Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Competitive parenting is a lie

Okay.  So I'm not one to respond to internet articles.  In a negative way, at least.  I understand, now more than ever, that an actual person writes these things.  That they sit down and try their best to put their heart into words.  And that it's beautiful and painful and that sometimes it comes out just right, and other times not.

So I'm not going to respond to a particular article here.  More an idea.  Or message.  One that I feel bombarded by lately, though it's certainly not new.

I understand that the writers of these articles are most likely well-intentioned.  That they're hoping to hold out to moms a message of freedom.  A message of you-don't-have-to-try-so-hard.  A message of letting go.

And I'm all about these messages.  For sure.  But here's the thing.  I keep reading these articles telling us moms to wait.  Stop what we're doing.  Put down our homemade bread.  Quit competitive parenting.  Quit comparing ourselves to other moms.  Quit Pinterest and mom blogs and for the love, quit trying so hard.

Because, come close now, I have to whisper here.  It's a secret and you don't know that I know.  But I know.  I know why you do all this.  And it's not for your kids.  It's not for your husband.  It's certainly not for God.  No... it's for the other moms.

As feel-good and freeing as these articles seem, something just doesn't sit right with me.  Because I think Yes!  That's true.  I shouldn't be motivated by guilt.  I shouldn't compare myself so much.  I shouldn't worry about what other moms are doing and how they're judging me.  

But then I stop and think, Wait!  I don't.

I think about my actual, real-life relationships with other moms.  I think about my best friend, who messaged me the other week that she locked herself in the bathroom, just to get a moment of peace from her kids.  I think about my group of mom friends back home, from before the move.  How they care for and cook for and support each other.   I think about the "mom blogs" I've really connected with.  And I think about the moms behind those computers, some who I know and some who I've never met, face to face, but who I love nonetheless.  Who I laugh with and cry with and want good things for.

I think about my crafty mom friend.  How at a girls' brunch last Sunday I mentioned making lava cakes with Finn the day before.  How she was astounded that I would do that for fun.  How I'm astounded at the beautiful, intricate crafts she makes with her girls.  For fun.

How we can both be astounded but neither one of us threatened.

There's something about these articles that, although I'm sure this is not the intention, makes me feel set up.  That makes me feel like I do view other moms as competition.  That I must be jealous of them, and them of me.  Something about these words that makes me feel both better and worse about myself.  Both smug and unsure, at the same time.

And if I didn't step back and look at what I know from real life I might buy right into it.

And no, I'm not immune to jealousy, in case you're wondering.  I feel jealous alright.  I might feel jealous that your toddler sits still and actually listens to you.  I might feel jealous that you're an awesome writer and your words make me laugh and cry and generally just love you.  I might feel jealous that you can gather up your kids and drive to Chipotle ANY TIME YOU WANT!

But if you're working hard to feed your family healthy, whole food or planning an awesome birthday party for your five-year-old or making sensory bins for your toddler or homeschooling your grade-schooler, and whether I do those things or not, I am not, AM NOT, going to undermine your hard work by assuming ulterior motives.  I am going to assume what is probably, likely, almost 100% true.

That you're doing it for your kids.  That you're doing it because you believe in it.  Because you've researched and you've learned and you've thought long and hard, and while you're not telling me what to do, you're doing what you truly believe is best.

The truth is, guilt and shame just aren't great motivators.  In fact, they're hardly motivators at all.  They make us feel stuck, frozen.  Worthless.

So when a mom is working hard to do what she believes are good things for her kids, for her family, for herself... it's highly unlikely she's doing those things from a sense of guilt or competition.

When we first moved to Hungary I struggled to find a soft, whole-wheat sandwich bread like the kinds readily available in the States.  So eventually I bought a bread machine and started making my own.  I still buy bread products from time-to-time, but mostly I make them.  It started as a necessity and morphed somehow into a great joy.

That's right.  I said it.  Making bread is a great joy to me.  A GREAT JOY.  Five-years-ago-me would have thought now-me was completely crazy.  But I love watching my kids eat something I've made from scratch.  Something of which I can name every ingredient.

Now I certainly can't say that about every to a lot of things they eat.  But bread products are mostly in my court.  And that makes me happy.  That makes me feel good.  Even when I don't feel like doing it, I do, because, to me, it's worth it.

If I didn't think it was worth it... I wouldn't do it.

Now I don't homeschool or plan toddler-appropriate learning activities.  But I'm going to guess if you do, you do it because, to you, it's worth it.  Not because you saw it on Pinterest or got guilted in by a mom blog.  That stuff is HARD WORK, and you wouldn't do it if you didn't believe, at least for now, that it is best for your child and your family and you.

I know we've been away from the States for some years now, and perhaps I'm out of touch with that reality, but sometimes I think the whole competitive parenting thing (well, let's be honest, the whole competitive mothering thing) is a lie.  That we're fed these un-truths that moms are our competition.  Even while articles are claiming that we shouldn't compare ourselves to other moms, they're telling us, at the same time, that we do.

But then I step back and look at what I know to be true.  Like, in real life.  I look at what us moms are doing for each other and how we're being so painfully honest with one another and how we're loving each other.

And I don't feel like I need to stop comparing myself to other moms because I feel, for the most part, that I never really started.

And maybe I'm just speaking for me.  But something tells me I'm not.  When I watch my mom friends rally around each other through the good and the hard, somehow I know that I'm not.

Which doesn't mean that we never compare or are never jealous.  Just that it's not the norm.  And that, mostly, we want the best for each other.

But if we're telling ourselves to quit competitive parenting, then we're also admitting that other moms are still engaged in the competition.  And it's such an obvious divide.

I say we scrap it all.  That we call it what it is.  A lie.

And we get back to doing the things that we love and believe in and supporting other moms while they do the things they love and believe in.  That we get back to the real moms in our lives, who love and support us no matter what.

I understand that I'm so lucky.  To know and love the honest and true moms that I do.

But if this doesn't describe your circle of moms.  If you're saying to yourself, there is so such a thing as competitive parenting.  I know because I live it every day.  Then please, find some moms, or just one mom, who you can be completely honest with.  Who you can message with pictures of beautiful, home-made crafts followed by pictures of you literally attempting to pull your hair out.  Or be honest with one of the moms you do know.  Her response might surprise you.

I just don't think it's good for us, you know, as sisters in this mothering thing.  To think that there's a whole world of moms out there, guilting and comparing and disapproving.

When the truth is, there's a whole world of moms out there trying their best.  There's a whole world of moms doing great things for their kids, and rooting for us when we do the same.  Rejoicing and commiserating and generally knowing exactly, if not perfectly, what we're going through.

So instead of engaging or disengaging in competitive parenting, let's just stop believing it.

Let's open our eyes and admit, we're all on the same team anyhow.


  1. I agree. I am motivated to do things because I love it or it benefits my family (and sometimes both!).
    Thanks for bringing this idea to light.

  2. Thanks Kim! I love planning elaborate birthday parties for my boys, and yes, it is both because they are only 3 (or 4 or 5) once, and because it makes me happy. Not because I'm competing with pinterest or some other mommy blogger! You've hit the nail on the head!