Monday, December 19, 2011

Does parenting bring out our competitive nature?

Since having my daughter, Ava, almost a year ago, I've learned some interesting truths about myself. Becoming a parent, in all its wonderfulness, does have a certain affect on ones psyche.

Amid the obvious excitement, sleep deprivation, and wonder, something else manages to sneak in unannounced; and nearly undetected. In fact, for the first few weeks, you're probably blissfully unaware of its existence, so wrapped up in the cocoon of soft baby skin, gurgles and midnight feedings.

It's hard to pin point the exact moment you feel those first major twinges of "it."

Maybe a trip to the doctor where your little one is weighed, measured and checked against that infamous percentile chart. The one which tells you where your child falls in the "normal" stratosphere. You wait, breathlessly, for the thumbs up from that all important person in the white coat, because they will surely note the perfection that is your bundle of joy.  Has there ever been a more beautiful baby? Or one with that amazing shade of blue eyes? And look at his cheeks? Plump, pink and pinch able.

As if to agree, the doctor smiles and pats baby's head while consulting charts and clipboards that will determine if your assessment matches his. And to your delight, it does! The relief that floods your heart is immediate and that slowly growing twinge of "it" triples in size.

That "it" is pride. And "it" is here to stay.

Now, you may say, "There's nothing wrong with being proud of my child,"  and you are absolutely right. Pride in itself is not the problem, but, rather, how it manifests in you, and those around you.

As I said earlier, I've learned some interesting truths about myself since the birth of my daughter, and the discovery of mom pride is one of them. Sure, it's not my first run-in with the P word. We've all had our overly inflated ego moments or those times we've compared our skills, looks, style,  to anothers and (oh happy day!) found theirs lacking. We inwardly congratulate ourselves, while outwardly maintaining a facade of neutrality. "What, you thought MY brownies were the moistest? Puleeze, girl, yours were amazing!"

Yeah, not so much, but the lie comes out of our mouth just the same because WE know everyone ELSE knows our brownies were the clear champion of THIS bake-off. (Plus, appearing humble also makes us feel a little bit better about patting ourselves on the proverbial back.)

But that was before, and this is now.

The playing field has changed and the players are now drooly, diaper wearing, little einsteins.

Suddenly, that gracious offsetting of compliments that used to be so natural, comes a little less easily.

Your sneaky inner Gollum says, "And why shouldn't i be proud of my precioussss?" 

Indeed, why not? 

And without warning, the "kraken" has been released. While it might not appear as menacing as a sea monster, pride can have the same amount of destructive power over those that come into its path. The aftermath isn't pretty.

I know, because I've been a partaker as well as recipient of "mommy wars."

The typical chat starts out innocently enough. "I just love being a mom. Each day is such a blessing, don't you think? I'm always amazed at what a smart girl my Wanda is. Did I tell you? She's already sleeping through the night, holds her own bottle, smiles at least 10 times a day and began crawling at 3 months." Pause. "How about yours? Does he do all that?" Concerned look. "I notice he isn't eating solids yet and doesn't seem to make very good eye contact. Should you be worried? Have you talked to the doctor?"

Really, who are we fooling (certainly not ourselves) when we pretend these pseudo conversations are all about the kids? (And I'm not talking about pleasant baby talk, where you swap crazy stories, helpful tips, and laugh about how many times Johnny fell into the toilet bowl) No, I'm referring to the other kind of "friendly banter" which ends up being a game of one up-manship.

Now, here is the point where you can either rattle off a long list of your own child's accomplishments, or simply...let it go. Just like that.

But it's not really that easy because pride wants justice. Pride doesn't give up without a fight, especially if it means using your child to win.

Since we think of our offspring as an extension of ourselves, a poor reflection of them, no matter how flawed the reflector, feels like a personal attack on us. As parents, or even as a person.

That innate urge to come out on top, is a strong motivator when it comes to how we view our children and by that same token, ourselves. Holding up a mirror to our own actions may be an unpleasant but necessary experience, in order to get an impartial view of what others see in us.

Believe me, it can make you wince just a little when you come face to face with your inner self, but the epiphany you'll receive afterward is worth it. Now, I'm gradually learning to stop and ask what my motivations for doing or saying something stem from. Do I have my own interests or someone else's at heart? Is pride lurking around the corner, waiting for the opportunity to pounce?

Having talked to fellow parents, I think we all agree this job is a hard enough one without adding negative energy to the equation. So many of us worry about failing or being eclipsed when, in reality, no one has this mom/dad thing down pat.

Really, all we want is the freedom to be ourselves, and the parents our kids deserve.  When not feeling judged or compared to others, I know the best, truest, parts of me come out. I notice less of a need to let pride take over, simply because I have nothing to prove.

Why shouldn't our kids be allowed the same thing? If we want them to grow up in a safe, loving, environment let's set the example by being secure with ourselves, and in extension, them. We're all unique and no two people do things exactly a like, so why expect that of babies and hang onto those individual milestones with a death grip?

I will always love my daughter and be proud of her, but hopefully not at the expense of others. I want to uplift, instead of tear down.

For any parent out there I may have hurt by an unthinking comment or moment of pride, I truly apologize and pray for the grace to do better next time.

Let's all lay down those competitive natures that may be forcing a wedge between us and the ones we should be supporting.

In the end, we're really doing ourselves the favor.

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