Dear Rachel,

I am a little embarrassed to be writing this. I am a happily married woman, and I have three wonderful kids. On the outside, nothing seems to be wrong; however, inside I am a mess. I look around at all the other mothers and families, and I just feel, no, I know, that everyone is doing a better job than me. Their houses are neater, their kids are happier, their husbands help more, etc. I feel like day after day passes by, but I am not really accomplishing anything. Objectively, if you look at me and my situation, you would see thriving kids, a put-together house and a great marriage. But I just can't get past the feeling that I can't measure up. How can I feel better about things?

Missing Something

Dear Missing Something,

As I read your letter, I can feel your sadness and pain. It must be so emotionally taxing for you to go through your days like this. I hope that through this letter, I will be able to give you some sort of solace.

First of all, it is great that you are able to recognize that things are pretty good on an objective level. You can, and should feel good about all of the things that you mentioned that are going well. We all know and appreciate the mother as the core of the home. Try and remember that it is because of your effort and attention that you have a well-run home, good marriage and thriving children. They are the direct result of the foundation that you provide for everyone. This is why the Torah teaches us, Beito Zu Ishto, that a man's home is his wife. It is not that the woman must be in the home, but that she creates the home. She is the "akeret habayit," the foundation of the home.

Often, women are pestered by the feeling that their accomplishments in the home are less intrinsically valuable than those achieved outside the home. Perhaps it would be helpful for you to reformulate how you see your accomplishments. While this may sound like a trite answer and one that you have heard a million times, it is true. Helping your family is a real job, and something to be proud of when done well. There are so many women today who cannot manage running a household, this fact just reestablishes the reality that household management is not a simple task.

Through your words, I hear your dissatisfaction with the way things are going for you right now. This dissatisfaction is contributing to your low self esteem. Life satisfaction and self esteem are intricately related, so it would be good for you to develop some interests that would bring you pleasure and satisfaction. That being said, there are very few (if any) people who are able to derive fulfillment from every area of their life. Everyone has tasks in their life that are unsatisfactory and boring. For many women, all the philosophizing in the world does not compensate for the monotony of those unending piles of laundry, dishes and homework. In some ways, it sounds like you. Therefore, I recommend that you look for an outlet outside the house in an area that interests you. Perhaps there is an organization that you could volunteer for? Or, perhaps you would get some fulfillment from part-time work outside the home.

Many people have a powerful negative inclination to expend emotional energy comparing themselves to others. As you can see, this causes a tremendous amount of unhappiness! Try to keep forefront in your mind that G‑d created everyone differently, and you have your own unique and special talents and strengths. To hold yourself up to the standards you perceive others as upholding is like comparing apples to oranges. You can combat this negativity—and build genuine, internal joy—by focusing on developing yourself to be the best that you can be. Think of apples and oranges. Cultivating an apple to be an orange won't work. The same goes for measuring yourself up to others' standard. Keep your goals in mind. Remember what is good for you.

Another piece of sage advice that can be found in Torah philosophy is the idea of "Who is rich? Once who is happy with his lot." What does this mean in a practical way? It means that if we find fulfillment in what we have, (and not just material things), then we will feel very wealthy (e.g. satisfied) with what we have. Not surprisingly, this piece of advice is being confirmed by current research. People with the big houses and more things are not necessarily happier. Studies have found that people with less tend to be more satisfied.

Another important point is to be aware of is that you never really know what is going on in someone else's mind, home or heart. When we look at others, we often decide based on very little information that we intimately know their circumstances, emotional condition, etc. Assumptions are naively made, the other person "has it easy". When, in reality, many of these same women feel exactly as you do!

I once read that someone referred to this comparison process as the "Motherhood Martyrdom Olympics". There is real truth to that. When women congregate, often times you will hear how self sacrificing someone is, and then others in the group bring up their own sacrifice in an attempt to either save face, or boost their own self confidence. ("You were up with two screaming kids last night? Oh, that's awful! I can totally relate, gosh, last night, there was a flood in my apartment, and, three of my kids were up screaming. But, of course I handled it by myself, wouldn't want to disturb my husband!") This constant comparing does nothing to help ourselves and our emotional lives. The less we do this and the more we keep our focus on how we are doing, the better we will be able to improve our personal emotional lives.

In conclusion, attend to the things that you are in control of. Keep looking objectively at yourself and the fine job that you are doing. If feasible, make time to find that special interest or talent and take the time to cultivate it. Allow yourself the chance to bask in the glow of every little success that you do accomplish, and you will see it begin to make big changes in your own self perception.