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What’s the Problem with a Little Mompetition?

I took my daughter to the park for playgroup. She decides to swing. I cringe knowing what she is going to say when swinging: “Weeeee…Fly like an Angry Bird!” Oh no, she said it. I’ve now been outed as a bad mom who lets her toddler play Angry Birds. What happened instead was that the mom next me said, oh, my son loves that game, too! A sense of relief overcame both of us.

A mompetitor is a mother who is always trying to one up every other mom in ear shot…

The newest way to divide mothers is to call another mom a mompetitor. A mompetitor is a mother who is always trying to one up every other mom in ear shot. “My 2 year old can count in Mandarin, I’m just worried she’ll be bored when she gets to kindergarten.” “Oh your son isn’t potty trained yet… Huh?” Competitive mothering, known as the mompetition, pits one mompetitor against another in a battle to the death. Well maybe that’s a bit extreme, but you get the idea. I’ll admit, the first time I saw the mompetition videoI laughed out loud and shared it on facebook. After I saw other status updates from people referring to other mothers as mompetitors, I began to think that maybe it wasn’t so funny anymore. The mompetition provides a nice illustration from Herbert Blumer’s Symbolic Interactionist Theory. His first point is

  • “human beings act toward things on the basis of the meanings the things have for them”

In other words, if we believe that a mom sharing information about her parenting is doing so to demonstrate superior motherhood, then we believe she is a mompetitor. We discount what she has to say because she is sharing to compete and not sharing to be helpful to you in any way.The term mompetitor came about to poke fun at the competitiveness of moms.This term, however entertaining, works to silence and isolate mothers.So when I tell you that my child was potty-trained at two and your three-year-old is not yet potty trained, you are likely to believe that the only reason I am sharing this information is to one-up you and demonstrate that I am the superior mother (and that my child is clearly more advanced than yours).It is easy to see how we reach these conclusions because sometimes information is shared to explicitly demonstrate good motherhood, which brings me to Blumer’s second point:

  • “the meaning of such things is derived from, or arises out of, the social interaction that one has with one’s fellows.”

Much of our lives are structured as competition, so it becomes easy to begin viewing every interaction as a competition rather than as sincere and non-competitive. Whether competition is obvious, like in sports, or more subtle like that portrayed in bumper stickers proclaiming your child’s honor roll status or your own child’s ability to beat up said honor roll child, like it or not, competition is part of most of our daily lives. Mommy warsare nothing new, but what is new is how pervasive they have become thanks in part to social networking where your every post related to motherhood will be dissected by your “friends”.How’s a mom to deal? Well, you could just avoid other mothers. Avoiding other mothers really isn’t the best idea. Raising children is hard enough; we shouldn’t do so in isolation. Let’s take a look at Blumer’s third point:

  • “these meanings are handled in, and modified through an interpretive process used by the person dealing with the things he [sic] encounters.”

Mompetitiveness clouds the interaction between moms even if they are not trying to one up each other. If I say something that I think could be interpreted as being mompetitive, I can preemptively limit accusations of being a mompetitor by my own actions. I do this by attaching the phrase “every kid is different” to every conversation with other mothers I have about my child or their own so that I am less likely to be seen as a mompetitor. Another tactic is to share the bad along with the good to lessen the likelihood of being mistaken for a mompetitor. But, is this really ideal? Why not trust that another person is simply sharing just to make a connection with you rather than sharing to one-up you?

Dig Deeper:

  • How does language (like the word “mompetitor”) influence our understanding of a group of people (like moms as a group)?
  • What are the implications of viewing motherhood as a competition? What does this teach children? What does it say about our society?
  • In what other ways is parenting viewed competitively? Have you seen examples of this in your own life?
  • How else has competitiveness infiltrated other relationships? Are you competitive with your siblings? Your friends? Your classmates? How might these relationships change if the competitive element were removed from the relationship? Can you think of strategies to eliminate or lessen the competitive nature of your relationships?