Don’t get me wrong, the vast majority of women that I met through having my baby are fantastic. I had feared that when I became a mum my social life would be over, but in fact it’s boomed. My NCT group were (and still are) a wonderful support when it’s all too much and I need a chat.
The friends I have made at classes and groups are great fun, and it’s been brilliant to meet some people outside of work.
We’ve become close very quickly, as people do when they share a life-changing event, and I’ve felt more surrounded by friends in the last year than during the rest of the five years we have lived here.
I could eulogise on these women for hours, but there is a thorn in the rose. Every now and then, I have met a competitive mother, whose desire to make sure that everyone else knows that she has the most beautiful and intelligent baby on the planet makes a coffee morning feel like the Krypton Factor.
I like telling other mothers about my baby’s achievements (what mother doesn’t?), but I do make a conscious effort to shut my mouth and listen to what the other babies have been up to.
I know that I am wearing mummy-tinted spectacles, and that only my husband is as interested in our baby as I am. But why can’t we stop ourselves wanting to tell the world that our baby is the best?
American psychotherapist and television host Dr. Robi Ludwig suggests that ‘Many women are used to the business world, where they are required to prove themselves on a regular basis. This approach then gets transferred into their parenting style’. Certainly, for women in some business environments it can be necessary to ‘play hard ball’ to get promoted or even simply command respect. However, the scenarios in which I have met these women are decidedly unbusiness-like, taking place as they do on someone’s lounge floor whilst cleaning sick off the carpet with a baby wipe.
Another explanation, suggested by numerous psychologists, feminists and mothers, is that becoming a parent is like joining a new profession. Most people enjoy being told by their colleagues that they are doing a good job, and actively ensure that their managers know just how indispensible they are. It feels good to know that your workmates and your boss think highly of what you are doing. It’s natural to want that same warm glow from being told that you are doing a good job of being a parent, and so people tend to run off at the mouth about their baby’s successes, which are (of course) down to their amazing parenting ability.
Whatever the reason for it, the fact is that competitive mothers can drive you to distraction. To keep your coffee mornings cool you might find it helpful to:
1. Remind yourself that she’s trying to impress you, which means that she cares about what you think. This is a complement.
2. Consider that she might be having a tough time in another area of her life, and that talking up her baby makes her feel better.
3. Just go with it, and come back with a non-competitive response s to diffuse a one-upmanship conversation.
4. Have your own idea of what success is, rather than measure your baby’s achievements by someone else’s criteria.
5. Mull over the idea that her baby really might be that brilliant!
Avoiding turning into a competitive mother yourself needs a little more effort. There is no Mum-ometer that we can measure ourselves against to find out how we are doing as parents, and so we gauge ourselves by how our babies are doing in comparison to their peers. You could go mad trying to ignore this so don’t try, but keep your conclusions to yourself and don’t give them too much headspace. Focus instead on what makes your baby unique and inimitable. After all, you know that your baby is the most amazing child that ever lived, so who cares what anyone else thinks?