It’s like hundreds of playground meetings I’ve had before. Sideways glances. Indulgent smiles at a stranger’s child.
“He’s adorable. How old? Is he your first?”
As we politely exchange information, the tone shifts. There’s an edge of competition. No matter what we talk about, she seems determined to ‘outdo’ me.
“How insecure she must be,” think I. “Who DOES this? It’s so silly.”
But I play anyway.
We’re toe-to-toe, with our kindest voices, and our saddest stories. Let the games begin.
I’ll see your three kids in three years and raise you four kids and a disability. Ha!
Or do I?
It’s not just parenting, either. We play our triumphs and our tragedies like cards in a poker game. It’s how we (especially women) have lived for so long, it becomes second nature. How do I measure up? Where do I fit in the pecking order?
I find myself counting kids whenever we meet someone new.
Just the three. I win! My life is harder.
Expecting number seven? How do they DO that? What’s wrong with me that I’m so overwhelmed and I only have four?
At one point, I decided to factor the special needs into the count. I have four, but the two littles count for double. We’ll call it an even six.
Never fear; you too can earn extra points:
- Dad or Mom travels a lot +1
- Living in a small space (trailer, cabin, apartment, RV) +1
- Maintaining your figure +2
- Work full-time + or -3 (depending on my mood: if that seems like it would be an extra hassle or a welcome break)
- Fishbowl existence (pastor, missionary, politician) +2
- Children born within a year of each other +1/per or +3 for multiples
- Mother-in-law lives with you +1
- Hippie Bonus Points (grow your own food, make soap, sew, no TV) +2
- Single Mom/Dad +1000
Because everyone knows that parenthood is all about keeping score. How many hours of labour? Are you sleeping through the night yet? How many words does she have? How goes the potty training? (At this point my eye starts twitching uncontrollably) Is he in any sports? play an instrument? performing in dance competitions? composing sonnets to her loving mother to post on her weekly blog about honouring parents and not getting married until she is 30 to the man whom her father chooses?
There’s no point in even playing with a single parent. If they manage to get dressed and out of the house, automatic champion.
The constant comparison is exhausting. And pointless. Nobody wins. That moment of feeling superior/busier/more-hard-done-by is so fleeting. Right around the corner there is someone who has more on their plate, or more accomplished children, or better hair and skinnier jeans.
How about we just agree: You have your life and I have mine.
I can celebrate your success and support you in your struggles, without making it about me. I can hear your advice, without feeling judged or defensive. I can make small talk at the park with a strangely insecure woman and let her one-upmanship roll right off my back.
Parenting is not a competition. When we make it one, we all lose. Plus, it makes the playground really uncomfortable.
So here’s me, trying not to be such a loser.