Saturday, December 19, 2009

Medalling in Motherhood

A few weeks ago, at the pediatrician's office (for the third time that week, but that's another story), I overheard the following exchange between three moms who clearly knew each other - probably from some really exclusive playgroup that I'd never be invited to join because I don't have a $300 diaper bag identical to the one they all carried:

Mother A, gushing: How nice to see you! (OK, me here. Really? "Nice to see you" at the doctor's office? I wouldn't say that to my worst enemy. Who wishes a sick kid on anyone?) What are YOU in for?

Mother B, sighing: Little Greer has an ear infection. We were up ALL night!

Mother A: Poor thing. My Jackson has a DOUBLE ear infection. I haven't slept in DAYS!

Mother C, cooing: Oh, that's too bad. My Sadie has a double ear infection AND strep throat!

I really, REALLY wanted to jump up and yell, "Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner! It's Mother C by a landslide!" But since my kids were with me, I didn't. (I just wrote down everything they'd said instead, and saved it for future use. Hey, Slacker Mom's material comes from many sources. No one is safe.) It was weird, like these moms were COMPETING to see who had the sickest kid. And who, exactly, wins at that one?

As a teacher, I wrestled with the issue of competition and kids for years. In education, there are endless debates about competition vs. cooperation. Does competition encourage kids to work harder? Or does it damage their self-esteem instead of helping them do their best? Shouldn't we only compete with ourselves? Is cooperative learning a better way to teach skills? After all, we're more likely to work on a project WITH our co-workers than against them, right?

But after 8 years of being a mom, it occured to me that perhaps I've been thinking about the competition issue from the wrong angle. Perhaps the most damaging type of competition isn't so much child against child. It's mother against mother. And if you think for one second no one considers motherhood a competitive sport, think again.

Think about it, ladies. It starts early, during pregnancy and labor. Too many mothers try to "one-up" each other. We all know a mom who corners us with her pregnancy symptoms and her birth story (bloody, gory, TMI!) - and NOT in a "sisterhood of women" kind of way, but in a "Oh, you were in labor for 15 hours? And had an epidural? I was in labor for 27 hours! AND he was breech! AND I had an all-natural birth!" kind of way. (And by the way, just so you know, calling your drug-free birthing experience "natural" implies that there's something "unnatural" about using meds to limit pain. If you opt out of the epidural, that's fine, but I signed up for the drugs the second the stick turned blue. So bite me.)

It only gets worse as our kids get older. Milestones like teething, sleeping through the night, crawling, walking, and language development bring out the competition in even the most rational mothers. Then our kids start school, and it really takes off. The mom who has to sign up to bring one more item for the class party than any other mom. The one who says, "Your son got straight A's? Mine had 100% in every subject!" The hyper-competitive neighbor who rushes over on the day gifted program acceptance letters came home: "Did your daughter get in? What was her score?" And why does ANYONE'S tricked-out, $60,000 Sequoia have more kid-related magnets and bumper stickers than she has kids? Really? Four kids and 12 stickers? You're doing too much, lady. Yeah, we know, you're busy and your kids are superstars. Give it a rest.

Where does it end? Are we defining ourselves as mothers through the accomplishments of our children? And is it worse for stay-at-home moms, like we're saying, well, we don't work and see the fruits of our labor, a finished product, so our children become our "work product", something to show for all our efforts each day? It's as if we must be better at this motherhood thing than anyone else ever was, and the only way to keep score is by listing our kids' achievements. I mean, really, are you a better mother than I am because your child is on the travel team and mine likes to pick flowers in the outfield? Really? And isn't that a lot of pressure to put on our kids, for them to "make" us proud - and whole - through their accomplishments?

Slacker Mom Says...why not let our kids take credit for their own achievements? Let's be proud of them regardless of their IQs, points per game, medals won, scholarships bestowed. Every child has something unique and fabulous to give. My daughter is brilliant, truly gifted - but what she DOES with that is all hers, not mine. I can encourage and support her, but ultimately her successes and her failures belong to her and her alone. I am not a better mother for having a smart, or athletic, or talented, child. Motherhood shouldn't be about competing for first place; it should be about supporting each other as mothers, as women, and helping each other be the best moms we can be. That's the best way to be sure our children succeed, whatever path they choose. If I can raise a happy, productive human being who contributes something positive to society, isn't that what it's all about?

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