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Sunday, June 30, 2013

In A Mommy War Nobody Wins

One of my pet peeves is how terrible women can be to each other. Almost nowhere is it more apparent than how we compete as mothers. From eying the lunches the other mom's make and what they are wearing, we judge, we snark and beat ourselves up for never being enough.

Headlines scream, "Body after baby!" and we look on  in awe as celebrities, seemingly overnight, are back in the minus-sized jeans looking rested and blissful. Occasionally a celeb will come forward and share their stories of post-baby depression, but for the most part we expect to pop babies out and snap back into shape pronto. And that is only the beginning. After that it is off to the races.

Through my own children's school years I witnessed women competing over getting to be room mother for their child's class, making the best costumes for Halloween and cupcakes for birthday parties. There was a never-ending gauntlet to run and never win. I endlessly compared myself to mothers I thought were doing it better, doing more and looking beautiful while doing it. I truly felt like I was never enough.

And this was before mommy blogs and Pinterest. In many ways I was lucky, my children, now all young adults, came of age in a somewhat less competitive time. The world pre-Internet was smaller and less intimidating. Now, there is no escaping how you're falling short. It's right there on your friend's Facebook pages, in the crafts you've pinned, and on the cover of US Magazine. You're not throwing a Game of Thrones themed party for your 12-year-old, and you're certainly not a millionaire mom-preneur rocking size 2 jeans while balancing a baby on one hip, and your vegan-friendly, uber-chic designer bag on the other. And as they grow the platforms for competition only gets worse.

I have been on both sides of the mommy war lines. Two of my children were super successful in high school, my daughter went to Wellesley College, and her brother had a great academic scholarship to Northeastern University. Both graduated and are self-sufficient and doing great, interesting, creative things with their lives.

My oldest son didn't go to college. He became a heroin addict. It's hard to feel like you've won the mom war when your child becomes a junkie. I learned the hard way to know who your real friends are, and how toxic and hurtful judgment can be.

I've had to admit to myself that had I only had my two younger children it would have been easy to judge other parents whose children dropped out of school, or had addiction issues. When faced with the issue myself I was humbled. I now knew there were no guarantees of perfect children, no matter what sugar-free, additive free cereal you bought them.

Parenting is hard, and it's also a bit of a crap shoot. Most of us are truly trying our best, even if it doesn't look that way to you. At a certain point we eventually realize (hopefully) that we have little control over what choices our kids make.  We can guide them as best we can, love them and be there to help find a different school, heal after a loss, or heaven forbid, find a rehab center.

What we really need is support, and perspective. We need to know in the long-run, baby Isabelle walking at nine months doesn't meant she's going to be more successful that Coco who is taking her own sweet time. And we need to be kind to each other, which starts with being kinder to ourselves.

Of course I blamed myself when my son was an addict. But it wasn't my fault, anymore than my daughter going to the same college as Hilary Clinton was my achievement. I also can't take credit for my son's long-term sobriety either, but I can be proud of the fact that I never gave up on any of them.

We need to stop being a culture of compare and contrast. Our insides will never compare to the outsides we see staring back from the magazine racks, or the moms we really don't know who we see at gymnastics. The next time you find yourself resenting the woman in front of you getting coffee because she looks so pulled together while you've got on yoga pants and tank top, take a minute to realize she's got her stuff too, and she may be thinking, "wow, I wish I had her thighs, I never go to the gym, I suck." We are all in it together. Stop judging what everyone else is doing, and most of all stop judging yourself.