Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mompetition: What it is and how to avoid it.

(Sorry for the long absence, my day job is suddenly very busy, which is a great sign for our economy. If the arts are picking up, certainly other industries are as well! But it means less posting, apparently. We will return to Sewing Week after this brief interruption!)

From the day our babies are born, us Mothers are entered into the Mompetition Games. How big was your baby? Eight pounds? Puh-lease. Little Elsie was eight and half pounds! You don't know what a big baby is!

As they grow, it goes on. How much are they eating? How long are you nursing? Does your child eat sushi or just chicken nuggets? What growth percentile are they in? Do they know their letters and colors? Oh, pfft. Mine knew the alphabet at six months. And you are teaching Baby Signs, right? We've moved on to pre-algebra, the first grade math program is just boring her. Oh, you're just doing General Education? We're doing the Special Curriculum, we just think it's best for Junior.

Yeah. You know what I'm talking about.

It's annoying as all hell, because no matter what your child does or did or could ever hope to do is certain to be bested by some Goody-Two-Shoes Mom who is defining herself through her child and their acheivements. Even if those acheivements are little more than having the biggest fecal production of the day in the pediatrician's office, this mom takes the spotlight by proxy.

It was Mompetition that drove me from the playgroups early on in my parenting career. I simply could not tolerate the constant inference that my son was somehow inferior because he could not "sign" for water at three months, and that I was an inferior parent for not doing math flashcards at three weeks. After getting the stinkeye for admitting that I had trouble nursing in the early days, I just decided these women weren't worth my time. (Double mastitis? Clearly I had done something wrong, was their implication.)

So for years I operated safely outside the Mompetitor games. I just collected Stitch from Preschool, nodded politely at the other mothers and made a hasty exit. I didn't bother answering questions about diet, study habits or bowel movements.

Then Stitch began Figure Skating, and I inadvertently entered the Mompetitor Olympics.

He's stuck at Freestyle Three? Oh... *insert subtle look*

And somehow your child's inability to master a complex skill overnight becomes a reflection on you. Honestly, sometimes I think I'd rather say that Stitch has a drinking problem than say he's still working through the Change Foot Spin, just because I can't stand that Judgey Look. (I believe my detractors have used the terms "struggling with," which I find to be disheartingly mean. I struggle with separating grocery carts. I am working through forward crossovers, a new skill.)

Conversely, if you have a child who can skate, who really does master complex skills overnight, you're in for a different world of hurt. Yesterday I received a gift of chocolate from a fellow skating mom, thanking me for "being so nice."

All I do is talk to her while the kids have lessons. We talk food, our various craft projects, pets, school, homework, politics, and occasionally, skating. But really, she gets a lot of cold shoulder at that rink, and I think it has a lot to do with how her little girl owns that ice. She's blowing away Freestyle Four at the moment, much to the consternation of a Mompetitor who does nothing but give Other Mom the silent treatment.

As a mom, it's all too easy to fall into the trap of defining yourself through your child. When your child does great things, of course you are proud and want to share that success. It's certainly cool to be the "Mother of the Awesome Kid." But when you fall into that pit, you run the risk of exposing yourself to severe ego damage when your child falters, fails, or even worse, is outperformed by another child. And if you don't think that's going to happen, think again.

What makes it worse is the weird imperative that your child must Figure Skate as a "Serious" Competitor or not at all. ("Your child just does ISI competitions? Pfft, we switched out of that long ago.")

Once you and your child's performance are linked, you simply cannot face those Other Moms with children you percieve as better than yours, nor can you spend enough time around those moms with children who are behind yours in their skillset. Your friendships at the rink are suddenly terribly limited, based on fragile terms, and very often under false pretenses. Is that any way to lead a Social Life?

Other Mom often hung out in the lobby, just doing her own thing, and yes, she did seem a little aloof. But one day I introduced myself and struck up a conversation with her. As it turns out, she's in the lobby because her daughter wants her there and it's too cold in the rink anyway. It had nothing to do with her personality, which is warm, funny and inviting.

So, how do you avoid Mompetition? Just don't buy it.

Whenever someone starts talking smack about another Mom, smile and nod, and gently steer the conversation to something else. If they insist, find somewhere else to be. (The Booth. The Cafe. The Broom Closet. Anywhere.) If you see a mom hanging out alone, say Hi. If you meet a new family at the rink, be nice.

And when you meet a Mom who is making dubious choices in pursuit of their child's skating, simply mind your own backyard, stay out of their way, and try to be a positive influence.

We're just here to skate. No one at the rink is curing cancer or writing a Middle Eastern Peace Treaty. It's just figure skating. Do unto others as you would have them not talk about you when you go to the bathroom.


  1. I don't think anyone means anything negative by "struggle through." I certainly use that all the time with respect to whatever my own daughter is having difficulty mastering at the moment, and she uses that term about her own efforts. Change foot spin is something many kids struggle with - its why most take FS3 2 or three times before passing. FS4 is even worse - ever more kids struggle with the sit spin and I have noticed that many of the kids take that one for close to a year before passing. And there is the axel of course, they all seem to struggle with that for a year or more before landing it cleanly and consistently.

  2. Oh, Mer, mompetition never goes away. When I got promoted to Colonel, my mom played that promotion at her bridge game with other elderly moms as carefully as she'd play a hand of double no trump.

    1. Oh that made me laugh Babbette! After my husband separated from the AF, his Mom still addressed all our letters to 1st Lt. and Mrs. XYZ. He got a promotion to Captain, and the letters started coming to that. Since he was technically separated (ready reserves) he didn't even have ranks. It only changed now that she can call him Dr.

      I'm thankful our rink doesn't seem to have much of this. The Mom's are all really nice to each other, and many have tried a little skating themselves (due to ISI family events and a pushy coach). Maybe it helps that the majority of the rink is under one coach, and the kids with other coaches parents don't really hang out.

      I know I've always felt supported, not belittled, by the Moms in my attempts to ice skate. They all cheer for everyone.