Staying Home Instead
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 20 No. 2, March-April 2003, p. 60"Staying Home Instead" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
I'm staying at home with my first child. I have found a nice group of other mothers who are my new peer group. I'll admit, though, that I'm a little shocked over the competitiveness that I sometimes see in the group. I was unprepared for the gossip and pettiness. Issues such as when a baby starts solids, what kind of diapers are used, and how often someone takes her child to the doctor can brand a mother in this crowd. How have other women dealt with motherhood-as-competition?
I know the feeling. I joined a playgroup with my toddler and infant. I thought it would be a good way for me to make friends while keeping my children occupied. I soon discovered that I didn't always agree with what these mothers wanted for their babies. Some wanted their child to sleep through the night; some supplemented with formula; some weaned before one year; and many compared their children to everyone else's and were very aware of who was ahead and behind.
I felt odd from the beginning. I didn't stop going to the group since I thought the socialization was good for my children. I was polite and considerate, but didn't really take part in some conversations. I listened. If I heard a concern, I tried to make suggestions. If I heard things that I thought were absolutely wrong or an old wives' tale, I certainly spoke up. I did not hide how I did things. If asked, I answered honestly. I did my best to stay out of the comparisons, gossip, and pettiness. I simply kept an eye on my children and was pleasant to the other women in the group.
They started to ask me more and more questions, but I still felt out of place. Over time, I noticed some of the competitiveness slowed and the pettiness seemed to slack off. I don't know if this was because I showed disinterest or because the others had gotten to know each other more. I always tried to say something kind to everyone and asked questions about their children. While I still felt different, the differences seemed more accepted.
The playgroup eventually ceased to exist and I have not gotten involved in another. Now, I try to have my children around their family more often. This is similar to the playgroup idea. They play with their cousins and I talk with my in-laws and enjoy more family closeness. I do get involved on a few select "comfortable" mothering groups online through bulletin boards and I try to get involved in other groups of interest away from mothering, so there is no comparisons of children. These are mature groups that are very structured, so there isn't a lot of time for pettiness and gossip (or I leave before it takes place). It also helps to be strong in my faith and to not lower myself to that level. And, of course, La Leche League Groups in my area are a big help! I am lucky that there are many in this area, and if I really need to, I am able to attend more than one meeting a month, as there are so many different LLL Groups here.
I wish you the best of luck in dealing with this situation. Follow your heart and if it feels uncomfortable, do not hesitate to speak up or drop out of your group.
Cleveland OH USA
How wonderful that you have found a group of other mothers to spend time with. I understand, as I worked full-time until my son was born and knew no one who had children until he came along. I hadn't bothered to meet anyone in my neighborhood either, since before I started staying home my apartment was just a place to sleep! It is so important to have friends who understand both the joys and the less-pleasant moments of new motherhood.
Now to answer your question of how to deal with motherhood-as-competition. Don't! I had a difficult cesarean birth, and at first I wasted a lot of energy feeling bitter when other women talked about their wonderful natural birth experiences. This could have turned into a form of competition if I'd let it. Instead, I chose to focus on the points we did have in common. I knew I needed all the friends and support that I could get, even if we didn't always see eye to eye.
It was very hard to avoid comparing my baby and my parenting practices to those of the other mothers I knew, but it helped me to remind myself that each baby and each family is unique, and that my son would develop at his own pace. This attitude still helps me now. My son is two, and I sometimes encounter other mothers who find it odd that I'm still breastfeeding him and trying to practice loving guidance instead of punishing him.
As for dealing with gossip, politely make it clear that you aren't interested in hearing it, and attempt to change the subject with a smile. In a roomful of babies, there is always something else to talk about. Good luck with your mother-friends, and most importantly, enjoy your baby!
Quenby Hoffman Aoki
If the competitiveness and pettiness continues, I would recommend that you find a new group. When mothers are competitive and judgmental this early over silly things such as diaper brands and milestone timelines, it is indicative of things to come. I hope to raise my daughter to be her own person while not relying on making others feel badly in order to make herself feel better. To introduce your child into a world that is competitive and judgmental this early would do him or her no favors.
Kelly Phillips Erb
Philadelphia PA USA
I am a mother of two daughters (three and 15 months). I have encountered these competitive feelings many times. I feel that it boils down to the fact that mothers are not supported enough in our culture and our insecurities show through our judgment of others.
It is important to note that mothering children is very individual and unique for each family. For instance, I felt judgment from a close friend because I had an epidural during my labor and I gave my baby a pacifier. I realized, although it was painful to feel judged, that this individual did not experience my labor pain and did not have an infant who refused the breast (due to a forceful let-down and overabundant supply) but wanted to suck. I also realized that the judgment was unconscious on her part and not intended to cause me pain.
I can also say that I have judged others, and it happened to be during a time when I constantly questioned what I was doing as a mother. When I found support and gained validation and self-confidence through LLL, friends, and my husband, my judgments slowly dwindled away. If we, as mothers, replace judgment with empathy we could evolve into more caring beings. The best way to deal with "motherhood-as-competition" in your peer group is to set a good example and maybe try to empathize with those whom these people are speaking of rather than not saying anything at all.
Park City Utah USA
Welcome to the reality television show of "Motherhood in the Hen House." Some of the other hens love to cluck on every subject and comment on how each hen is or should be taking care of her little chicks. When hens start clucking, just smile, pick up your baby chick, and give him or her the biggest hug. Your child is your focus. Your love is your bond. You care because you obviously are a very conscientious mother. You can, point blank, mention how you never knew everything was so competitive and call them on it to show how you are feeling. Maybe it will open the group up to another level. Ultimately, you have the choice as to whether you participate in the hen's game. There are many hen houses to be found. If the clucking gets too intense, bit by bit, get involved in other activities. This will widen your circle.
Belleville Ontario Canada