. Just 4.5 months to go!! I lost the weight after our first son so I know I can do it again.

    Vacation photos don’t bother me as much, though, because I know what “vacations” feel like for me, and it’s far from relaxing… We won’t consider going anywhere until the baby is 1 and have only done air-travel vacations with my parents as it’s nice to have an extra set of hands. So I can appreciate what people are doing while recognizing I have no desire to do it. I’d just be tired in a different zip code. 😉

    But overall, social media usually doesn’t improve my quality or outlook on life, so I limit myself to 20 minutes between FB/IG each day. That limits how much time I can spend comparing!

  3. For me it is those beautifully styled and curated homes with only gorgeous wooden toys in one little basket and not a lego under foot!

    And the ones about Mom’s on great weekend trips away from their kids with their girlfriends. I know this one stems from the fact that I had not spent a night without at least one of my kids under the same roof with me since early 2015. Last weekend I finally got a night away from them all–it was heavenly. I also have to remember, many of those mom’s have been home with kids and jobs and without school or childcare and I have been lucky to go to the office and have school and childcare for the last 18 months!

    1. Bahahaha, I just burst out laughing at the gorgeous wooden toys comment. 😂😂 Agree.

      I think also for me it’s seeing posts that seem to indicate the kids are calmly sitting and painting with watercolors while listening to Mozart all morning or something, not a screen or cookie in sight (in the beautiful home). (Maybe this is after they played with their wooden toys, and also did some other altruistic activity, like hosting a lemonade stand to benefit a local charity or offering to alphabetize the soup cans in the pantry for their parents.) Such good kids! 😉

    2. @Gillian – oh, the little wooden toys! I comfort myself that when the children hit each other with Melissa and Doug toys, at least their violence involves handmade, all-natural materials…

  4. Mine are:
    1) Minimalistic and Marie Kondo’ed houses, specially with newborns/toddlers
    2) perfectly styled and fit moms of newborns

  5. Coordinated outfit family photos on the beach kill me. Faux candid photos of mothering that are clearly sponsored content (whether disclosed or not). And anything that smacks of a humblebrag!

  6. Read the Alfie and Annie Rose story books by Shirley Hughes and delight in the ‘real’ illustrations showing the ‘not perfectly tidy’ home.

  7. I gotta be honest, sometimes even following you and SHU makes me a little wistful.
    Part of it is that I’ve always wanted a big family, but time and nature kind of got in the way. I do have three kids, and I feel fortunate to have them, but seeing mega families and pregnant women sometimes gets to me. Another part of it is that I suspect that my family falls in a lower income bracket so a lot of the things that I see you guys posting about – household help, private school, vacations, cars, kids activities, dinners out, casual spending, etc…- they’re not something that I can/ choose to prioritize right now. I know that my husband and I made choices early on that set us down the path towards our current tax bracket, but sometimes I do feel frustrated that those choices mean that there are a lot of things we can’t really afford that it seems like everyone else can. (I know I still have the luxury of choosing my spending priorities, but still…)
    Oh another one is friends and colleagues in my industry posting on social media about the cool projects they are working on. I sometimes feel sad that I don’t get invited to work on those projects too. But I did some leaning out this past year, so that was of course to be expected.
    So, yeah, once in a while I will put a pause on social media, stop reading blogs and unsubscribe to podcasts that don’t really serve me where I am mentally right then. And then when I’m in a better place, I will slowly add them back into my media diet. I do find value in the content here and on other blogs, so I don’t want to quit them completely. But I do sometimes need to step back so I can really assess what is bringing me value and what is just bringing me down.

    1. @Diane C – thanks for the comment. One of the things we talk about in the episode is recognizing that any of us (as in anyone reading this/listening to the episode/etc.) is probably someone else’s object of wistfulness on some dimension. It can be easy to forget this, but is definitely true.

    2. I’m with you. I have two (awesome!) kids and a great life, but hearing about Laura’s #4 and #5 little guys made me super wistful and regret that I didn’t start earlier (had #1 at 34, #2 at 37, doc suggested I maybe not have any more based on medical stuff and age). It’s sort of a “path not taken” thing for me, more than specific STUFFF.

      Another one for me that falls into that same category is hearing about my college classmates who have sold startups to Google, Microsoft, etc., are published on those ‘Top 40 under 40’ etc lists, or have won MacArthur Awards. (No joke, there is more than one.) Something about that makes me feel like I’ve squandered my great education and career opportunities despite the fact that I made specific choices to prioritize my home life and I know it. But as I get older, I’m realizing I’m actually happy for those people, maybe because I know them. And with people I don’t know, I have no idea what their lives are like so why would I want to trade?

