Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Dancer In the Mompetition

I have spent my life as a dancer and dance teacher.  I’ve been to auditions with over 200 people, and I’ve been cut immediately, as well as been hired.  I have been in large classes have been both corrected harshly and asked to show something because I was pretty dang fierce.  I’ve been both intimidating and intimidated.  

And like most women, I know how underhanded and psychologically cruel our fair sex can be – in and out of the dance world.

So, you would think that with all this experience with competition (and the desire to go gently into parenting), I’d be fine with this mompetition stuff.

Nope.  It gets me every time.

Maybe it’s because, when I’m with my kids I feel like all parents should be BFFs. It’s like I’ve swallowed a whole bottle of extra-strength Kumbaya.

Take my latest.  I was with Aria at Trader Joe’s.  The store was distributing free samples of a green vegetable juice.  Aria had 4 one-ounce sample cups and would have climbed in the fountain had I let her. I talked to the sample lady about how we used to give Riley the Naked or Odwalla brand of the stuff, which we nicknamed Froggie Juice.  Containing spinach and broccoli, it seemed like a great way to get veggies in a one year old, who otherwise might only eat green in the form of a crayon. 

A mom happened by with her son.  She had a taste and then looked at the bottle.  “Oh! It has so much sugar!” she tut-tutted.

I immediately became defensive, even though I saw on the bottle that it did have a lot of sugar, as juice generally does.  “You can cut it with half water.  That’s what we do with juice.”

“Oh, well, my pediatrician says that juice is not necessary,” she continued. 

Well, I’ll be!  My doctor dun tole me that if it wuzn’t still movin’ or stinkin’ it was good eatin’!

This is what I wished I’d said.

For some stupid reason I tried to defend my watered-down-juice drinking kids by going into their very low weight percentiles and their hatred of milk.  Then it was on.  She countered with her son’s potential ability to drink loads of milk and high metabolism.

Where at first I had wanted to give her a card for my blog, at that point, I wanted slap her like I was a pimp and she was a stealin’ ho.  But leaving Trader Joe’s in a squad car would merely have proved her point that she was by far the better mother.

And, really, that was all it was.  A female pissing contest about who, according to all the literature and expert advice out there, was doing the best by her child.  When the mompetition starts, it is hard to realize that you’re a good mother because you are meeting the confluence of your child’s needs and wants.  Every child is different.  And every family has to put the EFF THIS stamp on some “rule” at some point. 

So, then what’s all this mompetition stuff all about anyway? Christina Simon, blogger at Beyond the Brochure in her article “When Moms Verbally Attack Each Other We All Lose”, discusses moms on the offense and low mom-esteem.  While I do think that attack is too strong a word, I completely agree with the low mom-esteem.

The low mom-esteem is a result of profound self-doubt.  After all, is there any more important project? Many women have been, or continue to be, highly competitive in their field of choice.  They once were in control of whole departments, classes of students, themselves as artists and now they are defeated by getting a small person to eat peas and put away a puzzle.  It’s a mind-boggling change, one that can sap the will to even try to leave the house. 

Furthermore moms sometimes feel as though there is nothing left for themselves anymore.  Their wardrobe, body, career,  hobbies, t social life, marriage/partnership – all a shambles.  The kid(s) took everything. 

Which means that this kid better be damned AMAZING.  Or at least as good as the next mom’s. The idea that a child the identical age of our own can walk/speak in full sentences/is potty-trained/knows the alphabet/can count up to a hundred can make some us panic a little, wondering if our child will be the one child left behind.

So with a stranger, because she wouldn’t dare do it with a friend, an insecure mom seizes on something exemplary in her parenting life and goes right for the carb-loving/TV watching jugular.

Then there is the commiseration (or mommiseration, I might say) factor.  A new mom hasn’t slept in months.  She feels like the universe is using her as a punching bag.  She longs to chat with another mother who knows exactly what she’s going through. 

Unfortunately, she confides in some lady who has no idea what she’s talking about.  Her baby slept six hours a night from the time she brought him home from the hospital.  It is all poor Sleepy Samantha can do not to weep openly, if not wrap her hands around this chick’s neck.  She feels horrible, wondering what she is doing wrong, and the other lady (who is cautiously stepping away from her because of the Hannibal Lechteresque glint in her eye) feels crazy lucky that she has gotten some sleep. 

Not competition, really, but many parental discussions wind up with one person feeling cursed and the other feeling extremely blessed, if not smug.  All over something that pretty much boils down to luck.  It can feel like if not competition, then insensitivity to the one who hasn’t been so fortunate.

Also, there’s negative mompetition.  Maybe Sleepy Sam finally meets another who has likewise been barred from the Land of Nod.  Except, this woman, instead of feeling that she’s met someone from the same tribe, says, “Every three hours? Ha! Since birth my baby has woken up every hour and a half, and stays up for another hour and a half.  I’d kill to be as rested as you!”

What is the point of this?  What is the honor in being crowned “World’s Tiredest Mom”?  This broad is a freakazoid.

But maybe freakazoid lady is merely the far end of the spectrum.  For so many moms, the day often feels like a losing battle.  So desperate to win at something, it feels good to be the most martyred, to win at losing.

Yikes! That was negative.

On that note, I think I should go. I have to put my 20 month old on the potty, coach her counting in English, Spanish and Mandarin and work on her pointe.   


  1. You would think it would be more the mentality of It Takes a Village. But in reality, it seems like most of our egos are vying for top dog status in either direction when it comes to being a parent. Most of that "my kid v. your kid" stuff seems more about the parents to me - I don't think my kids really care if their buddies excel at something sooner - but we certainly teach them that, don't we? This is a great post, Keesha.

  2. Ah, exactly. It really is true, that motherhood is really the most competitive field. It happens with other Moms, be it strangers or friends, all the time, there is always something to gripe about. Honestly (and a little shamefully) I've been guilty of it, too. (I'm thinking back to the time I told a friend that boys are much harder to potty train than girls, and that she was so lucky to have it easy with her one year old girl potty trained while I had just finished potty training my almost preschool aged son after years of trying!) I want to believe it's partly biological, like maybe it is mother nature's way of ensuring that we do the best we can at motherhood by comparing ourselves to other Moms, as a social benchmark to see how well we are doing...but it's really no excuse when we ought to be supportive and accepting of the different styles of parenting!

  3. I had no idea this occurred when I stepped into motherhood. I am continually appalled by it. It seems so unnecessary. We are all just struggling to make it and we should focus on making it easier for each other rather than adding to it. Check out all my thoughts on mompetition at

  4. very well written. I loved the part about the mom telling how much less sleep she had. I also have twins who only sleep for 20 min intervals, i went back to work when i got them to both sleep for at least a 2-3 hour stretch. Tried every book method, really tried. Even had a friend who had twins experience come over one night, offered her services. In the morning said "your children cry allot and don't sleep well", something may be wriong.. later on I discovered they had spectrum/sensory issues and also later diagnosed with autoimmune dsieases( chronic pain), my son also has refluxl. so after beating myself up because "other mothers" were able to get their children into sleep patterns allowing mom a better night sleep. I had answers for their "uniqueness" . I really dont ever remember talking down to someone who got more sleep. If I did , sorry-I had blocks of time with very little reserve!
    so woman's every 20 min is another woman's 2h interval. It sucks ..but when you look at their little faces, their hands, when their older the things they say ..its all good( well at least more tolerable). Its a tough world out there even amongst the mommas.


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