Monday, March 16, 2009

No Winners Here

Why is it that people have to play the game of "Who has it harder?" It can start so innocently with a simple description of a night spent consoling a teething baby. A story shared not in the hopes of being one-upped but instead in the hopes of finding some understanding, some empathy. It rarely stays that simple though. Instead, the friend, neighbor, co-worker, grandparent, in hopes of sharing a camaraderie, feels the pull to share their own story of a night of teething plus an ear infection. That's how the game begins, and it ends only in both parties feeling unappreciated, unheard, and miserable. The exchange of stories not leading to a feeling of fellowship but instead a feeling of isolation.

This is not a game that is limited to parents either. In college, it was a story of who has more work and who was up later studying- 3? Well, I was up until 3:45. The game could also consist solely on personal choices. Just the mention of having a major in education brought scoffs from the engineering students.

Recently, I have felt the pressure to engage in this battle regarding the number of children in my family. The fact that we have chosen to have only one (so far) is ample target for parents of multiples. Snide comments about how we dote on him, have it soooo easy, or are able to work as parental team to meet his needs are regular occurrences. I'll be the first to admit that having more than one child has got to be harder than having a single. I don't deny it. However, does that make it appropriate to criticize my decision to have only one (whether a permanent or temporary situation)?

I admit that I am not innocent of this game. I too have felt the pull to share my stories, to scoff at someone's struggles. I have had to suppress giggles when parents of a newborn share their stories of being so tired. However, I know how unhelpful this is. These parents are just seeking someone to listen, to empathize, and that is what I try to be for them, what I want to be.

Being a parent (or college student or teenager or human) is hard enough. If people would spend more time empathizing and less time competing with (and dare I say dwelling on) their own struggles, wouldn't we be able to move forward to a more content state faster? Wouldn't we all feel understood and not judged?

And in the words of that lyrical poet, John Lennon, "You might say, I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday, you'll join us, and the world would live as one."


Miche said...

You sad that very well :) Really loved it. You know what has been really helpful for me as a new mom was joining in the babies r us "birth stories" (they have them here in Mobile and I joined right after JR was born) We sit in a circle, and take turns talking and listening, so everyone gets the floor for a good spell. AND no one can say anything negative, only positive so we can help encourage and support each other. I'm loving it.

Also, I think people will ask when the next baby is coming no matter how many you have. People will comment on how I have my hands full and then in the same breath ask when the next one is coming. (or gaspp! ask when Im due....time to go running....)

Chelsea + Jonathan said...

I like it :) I got to share a couple of fun links with my class when we were talking about stress, and there's actually some decent research showing that "venting" to friends and focusing on struggles/problems can make you feel worse. Maybe part of that is this pattern of one-upping and reactions that we sometimes instinctively have when we hear of others' problems. I find that the people I really admire are those rare ones who keep on going, working, studying, parenting, etc. and really rarely complain about their lot. Then later you find out what they were dealing with and it's just amazing. Sadly, I don't think I'm in that group. But it can't hurt to work on it!

Midwest Mom said...

No, Abby, you're not the only one. ;)

I like to think that most people share their experiences as a way to empathize ... at first. But sometimes, you're right, it can degenerate into the horror story hour. When I share stories about our family (especially the oh-no! stories) it's usually designed to get a laugh. Laughter can be such a stress-reliever.

- Julia

Marty, a.k.a. canape said...

@Julia I too share the oh no! stories to get a laugh. Often times though, I get sympathy instead. Me thinks I am not a good humor writer :)

I know what you mean, Abby. It's terribly annoying.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

I love it when the horror stories get rolling, too. but there is a time for just listening, occasionally there is a time for advice, and the good friend knows how to gauge that!

Jessica said...

I am a big fan of trying to lend a helping hand instead of judging...although it is hard to always be like that...and I definitely am not always like that...that is what I strive to do!