By Charity Hagains MA, LPC-S-S
My son scooted his chair forward racing to an imaginary finish line next to his friend while I laughed, “Why are boys always so competitive? Is it just a boy thing that I don’t understand because of my ovaries?” I asked my friend who laughed and said, “I think so.” Later it occurred to me, no, it’s not just a boy thing.
In truth, we women are much more competitive than men but about very different things. I didn’t understand why the two boys competed in everything from who ate their food fastest to who could cast their fishing rod the furthest. Yes, it was partly because I have ovaries in the sense that as a little girl and a grown mother, I don’t compete for fastest, strongest, smartest awards. The awards women seek are inline with our self-image, such as attractiveness, parenting, relationship status, and how positively others perceive us.
From an early age, we begin to compete with other women in areas of popularity and who is “prettier,” who has the best clothes, and who has the cutest boyfriend. It’s an endless list that grows as we do following us into our adulthood, and sadly, our motherhood.
New categories to compete in emerge such as: who has the biggest house, the smallest waist, the longest marriage, the smartest children, throws the best birthday parties, etc.? In turn, entire friendships and families are damaged or severed due to the constant pressure that competing brings.
From my experience motherhood is where the real WWE battle goes down. We can tear each other to pieces faster than we can fake a smile. “I heard she didn’t breastfeed.” “She works full-time, never home in time to get her kids from school.” “Look how short her dress is – that’s inappropriate for a mother.” “She is so overweight, of course her children are too.” These aren’t imaginary statements I made up for the sake of providing you with examples to bring clarity to my point. These are conversations I have heard in the lastweek.
To be honest until I asked why boys are so competitive and started thinking about the subject, I didn’t even realize these statements were meant for competition. I saw rude gossip, but not, “I’m better than she is.” Unfortunately, that is exactly what they are. Motherhood is damn scary. I have fought the good fight against fear every minute of every day since I gave birth to my daughter. I have a wealth of tactics to fight against feelings of vulnerability, and yes, I am guilty of pointing the gun at the other moms around me for nothing more than to give me a short-lived moment of, “Well I’m bad, but she is worse” satisfaction.
That’s what it is when I rip away the BS. I feel inadequate, and my brain scrambles for someone I can point to and shout, “BUT YOU ARE WORSE.” Interestingly enough, that one reactionary behavior is what ultimately causes my inadequacy. When we don’t support each other as mothers, we are inadvertently condemning ourselves and those around us to feelings of shame when we make that inevitable mistake in our parenting. Parenting is basically a series of mistakes, and like life, the best thing we can do is learn from them and move forward. Too often, we take a short detour from the moving on path to fire a shot off at one of our fellow moms as a response to our own fear and pain.
The mommy wars that erupt around us cut us off from the support we desperately need as mothers. Rather than creating an environment of exclusivity, anxiety, and shame, I challenge my fellow warriors to change the narrative and the outcome.
I invite you to try on compassion, inclusion, community, and support, and tell me if it’s not a better fit. Use empathy when you see a struggling mom (even if you don’t know her). A gentle smile can go a long way. Imagine if on those days that your child is throwing the fit and a woman passed by how differently might you feel if she patted your back and said “I’ve been there,” rather than smirk her disapproval as she walked on by.
What if we didn’t mentally beat ourselves up every time we weren’t “perfect” but reached out to mothers who we knew would offer us a supportive ear and respond with the compassion we needed? How might this change our day and our parenting? What kind of mothers would we be then? Could we be more attentive, more caring, more patient, more satisfied? I believe we can.
Happy Mothers Day to all the women in our world that give us our joy, our laughter, our strength, and their love!