Motherhood Isn’t a Contest: How to Break-Free From “Mompetition.”
Psychologist, Dr. Juli Fraga, talks about the rise of competitive moms and the resulting effects on maternal mental health
As a psychologist specializing in maternal mental health, I’ve noticed a cultural trend that’s impacting mothers everywhere: Mompetition. Also known as ‘the Mommy Wars,’ this dynamic can arise when we spend too much time comparing ourselves and our kids to others, which can cause us to feel more uncertain in our parenting roles.
Where does this tendency stem from? In my clinical experience, it often pops up when we feel vulnerability and shame at the same time. And life transitions, like motherhood, can trigger these tender emotions, because we’re adjusting to a new identity that’s not always compatible with our pre-baby lives.
Not loving every minute of motherhood, longing for some alone time, or snapping at our kids can cause a case of ‘mommy guilt’ to erupt. Unfortunately, we often interpret this prickly emotion as evidence that we’re bad mothers, falling down on the job when everyone else is succeeding.
Caught in this web of shame, we remain silent about our maternal struggles. Instead of speaking up, we try to alleviate our discomfort by comparing ourselves to others, looking for ‘proof’ that we’re not the only flawed mothers living on the planet.
But Mompetition is a never-ending race that no one wins. Even worse–it erodes intimacy, instead of fostering closeness. In fact, research suggests that self-critical mothers are more distant from their children, which can impact the mother/baby bond.
However, a few simple exercises can help you break free from this toxic motherhood contest.
#1: Honor your experience
Comparison often stems from the need for validation. With that in mind, the next time you face a tender mommy moment that leaves you feeling uncertain: honor your experience.
How can you do this? Instead of comparing yourself to others, take a quiet moment to identify what you’re feeling.
Perhaps your child had a monumental meltdown that left you feeling frustrated and out-of-control. Validate your experience. And remember that while everyone’s child is unique, most parents face these difficult moments. Once we identify how these situations make us feel, we can reach out to a trusted friend for loving support.
When motherhood worries arise, we often tackle them by jumping into action. One common example: the ‘to do’ list. With less free time, many mothers feel guilty for not checking numerous tasks off of their daily lists, which can lead us to believe we’re less competent than other mothers.
During these moments, it can be helpful to reflect on how we’d talk to a friend in a similar situation. Most likely, we would not berate or judge her for not being Supermom. Instead, we’d listen to her struggles, offering any help she might need.
As mothers, we often criticize ourselves for the tiniest mistakes. Taking a pause to speak to ourselves with kindness can help turn this self-critical talk around. And disarming ‘mommy shame’ lessens the need to feel like we’re always ‘winning’ at motherhood.
#3: Seek support
Peer support from trusted friends can help us cope with our motherhood challenges. The key: find a safe space where you can openly discuss your triumphs and challenges.
You might find this support through a local parenting group or a private Facebook forum. ‘Mom groups’ led by psychotherapists can offer additional care, especially if you’re struggling with a postpartum mood concern, like depression or anxiety.
Finding groups that offer support, instead of providing advice may help lessen Mompetition. In these groups, women are discouraged from offering advice and comparing their experiences to others. Instead, all mothers have the opportunity to share their unique experiences and parenting stories. Through this process, feelings are validated, which provides the most meaningful support of all.
#4: Limit social media exposure
Mothering in the age of social media has pros and cons. Certainly, it’s reassuring to rely on apps to track our baby’s sleep and measure developmental milestones. However, social media, especially Facebook and Instagram can cause us to feel inadequate as mothers. Scrolling through photo reels, we catch too many glimpses of celebrities and influencers perfectly curated nurseries, gourmet dinners, and gorgeous homes.
During the vulnerable months of new motherhood when it’s difficult to tend to personal necessities like showering, sleeping, and eating; viewing these images can cause insecurity to percolate. The solution: take a social media break. Instead of clicking on the Instagram icon, do something that makes you feel nourished. That might mean texting a friend, having a cup of tea, or watching an entertaining show on Netflix.