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We mothers are a bossy lot. We come by it naturally. I like to believe that God gave us a warrior spirit—the kind that sees red when someone tries to harm one of our kids. We are protective, territorial and, well, a bit rough to deal with when it comes to the health and happiness of our kids.
Dave Ramsey and I were recently talking on air about being bossy, and I admitted that I have a “side” to me. One woman once referred to me as a pit bull. I’m not exactly proud of this.
Protectiveness with our kids is generally a good thing, but it can also get us into trouble. When we are overprotective, we run the risk of suffocating our kids because we are afraid they will get hurt. Sometimes, however, being overprotective is a symptom of being competitive. For instance, we say that we are protecting our kids when we put them in certain schools, make them wear certain clothes or even select athletic programs for them.
The truth is, we aren't really being protective at all—our real motive is competitiveness. In fact, if we dig deeply enough, we can find that at the root of much of our behavior with our kids is competitiveness with other mothers and their children, and we must slay this inner beast. If we don't, we can suffocate our kids.
The Vicious Cycle
When our children are born, we feel pressure to breastfeed. We are told that good mothers breastfeed. And we want to be good moms. If we don’t breastfeed, we feel guilty. As our children enter grade school, we look around the classroom to see how the other kids are reading. We want to be sure that our son is keeping up. Sports come along. If Johnny’s best friend plays soccer and hockey, well, we’d better find Johnny two sports to play.
Then comes junior high and friends. The other kids are popular, and we don’t want Johnny to be left out. So we do all that we can to make sure he has enough friends. And somewhere along the way, we meet the other boys’ mothers, and we size them up too. Some work outside the home. Others exercise regularly and come to school dressed in bike shorts to pick up their kids. Ouch. And we wouldn’t even be seen in bike shorts on a bike. We go home and throw the pan of brownies away.
High school arrives and there are varsity sports, prom, dating and colleges to consider. Every step along the way, we feel pressure to make sure our kids don’t fall behind. No, we really want them to outshine the other kids. We don’t want our kids to be snooty. We just want them to be excellent.
But we don’t stop there. We feel pressure to keep up too. We need to be better mothers, in better shape and, of course, always working on that last 10 pounds. We feel this way only because we look around and compare our figures to other women.
Why do we do this? And where does it stop? I worry about us because feeling constantly competitive with other mothers hurts only two people: us and our child. Period.
Time to See the Real Beauty
We need to let this go. God made us just the way he wants us to be, and he gave us children who are amazing. When we compare our children with those in their classes and size up our women friends to see if we are as successful as they are, we lose. We lose God’s perspective of who we really are. We can’t see the deep character that God instilled in the kids beneath our noses, and we can’t see the real beauty that God hand carved into each and every one of us.
Think about the way we women greet one another. When we see a friend after a number of months, we greet her by saying, “How are you? You look so good!” What we really mean is “Have you lost weight, because you look like you have?”
This has always bothered me, so I decided to change the way I greeted my friends. For one year, I refused to comment on a friend’s weight. After six months, something wonderful happened. I had difficulty even seeing whether a friend gained or lost weight. Changing the way we talk changes the way we think.
So let’s do something extraordinary. Let’s slay the beast of competition with other mothers and their kids. When you feel yourself taking mental inventory of another woman, stop your thoughts. Interrupt the comparison, and refuse to finish the task. And when you find yourself signing your son up for something, ask yourself if you’re doing it because he really wants it or because deep down you need him to keep up with the other boys in his class.
God made each of us and our children perfectly different from one another. Let’s keep it that way.
Pediatrician, wife, mother, and best-selling author of six books, Dr. Meg Meeker is one of the country’s leading experts on parenting, teens and children’s health.
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