Comparison, Envy, and FOMO

One of the greatest, if not THE greatest, obstacle to simplicity with kids is FOMO. The fear of missing out. We worry about our children missing out on toys, experiences, and opportunities that they desire. We worry our children will be negatively impacted as a result. We fear they are going to miss opportunities. We also worry they are going to be mad at us. Or that they won't fit in if they don't have the same things as their friends.

As the adults, we have to serve as the brain managers for our children until their brains are fully developed (so…like 25-years-old? Kidding, not kidding.) That means we have to make hard decisions based on reason, logic, and family values. Often these are decisions that our children just aren't equipped to make.

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Our kids often want things that we don't want to give them or allow them. Maybe your 6-year-old wants to watch TV shows with a lot of fighting. Or perhaps your tween wants makeup, but you think she's too young. Or your 3-year-old loves the videos of other kids playing with toys on YouTube but they make your skin crawl. 

What I want you to take away from this episode is that we need to tune into how comparison, envy, and FOMO impact the way we are raising our children. We can become aware of how these elements affect us, how they impact our children, and how we can be better prepared to raise kids aligned with the beliefs that matter to us.

As parents, we are constantly using comparison. Just this morning, my husband dropped our kids off at school in short sleeves. When he got home, he said, "it was kind of cold in there."

I froze. Crap. Did I fail to dress the kids adequately for the weather? I questioned myself. I loaded the kids up in the car, so jacket selection was on me...

So I asked him, "Were the other kids wearing jackets?" No, he said. Phew, I'm doing okay.

What happens in comparison? You can take a look at the people around you and say, "I'm doing okay." Or "Crap, I dropped the ball. I'm not measuring up."

We all compare, all the time. It's human nature. It's adaptive. Even animals do it—if your small dog walks up to a big dog at the dog park, it compares itself and then rolls onto it's back in submission.

Telling someone to "stop comparing" is like saying "stop thinking about the elephant in the room." You can't do it. Instead of striving to stop comparing—we can strive to notice ourselves doing it. And we choose whats we do with the comparison.

When we compare can take two paths, we can follow or we can lead. Following isn't always bad. Sometimes it makes good sense to follow the path others have taken.

Did the other kids have jackets? No. 

Okay then we are fine. 

This is a helpful comparison. It saves me looking up the weather and making a trip to the school to drop off a jacket. 

Do other 8 year olds have smart phones? Yes?

Okay we need to get one too. 

This is not a helpful comparison--because we need to evaluate the impact of this decision. Not just go with the flow. 

Sometimes in comparison, we experience envy. We decide to follow the example set before us and "just go with it." They may or may not serve us.

The other path would be to lead. You can make comparisons and then choose to make different choices that better serve your family. It takes guts to show and go against the grain. Especially if you've been falling victim to envy and FOMO—it can feel hard to make change. You need deep conviction.

Do all the other kids have a lot of toys? Yes?

Does that really serve our family? What kind of impact does it have on the way my kids play and how my family lives?

Are the other kids are allowed on Snapchat? Yes?

What are the implications of social media on children? What are the pros and cons of allowing social media profiles for children?

We rely on the community around us to give both spoken and unspoken guidance around the expectations of parenthood and living. But when do we need to question it? When do we need to redefine the beliefs and values in our own families? 

Comparison is the biggest obstacle when it comes to simplicity. We have to notice ourselves doing it. And choose when it serves us and when it doesn't.

Comparison can lead to envy. It can lead to FOMO.

I'm going to talk about the Barbie Dream House. If you own a Barbie Dream House, I don't want you to feel shame. I had a Barbie Dream House as a kid and loved it. You may have a kid who plays with yours daily. Most of my dear friends have Barbie Dream Houses for their daughters and I love that my daughter gets to go to their houses and play with different toys than she has at home. Honestly, I just don't want it in MY house.

I'm simply sharing my own thoughts and opinions on one toy and using it as a way to illustrate how envy and FOMO profoundly infiltrate our lives and the lives of our children by way of us.

So my 4-year-old went for her first drop off playdate last week with her friend. Her friend just turned five, and she got a Barbie Dreamhouse. Her mom is a good friend of mine, and I saw the photos on Facebook, and I immediately knew this was the beginning of the end of me.

She was going to start pining after that giant pink house.

I did when I was a kid. I desperately wanted to a Barbie Dream House and all.the.things that came along with it. I got it. Just because I had a Barbie Dream House, does that mean that I want my daughter to have one?

My Barbie stuff was a disaster. The clothes, the shoes, the dresses, the accessories. The massive amounts of small parts and pieces. Most of the shoes didn't have a match. The pants were lost. The hair was tangled. It was spread all over the bedroom that I shared with my brother.

I could not manage it. It was too much stuff.

My daughter shares my fast-moving brain that leads her to jump from one thing to the next with minimal regard for what mess is left behind. In her short four years of life, she has already shown me that minimalism will be vital for her to maintain some semblance of a chaos-free life. And let's be honest, she eventually may struggle with clutter herself despite the way that I'm raising her. That's unknown at this point.

