I came into the “Motherhood Business” in my mid 30’s. Before then I lived the competitive, yet hedonistic life of a sales rep, working flat out during the day and entertaining clients late into the night. So you’d think the long hours and high pressured environment would put me in good stead for motherhood. And in a way, it had. But nothing could prepare me for the target driven, competitive nature of my new work colleagues, other parents.
Sales was a game, I always play to win. Outwitting and outworking my colleagues was fun as well as financially beneficial. There were rules though and some limitations. Granted we didn’t always stick to them but it was comforting to have certain guidelines and ethics. For example making someone else look a bit of a nob to make yourself look better was absolutely and quite correctly frowned upon.
After enjoying a few weeks cocooned with my newborn. I realised it was my responsibilty to get off my backside and get us a social life. I’d moved up North from London so had to start afresh. I went to a Coffee Morning at the library where “new babies and new parents can socialise in a fun, friendly environment”. It sounded harmless enough. Although when we walked in everyone swung round to look at us, similar to that stare you get when you walk into a local pub and you’re not local. It would be fair to say I didn’t feel the fun or friendliness immediately.
I quickly learnt that “The Coffee Morning” is a dirty old battle ground. The enemy is vicious and the rules are, there are no rules. It turned out that your birth story was the ice breaker. Bit different from the firm handshake and football banter I’d been used to but i’d just been through IVF and childbirth so had very little dignity left. I could go with it.
These introductory birth stories had a different slant to them though. They were along the lines of “Well I gave birth completely naturally, in a kibutz with nobody but a mountain goat in attendance, Good grief did you have Pethidine?” Spoken in a tone that may suggest Pethidine was equivalent to swigging Vodka Tonics throughout your labour and delivery. There was a definite sense of point scoring going on.
I kept up with this coffee morning as I do love a challenge but I explored other social avenues too. I quickly found out that competitiveness was consistent in most baby groups. I do find that an activity usually calms us all down a bit. So if for example you go Baby Signing you have to concentrate on the class rather than just bragging about your children. Of course this opens a whole different problem of “my baby’s better at Baby Signing than yours”.
I also realised that the battling only begins with the birth story. The next subject of much heated debate was breast feeding. This worked out fairly well for me but my limit was always 6 months or teeth whatever came first. I completely understand some people may want to carry on and some may not want to breast feed at all. However I do remember when a lady at “The Coffee Morning” pulled out at a bottle of formula, it was regarded as if she’d pulled out a packet of fags and popped a Marlborough Light in the baby’s mouth.
Then there’s weaning on to solids, you’d hear comments similar to, “Oh Tarquin was eating a full roast dinner from the moment he was 6 months, Goodness you don’t give your child jars of processed rubbish do you?”. Er no, not now. Then there’s movement, being able to sit up, roll over, crawling, pulling themselves up and of course the big ones walking and talking.
From about 18 months people generally become obsessed with the proficiency of your baby’s bowels and bladder. “Is your child potty trained yet? No? Really?” Potty training is on a par with breast feeding when it comes to parents antagonising each other. Never did I believe a group of adults would become so obsessed with when and how someone else could piss in a pot.
I used to wonder why as parents, we are so quick to criticise at a time when we are most vulnerable? Surely we should be showing solidarity, sympathy and God forbid even support.
Recently however I was speaking to an acquaintance at my daughters dance class, not someone I know well but someone I like. We were talking about our 3 year olds sleeping habits and I asked if her daughter was still in a cot. My use of the word “still” completely transformed her. Her pleasant face contorted and she looked like she wanted to grab me by the hair, drag me outside and handbag me. I managed to dig myself out of a cat fight by explaining I didn’t mean any offence by using the word “still”. My own 3 year old, Izzie is “still” in a cot for her own safety and my sanity. But I can totally understand why my choice of language infuriated her.
So is it the case that we are so sensitive about our children that in our highly strung, sleep deprived state we react badly to other people’s insensitivity? Or are we are so passionate about doing the right thing for our children, we attack others who parent differently? What do you think? I’d really like to know your thoughts. As 3 years in to this game I’m definitely a better player but still no closer to winning.