Drawing the battle lines
Parenthood can be the hardest job on the planet without letting competition with other mothers enter the equation, writes Olivia Willis
One of the best things about becoming a mum (apart from your gorgeous new baby of course) is making new mum friends.
From the ladies you giggle with in your antenatal class, to the mum of the baby born on the same day as yours in hospital, motherhood can introduce you to a new set of mates you never imagined you'd have. You can have a good moan together, laugh together, share experiences and you wouldn't be without each other.
As well as offering sympathetic nods and helpful 'advice', you might also drop into the occasional conversation that your baby had her photo taken for the hospital newsletter because they thought little Molly was just so beautiful, or how you were asked to give the other mums on the ward a breastfeeding lesson because you were just so darn amazing at it!
Don't be too embarrassed, the competitive mum rears its head a little in all of us at some stage. It starts with pregnancy. Tell the truth. Did you compare your bump with other women? Don't worry, you were not alone. Did any of you brag about your drug-free labour?
The element of competition runs into so many conversations with other mothers right up until your child collects his college degree. But why?
Is it because of anxiety and worry that our children's entire futures lie in our hands and if we don't do everything 'perfectly' from the beginning our kids will lose out and we will have only ourselves to blame? Does this insecurity make developmental details seem more crucial? Does it make us over-scrutinise our kids from the get-go so that instead of relishing in the fact that our child is walking or talking, we think about when it was exactly that his cousin started? Kids should not be judged on every aspect of their performance in life. It puts too much pressure on them and on us.
To be fair, we can all be guilty of a little competitive behaviour at some stage in our parenting career, but sometimes it can go too far. While it's only natural for any mum to want to sing her child's praises from the rooftops (we're all proud mamas) there is a line that some people can cross.
We all think our kids are great, but how do you cope with mums who won't stop bragging about how great their offspring are and how amazing their life is in comparison to everyone else's?
The way I see it, it is impossible to have a perfect house, an attentive husband and make the greatest sponge cakes the village has ever seen, all the time and yet ridiculously, there are some mums who are trying to and claiming to do just that. It is hard enough to cope with the lack of sleep, getting the children dressed and out the door and keeping to everyone's schedule without worrying about where you are on the perfect parent Richter scale today.
Clean shoes? Roger that! Brushed hair? Check. Fashionable coat? What? It is not the appearance of the children I am talking about, but the mums. Running the gauntlet of the school gates can be a real challenge for the modern-day parent once those baby years are over.
For some, school gate communities are almost tribal. I've heard of labels such as; Glamorous Mum, Wacky Mum, Slovenly Mum, Working Mum, Absent Mum, New Age Mum, Serious Mum, Loner Mum, PTA Mum and Late Mum! Some of the readers of our site www.familyfriendlyhq.ie have reported the school gate to really be a nest of vipers. The degree of one-upwomanship and competitiveness amongst 'some' mums once the school years start is unbelievable.
From producing the best cake for the school fair or getting the front seat at the annual nativity play, to making sure the children have all the latest technology and gadgets, there is stiff competition.
I'm sure to a large degree the real reason is them wanting the very best for their child, which is why they spend hours and hours handcrafting outfits for plays, or parking at the school 45 minutes before school ends, just so they can 'bags' the best car parking space. Similarly, the desperation of queuing up for the school play is only a result of them wanting to get the very best view of their little one performing, but I have personally seen mums elbowing each other out of the way and in one instance behaving very badly.
Maybe one of the hardest things to deal with when your child starts school is that you end up back in the schoolyard yourself. I'm now at that point in my life where I have enough friends and enough confidence that I don't need to be liked by strangers in a schoolyard. But there was a time, when I was that new school mum and I so desperately wanted to be 'in'. Several years on, I find myself well able to be mindful of the competitiveness out there.
For those of you who have experienced the overly competitive mother, it's understandable if you end up feeling judged (let alone ticked off). So choose to spend time with others who you believe have a healthier view on raising children. Easier said than done I know.
For many mothers, failure to step up to the mark and magic up home-made cupcakes feels like letting the side down. And the pressure to join in, and be seen to join in - always chirpy, full of beans and perfectly attired - can be exhausting. Perhaps the answer, as always, falls somewhere in the middle. But just make sure it's your middle and not someone else's.
Unfortunately, some mums handle the stress of trying to be the perfect parent by obsessively justifying the decisions they make. They become so convinced of the rightness of their parenting philosophy they can lose perspective. In truth, there is no one right way to parent. Decisions that are right for one family may not be for another.
Alpha-mums, mammy police, tiger moms. Whatever you want to call them, competitive mothers exist, and they can take you from feeling like Superwoman to utter failure in seconds, but only if you let them.
My advice in a nutshell? Be secure in your own decisions. When you feel good about your own decisions, you will feel less of a need to justify your actions to others.
If you find yourself threatened by competitive mothers keep reminding yourself that you are the best mother for your kids and that they love you. No one can parent your child the way you can, and no mother can do a better job than you raising your own children.
The best way to deal with competitive mothers is setting a good example. Be and act like the kind of mum you want to see in the world. Rise above the competitiveness and the judgement. No one's mummy job is on the line.
Olivia Willis is the co-founder of www.familyfriendlyhq.ie, an Irish family website with information for parents, things to do, daily blogs, reviews and expert family advice.