One of my favorite throwaway phrases is “first world problems.” It never fails to make me laugh. Whether it’s my sister and a friend complaining about having to replace the batteries in her battery-operated wine opener, or my friends and I griping about too many fashion images and not enough fitness pins in our Pinterest feeds, it’s fun to be able to laugh at our “not” problems. It’s nice to be able to use a phrase that indicates we appreciate and recognize how blessed or pleasant our lives are, while still complaining.
But there can be a downside to flippantly dismissing our frustrations and struggles. Not that anyone really cares if your dvr turns off one minute too early, but it’s not to say that our daily struggles aren’t truly challenging, truly difficult. We might live in a first world country, but that’s not to say our hardships aren’t truly hard.
My husband and I are both employed. We have five beautiful children, who have no serious health struggles. When they are ill, we are able to access healthcare for them. We have a home that meets our needs. And, as I explained to my son, as his eyes widened watching the cost of filling up the gas tank, we have enough money to meet our needs. So any struggles we have, they’re pretty minor aren’t they?
There’s a healthiness that comes with being able recognize the positive in any situation. When my children are frustrating me, I like being able to step back and remind myself that they are alive to annoy me, which is something, sadly, not every friend of mine can say. When I feel lonely and neglected when my husband plays video games for hours, well at least his time on the computer is spent with fellow nerds and not X-rated playmates. At least he’s coming home every night right after work, rather than hanging out in bars. There’s truth there. And there are certainly silver linings to almost every situation.
However, that doesn’t remove frustration or hurt. And just because it could be worse, it doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. Motherhood is exhausting. It’s hard having one child, being their everything, always. It’s exhausting having several children; in the words of Jim Gaffigan, “Having a fourth baby is like you’re drowning… and someone hands you a baby.” Staying at home with your children is a wonderful gift, one that doesn’t allow you any downtime and can be very draining. Working while mothering small children can be heartbreaking, the guilt overwhelming, a constant struggle to balance and give to your children all that they deserve.
No one has an easy, carefree life. Events and circumstances strike different people in various ways. No one should feel like she has to excuse and minimize her struggles, just because they aren’t as severe as others. Some people might find it overwhelming to care for their children alone while their spouse is on a business trip. That’s ok. Yes there are spouses who single-parent through year-long deployments, and they are remarkable. But that doesn’t mean someone should feel bad from struggling over the course of a few days.
No good comes from comparing crosses. I was part of a larger conversation not that long ago. One participant asked that those women who were struggling with NFP or with their large family not complain because infertility was a harder struggle. I disagreed. I’ve sat with friends weeping at their inability to conceive a child. I’ve sat with friends dealing with unplanned pregnancies. I’ve sat with a mother panicking at the thought of her fifth C-section in five years. These aren’t comparable.
I believe we should try to walk just a few steps in our fellow mothers’ stilettos, not so we can compare lives but so we can better support and encourage. But we do no one any favors when we diminish our own, or any others, struggles. Maybe we can’t relate. Maybe it doesn’t seem that overwhelming to us. But that’s not the issue. It’s that someone is struggling, for whatever the reason.
God gives us what we need to grow. And each of us will grow differently, each of us have different aspects of ourselves that we need to improve. Each of us has our own baggage, our own hurts and scars. We should be honest when we struggle; open about what is overwhelming or just discouraging. It might not be as hard, outside looking in, as someone else’s struggle. But that’s not the point. The point is help is needed, support is required. Love is necessary.
Don’t apologize when life is overwhelming. You don’t have to justify your struggles. Be open and let others lift you up. Appreciate the blessings in your life, but don’t be afraid to honestly admit what’s challenging as well. It doesn’t matter if your problems seem simple or minor to others. What matters is that they are problems to you. Problems you shouldn’t have to face alone.