This story was first shared in April 2020.

As a woman in the world today, I have increasing opportunity to pursue a career while jointly raising children with my husband. While the balance of this is often hard, I feel very blessed that I am able to do this, when one generation before me, my own mother, did not have this same opportunity. 

While this balance is extremely difficult at times, I would not trade it. For my own mental health, a sense of accomplishment and the honour that it is to serve God in this way, but also for what it teaches my children, about hard work, determination, and pursuing your dreams. 

COVID-19 has proven difficult. Our family have three primary aged children. We live in a small house in Auckland with a small section. I am not complaining, I love our house, I love our section and I am very aware that we are far more fortunate than many. However in these times, it feels our house gets smaller every day. 

I struggle day to day with the seemingly impossible task of home-schooling my three children, keeping them fed, the house in a somewhat compiled state, while somehow working. Of ensuring that my children’s spiritual, emotional, physical and educational needs are being met. As a woman, I feel this burden falls far heavier on myself. While my husband struggles to support in whatever way he can, he is burdened with his own pressures. A pressure from his workplace to show that he is achieving at his normal output, and if not, to reduce his wage, all the time concerned about the security of his job. He has been through job loss in the past. He knows the emotional toll that this can take. We find ourselves struggling. Running on empty. Not able to give our best to our parenting or our jobs, and somehow having to settle for less in both. 

During this time I have found myself struggling with comparison. I compare myself to those I perceive to be more fortunate than I. When my children are finally asleep in bed at night and I have a moment of mindless scrolling on social media, this is where I feel the comparison at its worst. I find myself comparing to the seemingly perfect parenting of others. The art projects, cooking, games and fun activities that mothers have been doing with their children. Their posts that make it appear that their home is a place of serene calm at all times, where their children never fight and the parents never lose their temper. 

For those of you to whom comparison is not an issue, you will see these images for what they truly are—so far from the reality that is life with young children. Yes, you will have these special moments, but let’s face it, these are moments. We also have many of those ‘other’ moments, those moments that people do not seem to post about and leave me feeling like I am the only one who has them. And especially in this time with young children who are pent up, going stir crazy, missing their friends, bored, where their whole life has been thrown out of balance. Where the answer they ask me every day when they feel sad and missing their friends “when are we going back to school?” can’t be answered. 

And then I scold myself, “stop comparing yourself to others”, this is crazy. You know that these images are not a true reality. Think of those less fortunate than yourself. Of those who have lost loved ones during this time, those living in poverty, single mothers, those living alone. You have it so easy compared to others, you really should not be complaining. You have a beautiful family who you love dearly, WHO ARE YOU TO COMPLAIN! 

Compare, compare, compare. 

I have been hugely encouraged by the words of Brené Brown (2020)1 during this time. Brown teaches us about the myth of comparative suffering. That when we are living in a crisis, comparison is often triggered. Who has more? Who has it better? Who has it worse? We rank our pain and suffering. We use this to deny ourselves the permission to feel. However as Brown teaches, this is not how emotion works. If we deny ourselves the right to feel our pain, our emotions only fester, and then they invite shame. “Who am I to feel sad, to struggle, when there are others out there who have it so much worse than me?” Shame. Shame is inward focused. When we feel shame, this overrides our ability to give empathy to others. Shame and empathy are incompatible. They cannot coexist. The truth is, when we can learn to practice empathy with ourselves, we can then show true empathy towards others. Empathy overrides shame. 

So let’s practice empathy with ourselves today. Name where you are in terms of your emotional health. If you are at 30% right now, name it. Accept it. Be kind to yourself. Work to bring that percentage up by filling your emotional tank. Sleep well. Exercise well. Eat well. Take the time out that you need. Be kind to yourself. Do the best that you can and be ok with that. Let’s move away from comparative suffering. We do not need to rank our pain and hurt right now. We need to attend to it. Show love, love and more love. When we do this, we will be free to truly show love to others. 

My encouragement to you if your emotional percentage is higher right now. Reach out to others. Do not assume that the image one presents on social media is a true reflection of how they really feel. Lockdown is a tough gig. So many of us are exhausted, weary, tired and burdened. Check in on others. Ask how people are doing, how they are REALLY doing. Pray for them and with them. 

Let’s rest in the truth of God, for he does not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). Let’s be true to ourselves, empathetic with ourselves and in so doing, we can show empathy to others.

Contributor: Kathryn Heslop, Executive Assistant to the National Leader

Reference:

  1. Brown, B (2020). Unlocking Us (video podcast)