I was pretty stoked when Frodo learned to walk. It was just before summer, and I couldn’t wait to take him outside every day. I was even looking forward to meeting some other parents (I find meeting new people fun, in theory). I had visions in my head of a bunch of us moms chatting merrily while our kids destroyed our living rooms.
And then reality happened. Most of it was me just being really bad at small talk and totally absorbed in watching Frodo. And I want to say that most of the other parents I’ve met are perfectly nice people. But being around other parents is never as simple as just a bunch of us hanging out with our kids. There’s always an undercurrent of competition. Who’s got the brand-name stroller. Whose toddler can recite the alphabet. Who’s got a magazine-spread house the best school district (we’re in the middle of a housing boom here, so the house is everything).
But there’s a major caveat to this: you can’t be too perfect. In fact, it’s best to give off an aura of not really giving a rip, as evidenced by our tendency to share our crappy parenting moments all over the internet. You’ll still get dirty looks if you let your kid run around the playground with a Butterfinger bar and a can of Mountain Dew, but you don’t want to be caught giving your kids vegetables either-especially if they actually like them. People seem to interpret your good parenting moments as a personal attack on their own parenting, and this will not win you points in the mompetition. Same goes for doing Pinterest-worthy crafts or just finding the whole thing too much fun. You’re stuck in a bizarre place where you need to be good, but not *too* good. Where no matter what you do, you’re doing it wrong. You really can’t win.
I’m not immune to it, either. Now that I am aware of subtle dynamics like this, I want to please and impress everyone. And we all want to feel superior sometimes. But I’m starting to wonder what it’s all for and why I waste so much energy on it. It’s not like trying to impress everyone has resulted in me sipping mimosas with a bunch of mom friends. Which sounds great in theory, but I’m not sure it’d be a good fit for me. The last group of moms I saw at the playground were talking about their houses and it was all breakfast nooks and sun rooms and finished basements-stuff that goes way over my head (I still can’t figure out why one needs a separate place to eat breakfast) and which probably has a subtle competitive undercurrent that doesn’t really jive with my values. I think we ought to judge others by the content of their character, not by the amount of granite and stainless steel in their kitchen. But I digress.
I want to take myself out of the mompetition, but it’s a long, slow process. In the meantime, I want be the best mom I can be, and be that mom who reaches out to the other parents who don’t quite fit, who are weary of a competition that no one can win.
Creative commons image courtesy of MipsyRetro on flickr