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Earlier this week, I had to send the decline RSVP to my daughter’s teacher about a Mother’s Day Tea that they’re hosting (today actually!). I was sad about having to decline, but a work project about 30 miles away needed me. I’ve been slowly dipping my toes back into full-time work so I needed to be there. I was shocked and a little saddened when I got the guilt-trip email in response, pointing out that the class had prepared for a long time and worked really hard for this special event. While I don’t doubt that in the least… why was this the response? Why was the focus on the negative rather than spinning it into something positive? Was this an effort at mom shaming? Or worse… was this an effort to pit me in competition with those mothers who could come? Why is motherhood a competition?
In theory, I’m advanced enough to pretend to not be in competition with other mothers, but let’s face it: sometimes motherhood competition is almost like a blood sport. How often do we find the one mother in the crowd that we can pick out and pick on? I mean, the theory is we denigrate other mothers so we can feel better about ourselves, but honestly? Who are we kicking while they’re down?
The mom whose yoga pants are three days old and look and smell like it?
The mom whose toddler is flat-out losing it in the Target checkout line?
The mom who only had time to stop by the grocery store on the way in to get an impersonal birthday card for the teachers?
The mom who sends their kid to school with Lunchables?
The mom who has the courage and bravery to go out into the world a little rough and vulnerable because she has no time or energy to do anything but be courageous and brave?
So the question bears repeating: Why is motherhood a competition?
I think there is way too much truth in what feels like a pop-psychology colloquialism Hurt people hurt people but what if when we hurt other mothers with our words and side-eye glances that we’re really hurting ourselves? Hurt people hurt people, true, but when that resentment transforms into poison, we as mothers are doing more damage to ourselves than we bargained for.
Why is motherhood a competition? I think, in part, because it’s become part of our mantra. We’re conditioned to judge and project so the working mother might think that the stay-at-home mom is lounging about while the stay-at-home mom is sure that the working mom doesn’t love her kids enough to be with them (here’s a quick hint: I’ve done both stints and I’ve gotta say that the grass is always greener).
So let’s change this pretext as our precept. Let’s adopt a new mantra, moving beyond mere utterances to something that we can become, maybe something a little more open-hearted and compassionate.
Plenty of other bloggers will tell you that you’re a good mom and you have perfect moments. Others will tell you that you are the perfect mom for your kids. But, friend, let me be perfectly clear: some days you will feel like you don’t measure up to any of that but at the end of the day you are not a less than mom. You are not less than the mom who made gluten-free cupcakes from scratch. You are not less than the mom who has a supply closet overflowing with crafts. You are not. You are not a less than mom.
Growing up, we would talk a lot about our guidepost, our measuring stick. Sure we should strive to do great things and maybe get straight A’s, but maybe calculus is hard and you’re lucky to swing a C+. Maybe you need your kids to sleep in another room so you can have a stretch of time when your space is your own. Whichever you choose, that’s what works for you. You’re not supposed to be as great as Martha Stewart; she’s already taken. So leave perfect in the dictionary.
Even if all of the above fail, even if you still feel a little hurt and raw… you can do today. Why is motherhood a competition? It doesn’t have to be. You can do compassion today. You can do kindness today. You can do a small smile or a deep breath. You can tell me what your new mantra is in the comments.