The List

Jeans. That’s what it all started with all those years ago. She needed a new pair of jeans because the ones we’d bought were either lost or didn’t fit … or something. Truth is I wasn’t really sure WHAT happened to those jeans we’d searched high and low to find. All I knew was that somehow they were gone, and I was currently trying to reassure my teary-eyed eleven year old that we’d find another pair.

“But I can never find anything that fits. Nothing looks right. I hate shopping.”

So many negative thoughts. And the ironic thing? I often joked with friends that our tall, lean daughter was so lucky she’d inherited her father’s body. “She’ll always be able to find jeans that fit,” I would chuckle with a slight bit of jealousy in my humor (my Irish stock prohibits my thighs from being off-the-rack ready).

I tried to reassure her that she was built just right, that we would find things that fit and that looked like “her.” She had an answer for each of my encouragements, and as I listened, I heard more. I learned that hiding behind her blue eyes was jealousy, and I was caught off guard.

She’d not expressed jealousy much growing up. Our daughter was pretty good about appreciating what she had without comparing to others. Unless it was York Peppermint Patties. If you had those, all bets were off.

But there it was, and it was so, so sad.  Our beautiful, kind and brilliant girl was comparing everything about herself to the people around her – and she was certain she was at the bottom of the List.

We all make one, don’t we? Our List with a capital L? The one that we write our entire lives, the one that contains our truths, our secrets, our fears, our joys. The one that makes us who we are, and the one that we can use to justify any and all of the things we might be telling ourselves at any given time. It is our best and our worst summed up in bullet points that don’t even begin to tell the whole truth, and yet, somehow we believe it.

I, for example, have a very long List. It includes all kinds of useful information, like:

–   You have made a lot of mistakes, and some of them are so big you’ll never be able to make them right;

–   You need to take care of everyone else before you take care of yourself;

–   You’re smart, but you’re not doing enough with yourself to fulfill your purpose;

–   You should really lose that weight you’ve put on – you were skinnier after you had your first baby than you are now.

My List goes on and on, and it contains much of the same. Of course, over the years I’ve worked hard in therapy and through my relationships to add better, more positive ideas to my List. It’s helped. I actually think I’ve been changing my old List and writing a new one. A better one. And I thought I was passing those better ideas on to my kids.

But our daughter’s heart was trapped in comparison mode, and it made her jealous of so many things. Jealous of the girls who never wore the same thing to school twice. Jealous of the girls who had more than one pair of the trendiest shoes or the latest in technology. Jealous of the kids who seemed to have what she did not – bigger houses, better rooms decorated just right, perfect grades without extra work, even long straight hair.

It made me wonder about her List. What’s on it? What does she believe about herself? What does she believe about the world? More importantly – how am I helping her to write a List that tells the truth? The balanced, healthy, always-love- and-accept-yourself truth?

Maybe I’m not doing such a great job on that one.

Ugh – it’s really so very hard for kids these days. We want to give them more than we had, as all parents do. But this world we are in right now … well, it wants to give them more than they can handle. It tells us – and them – that they need and deserve more than they really do. It makes them grow up too fast, and it confuses them about everything, from social skills to body image, to how much one hundred dollars really is worth.

We describe entitlement as a problem in this world, but I feel like that’s not the whole story for the kids I know. It’s also somewhat about blind acceptance.  We talk about children as sponges when they are babies and learning to talk and walk and do all the amazing things infants learn to do. But I think our children are sponges as middle-schoolers too.

They watch everything around them and they learn from it all. Everything.  The difference is, the things they are learning now have less to do with skills and more to do with self-concept.

Maybe that’s because they are at a developmental stage where it’s normal to try to understand and make decisions about themselves in relation to their peers. Comparison comes from a healthy, normal place. It’s a way to gather information and to make sense of how the individual fits into the system. That’s important for a sixth-grader.

But somehow that normal drive to understand oneself by understanding others, well, that’s gotten my precious girl confused.  She’s thinking that other parents’ shiny cars or a number of social media followers or a friend’s perfect grades mean something about their worth as people. She’s contemplating that her own worth is diminished by others’ successes. She’s seeing differences between herself and the children around her and she’s deciding that makes them better than her.

What to do? I want her to stand on her own, to not use anything for an assessment of her worth but her own knowledge of who she is.  I want her to feel limitless and free and confident.

“Comparison is the thief of joy,” I tell her.

“Be yourself; everyone else is taken,” I remind her.

“You are exactly who you are supposed to be. God doesn’t make mistakes.”

I sprinkle these thoughts into her head and hope they somehow will take hold.  I encourage her interests and challenge her to participate in the world. I look for moments to celebrate her strengths, and acknowledge her fears, and give her a foundation that will not be shaken by outside influences.

I watch her closely, and I listen really, really hard to what she is saying to me … and to what she isn’t.

I let her write her own List.

I hug her and I hold her when she cries.

I take her out for a new pair of jeans.

I love her.

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