  8. Smart take on this topic. Pictures of big families sometimes bum me out, although less so as the years have gone on. (I wasn’t able to have as many kids as I wanted, due to fertility problems.)

    I think looking at WHY we have these feelings is a better approach, as opposed to just being annoyed/jealous/irritated at those who provoke these feelings. If you identify the why, you can sit with it for a minute, acknowledge any real sadness, then move back to the present — reminding yourself of all the wonderful things in your own life.

    I look forward to listening to this episode.

  9. Have I grown too spiritual,or too old? 😄
    I find myself at a stage where I can feel genuinely happy for anyone who is able to afford/prioritize/enjoy whatever is important to them. I can say “good for you” and really mean it.

  10. I’m really enjoying reading people’s answers to this question.

    Laura–this is a great reminder of why I enjoy reading your blog. You often are clear about the reality, work, and trade-offs that accompany our choices. For instance, I think a few years ago, you took a baby-free trip with your big kids. I don’t think I would make that choice, but I appreciated you showing that you do not “have it all” but that you make choices to prioritize what is important to you and your family. I am also so encouraged by your posts about family outings that include meltdowns and whining. People often omit those details from social media, so you feel envious of that mom who took her kids to the apple orchard without realizing that the cute pic was 5 minutes of a really long day (but still worth it, overall). I also appreciate how you are upfront about using childcare to get time to do things that are not work because I think this has allowed me to reframe the childcare in our family. Now if I want kid-free time, I don’t just get angry/annoyed at my husband, but I see it as a problem to troubleshoot.

  11. Good question to sit and examine your own triggers. For me it’s definitely not the vacations… I’m with Lisa there – not relaxing for me! Beautiful homes also don’t trigger anything, I enjoy getting design ideas and recognize some have an interest and talent for decor and that’s great. For me, it’s things that make me wonder if my kids are getting to experience enough – do I bake with them enough? He didn’t get to do baseball like x friend did. My kids haven’t been on a jet ski while this family spends every weekend on a lake, etc. This is ridiculous and unproductive as my kids are super fortunate and have a great life!! But it’s not any sort of want for me on IG that gets me, it’s want for my kids. And now that I think about it, I think I mainly have these thoughts when I’m totally exhausted and on IG at night – I should just eliminate any social media when in that headspace!

  12. Mostly posts from people who seemingly have great careers AND a whole bunch of kids. If you look closely though, they a) usually aren’t trying to do something like academic medicine where you have to go balls to the wall for 15-20 years, or b) you find out their parents give them $$$ or moved near them to provide a childcare safety net or something. Or c) they have a stay at home partner or at least one with a much more low key job than mine has. I’m not sure why it bothers me so much, since my version of hell involves schlepping to kid activities or staying up all night with a newborn followed by work the next day, and I really like my job, but it makes me feel like a failure every time I see something like this, which is generally not alleviated by finding out their family is rich or their mom lives next door.

  13. I’m older than all of you and my trigger is seeing people post about the joys of having grandchildren. My 2 married daughters are in their 30s and both are undecided about having children. It makes me sad to think I might never be a grandmother but it’s not my choice to make.

  14. Oh! And re: those matching outfit family photos, we’ve done this for our family pictures yearly 🙂 I think some people just do this more often esp if they have a blog or social media business. I used to do it twice a year when my girls were babies because they were changing so much, but now it’s once a year or every 2 years. It takes a ton of planning and everyone but me hates it, but I treasure those photos so much.

    We did this on my 40th birthday Disneyland trip as well – I literally planned our outfits so they’d all coordinate and had one day of custom made matching t-shirts. But it was something I worked on for weeks before the trip to make sure everyone had clothes that fit, etc. I do this because I’m a scrapbooker and love having those “perfect” photos which means I always had to take several bc someone was always melting down or spilled their lunch or whatnot. I’m guessing most people would not have the patience for this kind of bs but I thought it was fun 😀

    That’s another thing I’m realizing as I get older – some people legit find stuff fun that I think is ridiculous, or boring or whatever. Like all those people baking bread during the pandemic. I had NO DESIRE to do this but when I saw those photos, I thought “should we be baking too?”. I definitely take breaks from Instagram and have mostly dumped personal Facebook as well (I have a couple of groups I love though for specific hobbies).

  15. I quit social media a few years ago for Lent and then didn’t pick it back up partly because of that, partly because political posts would send me into a rage I couldn’t shake, and partly because I started thinking about my life it terms of posts, which was too weird. (I was only able to do this because my husband stayed on, though – otherwise, I wouldn’t have known about new babies or birthday parties to attend.) I like not being on social media, but trying to make mom friends in a new town, I’ve started to pick it back up again, but limit myself to just that “local moms” group.

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