The American Dream is a house with a white picket fence to accommodate you and your 2.5 babies, although having half a child seems kind of high maintenance, especially if you only get the bottom half. This vision of success is often glorified, and I question if raising a family in this structure of isolation actually makes sense. The Western ideal of making enough money to live in your own box that shuts everyone else out isn’t that logical. I personally need peeps in my life. After three months of being a mom and stuck in my house while a creature feasted off my chest, I was like, “No wonder all they do is drink and smoke cigarettes in Mad Men. This is really boring.”
While in hibernation, I found myself fantasizing about a tribal existence where I subsisted off the land and spent my days grinding grains next to the women of my clan; a lifestyle where you don’t make play dates or arrange for walks with a $4,000 jogging stroller. In my dreams, these women and I spent our days together and worked side-by-side as the children played within earshot. In my dreams, we were a community. Of course, I am romanticizing images I have seen on PBS, but I can’t help but wonder what life must be like where community is something that just is, not something you have to search for.
Then I woke up and realized the average Western mom doesn’t live in a co-housing hippie haven, so I did the next best thing: I joined a mommy group, but I found myself rebelling against the soft singing and contrived nature of it all. I desperately wanted an authentic experience, but we were just a bunch of women forced to interact because we all had a common bond of having been shat on that morning. I found myself drowning in a sea of self-conscious conversations with moms who were scarily competitive and clearly kept score against one another’s children.
Let me dissect the three main types of competitive mommies.
First up is the “comparer.” She is likely to ask questions about my baby only to use the information against me. She compares her baby’s progress to mine. It took me a second to realize that she didn’t give a flying crap in a rolling doughnut if my baby could sit up, but actually wanted to brag about how hers could breakdance. I found myself saying, “Oh, wow, your baby does backflips? That’s amazing! What? Oh, no, my baby is not rolling over yet. Is it OK that I still love her?”
Now meet the “openly judgmental” mom, who has no problem telling you to your face what a terrible parent you are. There was one mom who let me know what a disgrace I was for not potty training my newborn infant. Supposedly, she would just make some secret noise and her baby would poop gold pellets into her hand. I must be going to hell for using diapers, even if they are seventh-generation. Another mom told me I probably poisoned my child because I wasn’t a vegan during my pregnancy. She didn’t seem too impressed that they were homemade organic chicken nuggets.
The last category I encountered was the “one-upper.” With this mom, no matter what story I told about my baby, hers was infinitely more dramatic. Mind you, it is not just about how great their baby is, but also how much more difficult their experience of parenting is. If things are good for you, it’s better for them, or if you are having a tumultuous time, their torment is exponentially graver.
A conversation might go something like this:
Me: “My baby started clapping her hands to the music the other day! It was so adorable!”
Other parent: “My daughter was doing that in utero. Now she’s playing Haydn’s Concerto in C major for cello. I think when she starts standing on her own, I will introduce her to the violin, as well, you know, so her brain doesn’t go idle.”
At first I felt hopeless. I wanted mom-friends so badly because I needed someone to help me analyze my baby’s vomit. I needed to hear how someone else deals when their baby pees in the bath. Do you pretend you don’t notice, like I do? Do I need to teach my baby Sanskrit to fit in? I didn’t know how to negotiate this competitive world of mom-friends because all I really wanted was support!
Then after some time, I started to meet them. Moms that were real with me. A mom that would admit she called their six-month-old an asshole because he threw his gluten-free, sugar-free, substance-free cereal on the floor for the 1,000th time. A mom who also only brushes her kid’s teeth once a day. A mom who looked me in the eyes and said, “We all have dropped our kids at least once.” These moms are my people. They are the women who will admit their mistakes and let me divulge mine. Being a mom is super rewarding and blah blah blah, but it is also super hard, annoying and infuriating. The best thing you can do for yourself is find those moms who, rather than competing with you, truly encourage you through this messy imperfect journey that will be the ride of your life.
Toni Nagy is a writer for Huffington Post, Salon, AlterNet, Elephant Journal, Hairpin, Thought Catalogue, Yoga Dork, and her own blog tonibologna.com. She currently lives in New Hampshire where she is raising hell and her child.