Daily Archives: October 26, 2011

the mommy contest

So many people have written lately on just how judgmental other moms can be, and Jen has written a great post on letting go of that tendency to be an “Extreme Parent.” And while I could say plenty about that drive for perfection, I’m most interested in contemplating the results of conversations like these.

We have this tendency as parents to be really sensitive about our choices, but we also have tendencies as parents to be judgmental of others’ parenting decisions. As a result, we live in this parenting culture where instead of supporting one another through the hardest job we’ve ever undertaken, we become adversaries. Mary might feed her kid nothing but Super Deluxe Extra Fun Meals from her favorite fast food place while Jane feeds her kid a completely raw, vegan, orange, liquid diet. These two meet, and inevitably both parents feel sensitive about their choices, judged by the other, and even a bit (or more) judgemental of one another’s choices. What is this phenomenon? Why can’t our parenting choices just be our parenting choices?

It seems to begin with pregnancy: who you choose for pregnancy care, the type of birth you hope to have, the type of birth you do have, whether or not you circumcise your boy, what you name your child, what you do with the cord blood, and so much more. And from there, it just escalates and grows to include how we get our kids to sleep, how and what they are fed during infancy, what sort of diapers they wear, where they sleep, who cares for them, whether they go to daycare, what kind of preschool they attend, and on and on and on.

But why does this happen? Why does Jane care so much about the brand of diapers Mary buys, and why does Mary care so much about where Jane’s kid sleeps? How does that affect them?

Honestly, unless they’re living together and parenting together, it doesn’t.

I suppose my theory is this: Parenting is hard. When it comes down to it, while we may all have theories, hypotheses, assumptions about how this should work, we won’t know the outcome for a number of years. We’d like to think we are making the best choices for ourselves and our families, but we’ve got media and family and other parents throwing other ideas at us all the time, so there’s a certain amount of uncertainty and thus even insecurity that comes with parenting. But we have our values and our research and our observations. We have what we know about our kids and our families. We throw all of that together, and we come up with what we think is a pretty good way of parenting our kids.

And then somebody else comes along, and maybe they seem like they’ve got it together better than we do, or at least they talk that way. This makes us question ourselves. We get a little defensive, and we look for something to judge, and we look for ways to elevate ourselves, and the cycle continues.

(Please, at this point, if you’re finding yourself reeling, saying in your mind, “What the hell is she saying? I would never do this!” know that I’m generalizing about our culture of parenting–primarily in the U.S. I am by no means saying this is true of every parent.)

Unfortunately, all of this has created a culture of constant competition. We can’t just be moms in support of one another anymore. Instead, we have to size one another up, and while we’re at it, see where we stand too. It’s exhausting, and it’s damaging, and I wish we could all just stop.

What will it take for us to find that support, to be those supportive moms? Is it even possible? Clearly we can’t all go to group therapy to learn to stop being so codependent, but maybe I can be more mindful. Maybe I can take a step every day to show another mom that I support her in her choices (so long as she’s offering her child love and meeting the child’s basic needs–I’m not saying I need to pat abusive parents on the back here). Maybe I can just be open when I hear a different approach than I would take. Maybe I can show interest in how that mom is using those approaches or how they’re working out. Maybe if I find myself reacting to something another parent does that doesn’t jive with my parenting, I can just stop that reaction and realize that I am parenting my own kid, and that parent is parenting her own kid, and clearly we’re making the best decisions for our kids because, after all, we’re supposed to be the ones who know our kids the best. Right? Right? I doubt my efforts will change the world, but perhaps we all just need a little more compassion from one another, a little acceptance that it does take all kinds of parents to raise the different kinds of kids we’ve been given.

I see this at work to some degree in this moms’ group I’ve joined. For the most part, the moms there share similar parenting philosophies, but there are certainly variations, and when there are, the majority of people respond with a spirit of curiosity. They ask questions and discuss how things work. They encourage one another. The group isn’t perfect, and there are those defensive, judgmental, sensitive moments, but I’m beginning to see what’s possible, and while certainly imperfect and far from mamatopia, it’s pretty fascinating, and heartening.

Now, talk to me about this:

Do you think it’s possible or even realistic to think we could move past a culture of mommy competitions? Or are we all just doomed to continue this cycle forever?

Are you supportive of other parents’ choices even if they aren’t choices you would make yourself? Are there any steps you think parents should take to forward a more compassionate, empathetic culture of parenting? Is there any benefit to this competitive culture–something I’m not seeing?

I really look forward to seeing your responses, and I encourage you to ask other parents you know what they think too.


And finally, a disclaimer: I am not writing this in judgment of any one person, group, etc. I am openly critical of this cultural trend, and I am writing to explore potential answers. Please do not take offense if you regularly enjoy Super Deluxe Extra Fun Meals or follow a raw, vegan, orange, liquid diet. Likewise, please avoid emailing death threats if your name happens to be Jane or Mary. These were merely hypothetical examples and were not meant to offend any group, dietary choice, or naming preference. Thank you. 😉


Filed under parenting