Sometimes ‘Mompetition’ goes too far

My Parenting Perspectives column for Jan. 24, 2012:

As our 5-month-old baby boys played on the floor next to each other, my friend Tammy expressed some dismay that her son wasn’t rolling over like mine, even though Owen is a few weeks older than her little one.

“He’s doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing,” I reassured the first-time mother.

Having been through babyhood once before with my daughter, Eve, I’ve come to realize there’s no rushing babies. They’ll reach the milestones on their timetable, not ours.

In 2008, though, I studied daily the lists of “should be able to …,” “will probably be able to …,” and “may possibly be able to …” in my nightstand companion “What to Expect the First Year,” worrying a bit if Eve hadn’t yet achieved the “may possibly” skills.

I regularly took stock of how she was progressing compared to her little friends. I’m not sure what I hoped to accomplish, but the end result was feeling alternately boastful and discouraged.

This time around, I haven’t taken the first-year book off the shelf, and I’m doing my best to keep the comparisons to a minimum, between Owen and other babies, and Owen and Eve. They may both be my children, but each is his and her own person.

I’m also trying, though not as successfully, to stop comparing myself to other mothers.

What it is about parenthood that seems to give us all a case of comparison-itis?

Yes, there is value in assessing our children’s development against a standard, which allows intervention when necessary. Parents should wonder what advancements to expect at what age. But fretting when our child isn’t developing at the same rate as (or faster than) the neighbor is pointless and frustrating.

So is comparing our patience, creativity and enthusiasm to that of other parents. Though, for me at least, it seems inevitable.

There are the contented mothers in the parenting magazines, taunting me from the page. “Look how much fun I’m having with my kids!” their smiles scream. “And look how much they’re learning by doing kitchen science experiments and using homemade art supplies and playing with the Civil War diorama I made out of toothpicks and modeling clay! Why haven’t you done all these things with your kids today?”

There are the supermoms in my Facebook newsfeed, whose sunshiny attitudes make me feel guilty for complaining about the daily grind.

On the other end of the spectrum are the floundering “Supernanny” parents whose struggles always make me feel better about my mothering, though I’m sure the program was drastically edited to achieve that image.

One friend suggests it’s our competitive nature that brings on the comparisons. We’re all hoping to “win” at parenting. In order to win, we have to somehow be better than others.

So many of us try to achieve that superiority through our children that the practice earned an entry in Urban Dictionary. “Mompetition: The one-up rivalry that moms play making their child seem better, smarter, and/or more advanced than yours. May involve two or more moms and any number of children, even full-grown.”

Perhaps the best way to win is to focus on our own family. To accept our children for who they are, and our parenting style for what it is.

Sherri Richards is mother to a 3-year-old daughter and 5-month-old son and is an employee of The Forum.

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