Have you ever attended a child’s birthday party and watched the birthday child open presents in front of everyone? If you have, you probably noticed that what was supposed to be a nice gesture celebrating a birthday, quickly turns into a comparison contest. The guest of honor and all of his or her friends begin exclaiming over expensive gifts while basically ignoring presents that don’t compare favorably. You can almost see envy creep into the hearts of many of the children as they begin thinking about the various gifts they want or wish they had given.
Let’s be honest. We’ve probably all been there. Your engagement ring, car or house are perfectly wonderful…until you see one a friend has that’s much newer and nicer. In fact, envy can even have you wanting something very badly you said you would never want only hours earlier.
Comparisons don’t stop with things though. Who got a better grade? Or has a better batting average? Who went on the best trip during Spring Break? The list goes on and on. Comparison can quickly turn contentment and joy into whiny, ungrateful envious misery.
Since it seems to be a trap Satan has successfully set for people for thousands of years, can we really help our kids (and ourselves) stop comparing ourselves to others? Can your kids avoid feeling envious every time someone gets something they don’t have? It may be tough, but there are a few things you can do to help protect your family from the comparison trap.
- Stop asking people about their “stuff” or commenting on the “stuff” others own. Yes, others may decide to share their exciting purchase or gift with your kids, but you and your kids don’t need to go around seeking that information from everyone they know. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss. Parents who make “stuff” a constant topic of conversation are preparing the hearts of their kids to be filled with envy at some point. (Your family should also avoid feeling the need to share the news of all of your purchases with others.)
- Regularly remind your kids God has a different plan for everyone and the plan doesn’t reflect how much God loves them. Share Acts 10:34 with them. God’s main goal for all of us is to spend eternity with Him in Heaven. In comparison, life on earth is a nanosecond. God loves them and their friends equally and even Jesus reminded us God sends rain to the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). Having more things doesn’t mean God loves that person any more or less than the person who doesn’t have as much. Owning more things or having better grades doesn’t make a person better or worse than another – just different.
- Read your kids stories from the Bible when comparisons caused problems. Absalom, Sarah, Jacob. The Bible is full of examples of people who weren’t content with how God had blessed them when they compared themselves to others. Often, they decided to take their eyes off of God and “fix” things. The results are great topics to discuss with your kids when talking about the dangers of comparing themselves to others.
- Have your family regularly serve others and share your faith. Serving others means your kids will be regularly exposed to hurting people. They may be richer or poorer than your family, but the pain your family is helping to heal will have a great impact on your kids over time. They will begin to learn things aren’t always how they seem from the outside. Wealth can hide pain and poverty can hide joy. Or the opposite may be true. The point is to allow them to realize appearances aren’t everything in life.
- Scale back on gifts and make them work for things they want between gift occasions. Often a lack of gratitude goes hand-in-hand with the comparison game. Realizing how difficult it is for you to earn the money to buy them all of the things they want can be a crucial reality check for them. (Be careful though. Kids who really struggle with comparing themselves to others will then bemoan the fact you weren’t born a multi-millionaire like the parents of their friends must obviously have been.)
- Curtail outings that invite comparisons. Stop driving through wealthy neighborhoods, going to car and boat shows, hanging out in toy stores – you get the idea. Your kids will just see things they may not have even realized existed and then want them. Once again, ignorance of what your kids could possibly have is a step towards being joyful and grateful.
- Avoid comparing your kids to each other, random other kids their age or yourself at their age. Everyone is different. God gives each of your kids different gifts, talents and experiences. Even identical twins will not have identical lives – no matter how similar they may seem. Your example sets the tone for them. If you constantly compare them to others, they will begin resenting the comparisons – even while they pick up your bad habit. At some point, they will decide they will never measure up (or they are perfect – depending on how the comparisons usually break). Set a great example for your kids and stop comparing people to each other whenever possible.
Help your family become a comparison free family. Talk with your kids about how important it is to not compare themselves to anyone but the example Jesus set. Gratitude and avoiding envy are important faith building blocks, which can also help them avoid sinning and/or putting “stuff” in the place God should be in their lives.