Aside from the Barbie-world being overwhelming with too much stuff, I'm also not a huge fan of the context around beauty, fashion, shopping, and you know…an emphasis on life in the "Dream House" which is a massive mansion and limo with a hot tub in the back. I know that it's gotten so much better in the past decades, but it's still not on the top of my wish list for play scripts for her.

What is a play script, and why are they important? Pretend play is like an improv show—it involves a story and each person plays a character. They try on a role and act it out. Think about how kids play "house". One kid is the mom; one is the dad; one is the baby. They cook and eat and go to school.  

The toys, shows, books, and experiences that we expose our children to become an active part of their play scripts. These scripts become part of their inner storylines that impact the values and beliefs in their minds.

And if I'm still being honest, that Barbie Dream House I had as a child is still sitting in a landfill somewhere. Because it will live on for approximately 500 years as most plastic toys do. So there's that.

Needless to say, I'm on team "No Dream House".

But what if team "No Dream House" is also "Team Dreamcrusher." Because a lot of times, that's what it can feel like when you have a child experiencing envy. You feel like you are crushing their dreams by saying no. As adults, we know how hard it is to feel envy. We will go to great lengths to make sure that our kids don't have to feel envy.

  • We buy cell phones for 8-year-olds because their classmates have them.
  • We let kids play violent video games even though we don't like it.
  • Even when we aren't comfortable with it, we allow our young girls to wear mature costumes in dance competitions because the rest of the team is doing it.  

We want our kids to fit in. We want our kids to be "cool".

Or do we? What if we want to raise kids who go against the grain? Who question the status quo? Be prepared. This isn't going to come naturally. As kids grow, you will see them increasingly conform to their peers and lean on developing a group identity outside of the immediate family. But which group identity will they lean toward?

Let's talk for a moment about raising cool kids. Early in my doctorate program, I published some research on peer perception and sociometric status. This is such a fascinating area, really about understanding how children perceive one another and how they rate or "classify" one another. I'm going to go down quite a rabbit hole here, but I think it's essential. So we are doing it.

When we think about kids being "cool" we often think about popular vs. rejected. Either you are in, or you're out. In the research, that sort of popularity is called "perceived popularity". It means that other kids perceive you as being popular. Think, Mean Girls. It's often when a child has an image that others want to emulate. Like the fancy car and designer sneakers.

Emulate is a key word here.

These kids are very socially visible, but not often well liked. These kids are characterized by higher levels of dominance and aggression. Physical aggression is more common for boys, relational aggression is more common for girls. Example of relational aggression include gossip, social exclusion, and hostility. Bullying is common in both genders. 

That's perceived popular. The other type of popularity that the research defines is sociometric popularity. Sociometric popularity is based on how well other kids actually like your children. Children with high levels of sociometric popularity are trustworthy and kind. They aren't dominant and aggressive; they are effectively the kids who are LIKED by their peers. 

Now some kids are both—perceived popular and well-liked. But the research points to a distinct separation between the two, which means that more often than not, children do NOT fall into both categories. 

Going back to this word, emulate. What do we want our children to emulate? How are we enabling their emulation or imitation of lifestyles that we don't even like?

When we buy into the idea that we need to purchase and do certain things for our kids to fit in, we reinforce the sense of urgency to emulate the accumulation of stuff and the elevation of a material-focused, image-conscious world. 

Now that's not to say we will avoid these things by "just saying no". It's not that simple. The larger society will always impact our children in ways beyond our control. But do we want to be part of the problem or part of the solution? When we buy our children things and permit them experiences that go against our better judgment, we often end up as part of the problem. 

How do we deal with comparison? What do we do in the face of envy?

Interestingly, my daughter came home from the playdate and didn't even mention the Dream House. It was a mere blip on her radar. I quite literally made something out of nothing. I didn't have to do any Dream Crushing.

I think this is important to mention because often we may act in anticipation of FOMO. We may buy something or do something for our kids because we are worried they will feel envy, and we actually don't even know if they will.

It's okay to say no and set clear boundaries. It's not just okay; in fact, you should honor your values and beliefs. I love the quote, "If someone gets upset with you for setting a boundary, that is an affirmation that the boundary is needed in the first place." Remember, we are the adults with fully developed brains and credit cards. We have to act as the brain managers to make crucial decisions on behalf of our children because they cannot use reason and logic in the same ways that we do as adults. They can't consider the long term implications. They live in the moment.

What area of life do you feel like comparison hits you the hardest right now? Work? Body image? Kid's achievements? Facebook likes? Do you find yourself comparing on behalf of your children? Perhaps even pre-emptively. 

Denaye Barahona

Dr. Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She partners with families to tackle the challenges of raising children. Denaye is a minimalist who claims to be a decluttering expert (don't let her near your closet). She loves to travel, talk health-and-wellness, and give unsolicited advice. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, The Minimalists, Motherly, Becoming Minimalist, and numerous other media outlets. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Clinical Social Worker with a specialty in child and family practice.