The dirty truth about competitive parenting

Sep 12, 2010 at 9:53 a.m. ET

Competitive parenting. It could be a national sport for as much as it is practiced. Whether you are in the supermarket or out on the local playground, everywhere you go Uber Moms are waiting to face off in the Momolympics with their little two-year-old geniuses who can speak three foreign languages, do calculus word problems, consume three pounds of kale and find a solution for world hunger all in a single sitting.

competitive mom

Competitive Mothering -- The New Olympic Sport

Breastfeeding. Potty training. Sleep habits. Diet. Education. Television. Toys. Competitive parents have an opinion about everything and they are more than willing to share it with you, which would be fine if sharing was their only motive. But, in fact, their true motive is to make you feel inferior in order to hide their own insecurities.

How many times have you been suddenly sideswiped by perfectly manicured talons of Alpha Mom during playgroup when you thought you were just having friendly conversation? "Oh," she says while eyeing your child who is currently having a standoff with the broccoli served at lunch. "Did I tell you that my little Ashton just LOVES vegetables? I just can't keep enough edamame and brussel sprouts in the house for him."

Or the lady who you met while casually standing in line at the grocery store, "Oh really? You only breastfed for three months? That's probably why your baby has that terrible cough now."

Nobody's Perfect -- Not Even Alpha Mom

Truth be told, it's really quite easy to fall into the trap of competitive parenting, because deep inside, we all want to think we are good parents. We work hard every day to make good choices and raise our children according to the highest standards. We educate ourselves about the differences between organic and conventionally grown foods. We try to set good limits and boundaries for junk food, television, video games and media exposure. We spend hours researching the best ways to potty train or get our child to sleep through the night.

The problems begin when we put other parents down in an attempt to make ourselves feel better. Parenting is not easy and viewing it as a competitive sport just makes it that much more challenging. Dr. Robi Ludwig, psychotherapist, explains why new mothers may feel the need to compete with one another. "When women are in a transition mode -- which can happen when they become mothers -- their identity shifts. This can get some moms to second-guess themselves and their lives. When new moms question themselves, some use competitive talk as a way to bolster their shaky self-image."

Stand Your Ground

When we understand the competitive vibe as just another manifestation of parental anxiety, which we all suffer from occasionally, it is easier to know how to handle Uber Mom and her kale-munching nursery school genius. Rather than getting sucked into defending your child, say something encouraging like, "Wow. That's great." And then keep on trucking. There are plenty of supportive moms out there with whom you can form friendships where you can build each other up rather than tear each other down.

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