True Parent 5
“Michael, how much is 10 plus 12?” my sister-in-law asked my 6-year-old during a recent family reunion. She turned to her 5-year-old and asked the same question, clearly trying to demonstrate that her son was a better mathematician.
When she launched this competition, I felt a stab of fear—and confusion.
The moment took me back many years to middle school, when girls often competed over who boasted the best grades, most luxurious hair, prettiest face, or top soccer talent.
I didn’t like the Mean Girl Olympics then, and am tormented by them decades later. When mothers com-pete over who has the brightest, best-looking, or most talented child, nobody wins, and in some cases, the children, the mothers, their community, and their family suffers.
Unfortunately, as a mom, I’ve found it nearly impossible to gracefully extricate myself from the games in ways that preserve my friendships and extended family ties. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’ve been dumped, harassed, and even cyber bullied by other moms eager to prove that their kids are better than mine—and that they’re smarter, better educated, and superior mothers.
However, my painful experiences have taught me a few lessons. As a mom of a 6-year-old , 16-year-old, and 25-year-old, I’ve been mothering for a long time. I’ve learned to sense when the games are about to begin. I’ve learned to let the other moms win, and to walk away when they judge, jab, stab, or shout.
I haven’t always been so savvy.
Truth is, when I was a first-time mom 25 years ago, I took part in the Olympics. I wanted my child to be recognized as the smartest, quickest, most talented of all. I was an obnoxious sports parent who cheered my child and only my child from the sidelines, and bragged when my kid achieved in school. I also disagreed with other moms about how to raise our kids. I conveyed my opinions about the horrors of too much TV, the benefits of breastfeeding, and the dangers of too much sugar.
Jane, an extended family member with different values, challenged me, criticizing me to my friends, excluding me from certain family events, and even sending me hate messages via email.
In another painful incident, a longtime friend, Sarah, dumped me and my daughter, after my daughter was promoted in dance—and her child wasn’t.
Maybe I deserved to be bullied and dumped then, but I don’t deserve it now. My “Let Her Win” strategy, I keep hoping, will help me connect with mothers in non-competitive ways. But it doesn’t always.
And I think I’m finally beginning to understand why.
As parents, we can’t help but have passionate opinions about screen time, breastfeeding, kids’ sports, and discipline. Some of us—and I’m one of them—can’t help but express these opinions, often in competitive ways that don’t invite discussion.
Over the years, Sarah and I had tussled over our different parenting values. We disagreed about how much time kids should spend in front of computers and electronic gadgets, and competed over who was raising the most dedicated reader.
We argued about how much time children should commit to activities such as dance and sports. We couldn’t agree on how to respond to a child bully in our school. However, we kept talking, and I thought we had accepted each other’s differences over the years.
Truth is, we never did. And over the years, our differences became more pronounced.
So, here’s the question that has haunted me, along with these painful memories: As a mother, do I walk away from moms who compete with me and tune out mothers with different opinions than mine? And if I do this, what kind of message am I sending to my children? Or do I risk rejection and pain and try to communicate with and understand mothers who compete over our different values? In doing this, wouldn’t I be demonstrating to my children the importance of recognizing others’ differences and tolerating them?
The answer, I’ve decided, is yes, even if reaching out is scary and hurtful.
Recently, I emailed Jane (the extended family member who criticized me), explaining that I hoped we could overcome our past and try to get along, for the sake of our families. I explained that her hatred hurts my children. Her response was a vicious note proclaiming that I’m a screwed-up, bad mother, and she’s a great mom and superior human being. She said she loves my children but would never try to get along with me.
Yes, it hurt. But I’m glad I gave it a try.
And, as a recovering contender in the Mom Olympics, I keep trying. At our family reunion, I took part in a surprisingly civil conversation with one of my sisters-in-law about spanking. She explained that growing up in Latin America, it was common for parents to spank their kids, and she didn’t believe she suffered from it. She said she thought it was okay to spank her own kids.
I simply said I opposed spanking, and think there are kinder and more effective ways to discipline children.
Neither of us raised our voices. In fact, even though I disagree with this mom, I now feel closer to her.
Let’s see if I can take this even further. Let’s see if I can find ways to feel closer to other moms with different values—about screen time, breastfeeding, sports parenting, food, and other topics that push our buttons as mothers.
Hopefully, no mothers will emerge as victors, but as compassionate women who want to listen and understand.