No One Wins at the Game of Competitive Parenting (Trust Me, I Know)

The following article was originally published on GrownandFlown.com.

It’s not like a gymnastics competition where the judges hold up scores at the end of a floor routine. It’s not like you can “stick the landing” either. It’s not like the announcement comes over the PA system: “A perfect 10! She’s achieved the perfect 10!”  No, a mother doesn’t stand on a podium, beaming at the end of the day, while the grand maternal order of the universe hangs a gold medal from her neck, declaring her the best of all time.

Hey, I’ll admit I played. Big time. This is a confessional and I was all in. I remember one year-end Prize Day when my kids all won the highest academic honors for their respective grades (I think my youngest was in Kindergarten, but hey) and a rival mother with four brilliant children passed me filing out of the assembly and whispered, “Three for three, I’m impressed.”

It’s embarrassing, and shameful but I’m just warning you once it starts, it’s hard to stop.

I’ve spent time reflecting on this (written a novel in fact) and am going to open the kimono a little further here to share some of why I fell prey. And since everything gets blamed on mothers, I’ll blame this one on mine. But really, as the only child of an alcoholic, dysfunctional marriage, my role in that happy little threesome was to put on a good face, achieve plenty and show the world everything was really okay. Not just okay, super! It took a long time to let the role of chief marketing officer go.

What was less unique to me and more of a universal experience, I believe, was choosing to be a stay at home mom in an era when many of my female friends were remaining in the workforce. After ten years of holding interesting and upwardly mobile positions in finance and retail, I decided to stay home after the birth of my youngest. Three babies in 60 months, just like clockwork, back then I was still trying to win points for Harvard Business School honed efficiency. I tried to do it all and be it all for a while, but that was a recipe for disaster. (See previous paragraph referring to alcoholic family). But in the recesses of my personality I still needed to prove that staying home was the right decision. Of course, I knew in my heart it was the right decision for me, but still, I needed to manifest that sentiment to the world. In the absence of semi-annual performance reviews, my children’s report cards were my tangible affirmation.

No matter how you ended up playing this insane version of Monopoly, when you find yourself tsk-tsking the foibles of other children, most likely children of parents who are not as committed/dedicated/present as you are, just stop. No matter how well you follow the rules, all children stumble, they all fall, they all feel pain, and from time to time, they all lose their way. When mine (now young adults) eventually had their moments, large and small, I felt shame over the superior air I’d taken. I’d been an asshole, not just strutting out of year end assemblies, but at the bus stop. Daily.  (And yes, I promise that I’m working on an epic article about the Beacon Hill bus stop!)

Don’t become the mother I recently spoke to who hired a consultant to help her college junior get a better internship. Get it under control now or you’ll be competing over who’s child makes more money, who marries better, who produces more grandchildren. JUST STOP.

Your child’s mental health and happiness is the most important thing. Turn your hovering energy inward, discover your own passion and invest time in whatever friendships you still have. If I could do it, so can you.

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