Thursday, December 30, 2010

Motherhood: The New Competitive Sport

If you are expecting a child or are a mother already, chances are you have gone on at least one pregnancy/parenting forum.  Most of the ladies on these forums are nice and helpful.  But no matter how good the online community, there are certain subject lines that make you groan.  Why?  Because you know that yet another argument is about to happen.  Seeing titles with words like breastfeeding, vaccinations, cosleeping, CIO, solid foods will either make you move on quickly or get on your (metaphorical) boxing gloves.  It doesn't matter what side you are on.  The battle has already been orchestrated; all that is needed is for the unwitting to ask an innocent question.  I've seen this countless times, and my daughter is only five months old.  The arguments aren't limited to forums, either; they happen between friends who have children and are a close relative to the unsolicited advice heaped on new mothers. 

But the question is--why?

Why do we treat these issues as earth-shattering, my way or the highway debates to be won At All Costs?  We get so caught up in our love and concern for our babies that we don't stop and think.  How important are all of these things in the long run?  Look at all of the successful, intelligent people in your life.  Do you know how they were fed?  Diapered?  Where they slept?  I'm guessing not.  These are all very important parenting decisions for each family to make, but they are not so life-altering that we need to bash each other for them.  A formula-fed baby can grow up to be a successful, happy person if they try hard enough.  We are what we make ourselves.

So why do we, as mothers, feel the need to defend and promote our preferences so virulently?  It is as though we are insecure about our abilities.  After all, there isn't a secret manual given out to all new mothers with the secrets of perfect parenting.  We are all guessing, really.  But if you can say "I am a good mother because I do X instead of Y," then you can validate your choices and feel better about yourself.  How easy is it to turn that statement into "She is a bad mother because she does Y instead of X.  Aren't I so awesome?"  We need to stop relying on criticizing others to boost our own confidence.  Is your baby happy, fed, clothed, clean, played with, and loved?  Do you ignore your baby's needs to play WoW or watch t.v.?  If you answered yes to the first question and no to the second, then you are a good mother.  There.  Stop stressing.

Because, really, do we gain anything from this competition except a way to pat ourselves on the back?  The truth is, whether you cosleep, cloth diaper, and breastfeed or put baby in a crib, use disposable diapers, and forumla feed (or any other combination), your child will grow up to make their own life.  Decide what works for you and your family, own your decision, and move on.  Our children will probably never remember if they drank formula or breastmilk (I had to ask), but if we make this cycle a habit, they will remember us bragging to / bashing others about how great our parenting skills are or waffling back and forth because another mother convinced us to do something we didn't really want to do.  Remember that the example we live has the biggest impact of all.

Embrace the diversity of mothers everywhere.  We don't have to agree on every point to be friends.  And, hey, we might learn something new if we keep an open mind!  Motherhood is a tough enough job without alienating those we could possibly get support from.

Note: This is not intended to be a sexist article.  I am just not certain if this kind of competition exists for fathers because I have mostly seen women on these boards.  Any Dads out there with some input?


  1. I agree Beth--I'm not a Mom but I too prickle at all the condemnation of others and their choices. Everyone is trying to do the best for their child. Best doesn't have to mean doing things exactly the same. I joke and call the overbearing, lecturing Moms: "NaziMoms." Not very nice--but it very much describes the "Seinfield Soup Nazi-esque, my way or the highway, attitude."

  2. NaziMoms--I like it! I try very hard not to be one. I found myself having critical thoughts (though I don't think I expressed them out loud), and this combined with some heated forum posts got me thinking about the subject. It goes beyond motherhood, too, and I think it often is related to personal insecurity. At least it is for me!

  3. Excellent points! I have to say that some of those things don't change as the kids get older. Oh, the topics do - people don't ask me anymore if I used cloth diapers on Katie or how long I breastfed or when she was potty trained. But I often feel like I'm defending my choices when there are discussions about teens getting after school jobs, where they go to college, curfews, tv and computer time, allowances, and more. Heck, she's 18 and in college now and I still feel like I'm under scrutiny from the parenting police.

  4. When I was pregnant, it was the pregnancy police that got on my nerves. Now it's about parenting choices. I guess we all get emotional when we discuss our babies. Sometimes it's difficult to stay calm when another mom criticizes you. On the other hand, as I try to educate myself a lot, I often feel the need to comment on some things. For example, there are so many breastfeeding myths and I need to point out that they are not true. Some people take such comments personally. After all, it's very easy to offend someone on a forum, without personal contact.

  5. Oh, I think pointing out when something is a myth is a good thing. I just saw a post earlier where someone said all artificial sweetener is made with aspertame, but I didn't have the time to explain the truth via iPhone keyboard. It's the judgemental fighting that gets me!

  6. From what i've seen guys dint compete on this. If you are not complaining about how much your baby crys you must be doing it right. Right? I have heard of the much older competitive things, but mostly it's all about what you keep your kid from doing/seeing. This is mostly from older men 40s to 50s. Personally I remember being a kid and I know that they have all failed. If you have to forbid something and enforce it you just made finding out the forbidden thing priority number 1 for any kid worth their salt. I may be oblivious to most such things however since I don't give a flip about what the herd is doing most times. I make up my mind, do my thing, and try to say "oh really? That's nice.". Sometimes I fail but it's usually when someone brags about how many restrictions they put on their kids. Remember "Thou Shalt Not..." leads to "How Can I ...".