This morning I was reading my email and an MSN headline caught my attention: Five tips to handle competitive moms. This is a topic that interests me - but perhaps not for the obvious content.
If you read the article (which will take all of 5 minutes... it has all the depth of a pancake), the basic idea is that many women have difficulty adapting to the notion of self-as-mother and so alienate the women around them by wrapping up their identities in their kids and bragging/competing constantly. Sorry, but I call BS on this tired issue.
Do some parents get competitive? Sure. Are some parents overly involved in the achievements of their kids? Probably. But there's so much gray area between being too involved vs. not involved enough... and every article you read will make you worry that perhaps you're too ______ (pick any quality, there's a parenting magazine article out there that can make you feel inferior, if you take it seriously).
But these particular missives are the most distasteful to me. It falls into the manufactured "Mommy Wars" category. If I believed the headlines or the characters on popular shows, I'd think that women were a bunch of shallow materialistic jerks who thought about little besides using their kids to satisfy their own egos. Whatever. I'm tired of articles that state that work-outside-the-home mommies think stay-at-home mommies are spoiled and backwards. I'm tired of essays suggesting that stay-at-home mommies think work-outside-the-home mommies are selfish women who put material comforts above the welfare of their kids.
I have yet to meet or talk to any woman who truly discounts the mothers around her in such a judgemental, cavalier manner.
I have many friends who work outside the home and do a fabulous job of parenting... and from what they say, they've usually found that this arrangement works the best for their family for many reasons. They've never passed judgement on me for doing what works best for our family - even when it's different. I have many stay-at-home mama friends and don't know any of them to have harshly judged another mother for having a paid career.
The insidious message of such media - as I see it - is that women should believe that they are constantly under attack from the people they most need to support them.
Seriously. Popular media would have us believe that we are lazy and indulgent if we stay at home with our kids. They would have us believe that we are selfish if we choose to work for a paycheck. They would call us unwise if we don't put our kids in preschool and alarmist or over-protective if we homeschool... all the while trying to terrify us with stories of school violence and promiscuity. News would have us believe that all men are likely child molesters and that there is mortal danger around every corner. Don't praise your kids or they'll never find self-motivation. Don't be too critical or your kids will never have decent self-esteem. Don't feed them sugar or they'll suffer from countless health maladies. Don't deprive them of sugar or they'll have eating disorders. Put them in sports, piano lessons, countless enrichment activities or they'll always lag behind their peers and never get into good colleges. Don't overbook them or they might burn out.
Basically, everything you do will probably be wrong and any hardship your child ever encounters will be your fault.
And don't bother trying to have friends, because they're just judging you anyway.
Aaaaaargh! Enough already! Stop it!
I want to hear about my friends' accomplishments and the accomplishments of their children. I want to be included in their joys and sorrows. I want to be party of the good, the bad and the ugly. It's all part of life, and the more you make taboo - off-limits to discussion - the bigger the rift grows between people who should be supporting each other.
And whom, exactly, does this serve?
Well, I think it's pretty obvious. It serves all the companies who post the neat, colorful ads in strategic places around the article. The best way to make us buy crap we don't need is to make us fearful and overwhelmed with a false sense of inferiority. The more alienated we feel, the more desperate we'll feel to belong to something... to fit somewhere... and the more desperate we are for camaraderie and closeness, the more likely we are to keep our mouths shut and not rock the boat when we think the people around us concur with all the crap we're being fed.
There is no Mommy War. Your friends really do want to hear about the great things junior did, yesterday... and when they share their moments of joy and pride, it's not because they're competing, it's because they want to have someone to share in their happiness. Most of the other mamas out there support you! No matter what is said or unsaid. Is your child throwing a tantrum in the middle of the mall? Those looks you're getting probably aren't judgement. They probably mean that the people around you have been where you are and sympathize! They just don't dare say anything because they're so afraid it will come out wrong or you'll be mad if you know they noticed you're having a tough time.
Yes, sometimes the sahms will be jealous that the wohms get a paycheck and some adult conversation. Sometimes the wohms might feel a little jealous that the sahms are getting more one-on-one time with their little ones. That's HUMAN and has nothing to do with whether one group supports the decisions of the other.
The vast majority of us are doing our very best to navigate this life and do the best we can for our families. Don't let some advertising agenda convince you otherwise.