Back to school, time to give up the Mompetition

 

Monogramed back packs with the matching lunch box, perfectly coordinated school supplies, signing up for 1 to 3 things a month on the class sign up genius and making sure the lunch boxes were packed “clean” (no processed foods, no food coloring, low gluten, lots of natural colorful foods from every food group … and absolutely nothing that another classmate would be allergic to).

If only I could go back and talk to the younger, much more stressed out me. I would remind that Pinterest-informed mamma of what she preached but fell short of practicing: those are all things that really don’t matter. If anything, they’re more counterproductive than helpful: trying to have everything perfect stresses you out, and (even worse) can be a stumbling block for other moms, fueling feelings of inadequacy and intimidation. And for many moms your attempt at perfection has the unintended effect of the gauntlet being laid down. spurring full-out competition mode straight out of a bad movie. Is there anything that can’t be monogramed? The hair bows, socks, pencil cases, school folder and class sweatshirt are all fair game, since after all she is just labeling them so they don’t get lost! But don’t fool yourself into thinking that all these things that you do are for the good of the child, the reality is they are an attempted band aid on a guilty conscious for when you’ve been less than perfect, or a little equity paid into the bank for the future mommy-flops that you know will come. My kids just remember the fun, the peace, the happy mom, the presence … just being there and being me for them is all they want.

Just this week another mom who was new to the Kindergarten scene had graciously volunteered to create and run the games for a class picnic. She went the classic route: the balloon sitting relay, bubble station, hot potato, and another relay that is matching. The children were thrilled and loved every minute of it. As this sweet Mamma looked around at what the other class moms had done for their games, she looked at me with a pained, defeated expression. The over-the-topness of the other moms’ games reduced this lovely woman to apologies that never should have been needed: she explained that she had not done this before, and she felt horrible because her games were classic and basic. Other moms had clearly spent hours scouring social media for the perfect party games and then re-theming to match this party. I turned to this Mamma and said, “You know what? Your games are perfect, actually … the kids will only remember that they had a great time and that you were here.”

Honestly, when I asked my older two what they remembered from the Teddy Bear Picnic in Kindergarten they said “oh yeah, I remember the Teddy Bear Picnic: we brought our stuffed animals, sat on blankets and played games.” Shamefully, I remember being one of “those moms” going all out with the games and feeling very proud of all the oohs and aaahs I received … not taking into consideration the feelings of the other moms around me that might not have had the time or the resources to bring the games to the semi-professional level.  Momming is a tough job and we need to take care of each other, and sadly this mom’s story is far from alone. In taking everything mommy does “for the good of the class” to the next level of amazing perfection, we’re crushing one another with expectations. We’re running ourselves ragged on things that just do not matter.

I am mostly counseling myself on this one, because of the semi-pro moms I have been one of the worst offenders. Looking back, I feel somewhat embarrassed for fostering these kinds of Mompetitions. One class party I took on in TK, I decorated a shade tent in a beach luau theme, had a blow-up palm tree bean bag toss, sand bottle decorating, a popcorn machine, pineapple shaped water bottles and table decorations.  You name it, we had it … and I had spent a month preparing for this. And does my son remember any of that detail?  Did all that effort impact his life?  After some prompting, all I get is a vague and rather uninspiring, “ohhh yeah … I remember that beach party.”  At least I can tell he’s not lying about it, even if it clearly didn’t move the needle in his life. 

As chief repenter, my call is to encourage moms to give up the Mompetition and get back to basics. The kids will have just as much fun.

I joke now that I am the Anti-stagemom/soccermom/dancemom. I show up, I am there, I sign up for snack. But what I am not doing is coaching my child from the sidelines, paying for private lessons on the side, uprooting our entire life for travel teams, observing every practice or being the pet-parent to the coach or instructor. My children participate, they do well enough (and depending on what it is, they may even excel) … but our life together as a family absolutely does not revolve around our children.  It has been an important step for us as a family for them to hear from us that they are important, but NOT the center of the universe, as if all of life revolves around them.  I do have some underlying fears about it, listening to the lies in my head that because I am not the helicopter mom or tiger mom. my kids are going to miss out and hate me for it someday.  I question my oldest: would you rather me stand by the theater door and listen, to give you tips afterward, or advocate on your behalf? Or hire a private coach to sharpen your field hockey skills? She always is so gracious to my Mamma-heart, telling me, “Mom, you are perfect! You’re there when I get finished, you bring stuff when I need it, I know you have my back. But you also let me fail so that I can learn, and let me have the independence to grow and be my own person, you let me figure it out.” (That sounds like she’s out of some fairy tale Christian parenting book, but this is who she is … a blessing to us.)  Now, I cannot say the same for my middle child. Just the other day he said, “Mom, why don’t you cheer for me during practice? You could wear my team colors, or wear one of those head bands with the soccer balls on it.” I explained that sorry buddy, I am just not that sort of mom. (Certainly not during practice!  Not even in my worst Mompetition moments!)

I think in no small part the parenting of this generation is a backlash of the parenting of the 70s and 80s, the first real generation affected by widespread divorce and the resultant latch key kids.  Overzealous parenting and a desire for perfection is the product of a generation that basically raised themselves.  I am not suggesting we go back to that at all, but what I am suggesting is a balance for the good of our children … and the good of our fellow moms in the cause. We all want the same thing: to raise good, balanced members of society, each amazing to us and incredible in their own way. But I have come to realize that does involve pulling back a little and not smothering our children (and each other) with our perceived notions of perfection.

Just a snippet of some Mompetition in the slide show!

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2 thoughts on “Back to school, time to give up the Mompetition

  1. Great words here. Our party was perfect! I’m so glad that you told that mom that it was just right because it was! She did exactly what she was asked to do…keep it simple! I did not even notice what the other classes did. The kids had a great time, and you are right…that is what they will remember.

    1. Thank You Marti. I know what it is like to be on both sides of the coin and I want to encourage all moms on each side of the equation to think others-first, like the Biblical pattern.

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