Obsessive Momming

We think of it as a competition, but it’s not.


For it to be a competition we would need a clear starting point, a finish line, and an impartial judge or two.


For it to truly be a competition we would need to be grouped according to various factors, because it would need to be fair.


No, it’s not a competition.


This thing that seems to fester below the surface, rearing its head only in response to the latest media craze, is all internal.


There is no prize at the end of the parenting journey.  In fact, once you enter into it, the journey never really ends.  Just ask your mom.


And yet, moms feel pressured.  They internalize input from various outlets and react accordingly.


They go to great lengths to demonstrate that they are just as much mom as that mom over there…


That they might even be more mom than the mom down the street…


That they are, indeed, mom enough…


The real problem, of course, is not finding a way to become the most mom.  Being the most mom ever is unattainable, after all.


The real problem is the fallout that our children experience when moms feed into this fabricated competition.


The real problem is the emotional repercussions of all of this obsessive momming.


Pressure has a trickle down effect.  It starts at the top and it slowly works its way down to the bottom.


And there, on the bottom, are the innocents.  The ones who are supposed to focus on fun, learn through play, and, above all, to be loved beyond compare.


Riley had mixed emotions as we walked down the street to attend her Kindergarten orientation this week.  For a variety of reasons, preschool has been a struggle this year.  Coming off a great first year with incredible teachers, this year just paled in comparison.  She felt different and less self confident from the very first week, and it hasn’t improved much since.


Kindergarten has, for the most part, been a source of pending excitement.  Walking to school appeals to her, as does going to school with her best buddy.  But, after a year of ups and downs, separating remains a challenge.


Needless to say, my expectations were low on this particular day.  I assumed she would stay by my side as we visited each classroom.  That would have been just fine with me.  This was, after all, an opportunity to get to know the Kindergarten classrooms and see the students in action.  It was a day meant for observation.


I was pleasantly surprised when she marched right into each classroom and made herself at home.  In one room, she drew a solar system.  In another, she colored a fish.  And in a third, she played house with some other children.  She had the time of her life.


I stood back, smiled often, and cheered her on.


But I couldn’t help but observe some other experiences throughout the morning.


One little girl preferred to stick close to her mom.  Her mom wanted her to join with the other kids.  The longer it went on, the more anxious the mom became.


At one point, she placed the little girl in a chair and told her to draw.  The little girl complied, scribbling a few colors on a plain white piece of paper.


When she returned to her mother with the finished product her mother took a quick look and said, “That’s it?  You didn’t make much of an effort.”  The girl quickly looked to the ground and disengaged once again.


My heart broke for that little girl.  While I’m sure that she draws more complex pictures at home and at preschool, it was probably the best she could do in a new and overwhelming situation.


The anxiety her mom experienced when her daughter didn’t meet her expectations (in front of many other moms) trickled right down to her daughter, and made her feel like a failure.


Obsessive momming isn’t healthy for anyone involved.  It leaves moms feeling inadequate, and children feeling like they aren’t good enough.


It causes anxiety and disappointment across the board.


It’s not that I don’t have great hopes for my children.  I most certainly do.  But, at the end of the day, my greatest hope for my children is that they live a lifetime of happiness.


And that happiness begins with a happy, pressure-free childhood.


Because it isn’t a competition.



About Katie

Katie Hurley is a Child, Adolescent, and Family Psychotherapist and Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She works in private practice in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, writes for PBS Parents, Washington Post Parents, and the Huffington Post. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World" (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015) and "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" (Penguin Random House, 2018)