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When Moms Verbally Attack Each Other, We All Lose

January 14, 2012

Competition among moms starts the minute we have our first child. Did you have a natural delivery or C-section? How much weight did you gain? Sometimes these questions are asked before the most important question of all: How are you and the baby doing?

The competition heats up when our babies reaches the infant stage. The topics available for moms to attack each other’s parenting choices are endless. Breast fed or formula fed? Cloth or plastic diapers? Homemade or store bought baby food? Organic fabrics or synthetics?

I’ll never forget sitting in the park when my daughter was about a month old. Feeding her a bottle, talking to a friend, a mom we didn’t know approached us. She interrupted our conversation to inform me that I was holding the bottle wrong and my baby might be taking in too much air. I calmly asked if she was a doctor. Of course she wasn’t. She was just a know-it-all-mom looking to put down a new mom. I ignored her and kept talking, confident my daughter would survive.

It’s a mystery to me why moms compete with each other endlessly, openly criticizing other moms—friends and strangers alike—over parenting decisions big and small. It’s mean and hurtful. It’s all about the “right” choices or the “best” way to parent. Of course, the “right” way is always the method used by the mom dispensing the advice. I’ve never heard someone say, “I learned the hard way, my obsession with designer baby clothes drained our family budget and didn’t really make a difference.” It just doesn’t happen that way.

We compete with each other over issues that are both important and inconsequential. The stay-at-home mom competes with the working mom. The “perfect” mom competes with the frazzled mom. The private school mom competes with the public school mom. It’s toxic and virtually impossible to avoid.

Aren’t we enlightened, postmodern moms who are just trying to do the best we can for our kids? If so, why are moms verbally attacking each other at every opportunity? It seems like some moms are trying to do it all for their kids at the same time they make sure to hurl just the tiniest insult at another mom, often in front of a group so everyone can hear.

These little digs really hurt because even though they may be subtle, they have the potential for a long-lasting impact. Because I find this behavior so juvenile and unnecessary, it’s never clear to me if another mom’s seemingly innocent comment is meant to derail me or if it’s just another mom offering helpful advice. It’s usually the latter.

Katie Hurley, a child and adolescent psychotherapist, and writer of the popular blog, Practical Parenting, has written about the topic of competition among moms. She says, “There is a lot of competition among moms today. I believe that it often stems from an internal struggle with what I refer to as ‘Mom-Esteem’, or how we feel about our choices as moms and our ability to effectively parent our children.”

As the mom of an 8 year-old son and an 11 year-old daughter, the topics that cause moms to attack each other have changed as my kids get older, but the underlying context is the same. Instead of getting a lecture about which SPF 5000 sunscreen contains harmful ingredients for a baby (as the mom under scrutiny slathers her kid with it), now competitive moms are obsessed with kids’ friendships and sports prowess. This extends to their own kids and everyone else’s too. Thankfully, my kids’ ages put me past the snarky remarks about the baby stuff. Now, we’ve progressed to the really important matters like whether a certain kid dropped a pass during a recreation league football game and how it cost the team the game. Or, the “draft” to get onto the “best” basketball team for 3rd graders.

"The fact is that all families, and all children, are different, but moms today seem to think that there is one ‘right’ way to parent. In an effort to feel better about the parenting style they’ve chosen some moms will lash out at or criticize other moms. At its very core, it really boils down to bullying. They want to feel right and powerful, so they hurt others along the way. Unfortunately, no one wins when moms go on the attack. If the children hear the exchanges, they stand a lot to lose, as this is not a healthy way to treat other people…regardless of whether or not you agree with the choices being made,” Hurley continues.

Sadly, no parenting topic is off limits for the most extreme competitive moms. Anything involving another mom’s kid is fair game in the world of “mompetition” as Katie Hurley refers to it. When called on their mean girl behavior, these moms feign surprise or lash back. Do they feel triumphant? If so, their momentary surge of happiness at another mom’s misery can only be short-lived. It’s certainly not a long-term remedy to quell their own insecurities.

In my effort to avoid competing with other moms, I’ve taken a “live and let live” approach. I don’t say anything that could be misconstrued as an attack on anyone’s parenting style or their child. I stay out of conversations about test scores, report cards, club soccer, the Ivy League, who got invited to which girl’s sleepover party and Division One athletic scholarships because those are powder kegs waiting to explode and I don’t want to be anywhere near it when that happens.

These days, avoidance is my best weapon against mompetition. What’s yours?

Christina Simon is the co-author of Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles. She is the mom of two, ages 8 and 11, and writes the blog, Beyond the Brochure for parents applying to private schools. Her work has been published on Salon.com and numerous other sites.

Katie Hurley is a Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist/Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She has a four year old daughter, three year old son, and a rock and roll husband who makes her life complete. Katie has a parenting advice blog, Practical Parenting, and can also be found on Twitter.

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