Saturday, January 9, 2010

"My Baby Can Read!".(Features).


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Before I had kids, I swore I'd never be like those moms I'd overheard in supermarkets, bragging about their babies' sippy-cup skills. I would be a serene, noncompetitive mom. A Zen mom. Then came the night I took my firstborn, Davey, to a mothers' group--and saw a baby his age sitting on the floor with the balance of a tiny yogi. I clutched protectively at the butterball slumped in my lap. "He's been doing that for a few weeks now," gloated the yogi's mom. "Isn't it cute?" Minutes later, I'm not proud to say, I heard myself telling her that 5-month-old Davey had already shown a flair for jazz piano. Goodbye, Zen. Hello, one-upmomship.

I shouldn't have been surprised, experts and moms say. Competition is a fact of new motherhood, right up there with belly flab and bloodshot eyes. Subtly or unsubtly, we condemn one another's choices as parents, criticize one another's babies, and (above all) brag, brag, brag. "I didn't set out to do it," says Rebekah Hissey, a new mom in Buxton, North Carolina. But after hearing a mom friend boast once too often about her already-walking, already-talking toddler, Hissey couldn't help doing likewise when her own son hit those milestones. "I began saying, 'Yeah, I guess he was just taking it slow so he could get it right the first time. 'It almost feels wrong to do that, but hey, sometimes you have to. It's a jungle out there in Mommyland!" For a look deep into the jungle--and tips on how to hack your way out--read on.

Why one-upmomship strikes

"When it's your first baby in particular, you're a little uncertain about your parenting skills, so competing with other moms can be a way of validating those skills," says Cheryl Dellasega, Ph.D., author of Mean Girls Grown Up: Adult Women Who Are Still Queen Bees, Middle Bees, and Afraid-to-Bees. "We want to feel, 'I'm a really good mom because my child is sleeping through the night.'"

Plus, we all want reassurance that our baby is the smartest, cutest, most coordinated thing ever to loll around in a Pack 'n Play. "Of course there is a 'development Olympics,' and the last thing you want is a bronze medal," says Meredith Trotta, a mother of three in Ridgefield, Connecticut. "Everyone is boasting, whether they admit it or not." Such competing isn't about making other moms feel bad, Trotta and other confessed braggarts swear. "It really is about making yourself feel that your kid is okay."

And let's face it, some of us just like the thrill of competition--and your baby can become an outlet for your inner Venus Williams. "Our lives were our new little babies, and sometimes we did get a little competitive," Susie Lancaster of Boise, Idaho, says of her firstborn's early months. She recalls how she and other moms even crowed about "stuff nobody can control," such as how big their babies were. "It was like, 'He just went to the doctor, and he's this tall'--and then we'd compare the percentiles. I could feel the tension. It was totally stupid."

How it affects you

Like many moms, Christine Lewis of Haltom City, Texas, has found that competition can quickly sink a friendship. Witness a trip she took with a mom who'd been competing with Lewis since their first children were born. Hour after hour in Lewis's car, the other mom yakked on about her own efforts to get her daughter into the right kindergarten--seeming to imply that Lewis wasn't doing enough for her son's future. "By the end of the trip," Lewis says, "I was about ready to strangle her."

As if the anger weren't bad enough, competition often breeds self-doubt. Kristin Swihart, a mother of two in North Ridgeville, Ohio, recalls how her tough decision to stop breastfeeding was made even harder by moms in her office. They kept sighing about how close nursing made them feel to their babies, which led Swihart to second-guess herself. "I remember more than once pulling out my little hand pump and trying to see if I could get my breasts to start producing milk again," she says.

Moms even find themselves second-guessing their babies. "I knew a woman who bragged on and on about how her four-month-old could roll over multiple times," says Deborah Skolnik, a senior editor at Parenting magazine and a mom of two. "At the time, my daughter Clara hadn't budged off her back, and this mom knew it. I said, 'That's wonderful,' and then went off in a corner and kept poking Clara to see if I could make her roll over. No dice."

Shaking off the competition

When other moms start tooting their babies'(Playskool) horns, remember there's a wide range of normal. "It's not necessarily better to do everything earlier," says Cindy Hearne, Ph.D., a Houston-based psychologist. Stories are legion of kids who "miss" the crawling deadline only to move straight into walking. And assume the braggart isn't telling you everything. "Those proud 'know-it-all' types just conveniently forget to mention any of their child's less-than-perfect qualities," says Hollie Michael of Orange Park, Florida. An early walker might be a late talker; a precocious cup-drinker might be the last on his block to master a fork and spoon. "Since every child is 'behind' in some area, I just don't let the competition get to me," says Michael.

Keep in mind that parents have different strengths, too. Does an ultra-relaxed mom make you feel like a nervous twit by comparison? A little anxiety may actually be a good thing for your baby. Babytalk editor-in-chief Susan Kane recalls realizing, during a playdate, that a mom she had admired for her calm was letting her toddler run around completely--and dangerously--unsupervised. "It reminded me that I have to trust my own instincts," she says. "Being vigilant about watching my daughter was the right thing to do!"

For a breather from one-upmomship, "find a friend who doesn't play into the competitive culture of parenting," suggests Miriam Peskowitz, Ph.D., author of The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars: Who Decides What Makes a Good Mother? Older moms, including your own, may fill the bill; ditto non-moms. "My best friend doesn't have children, and that's a great blessing in my life," Peskowitz says. "It's a huge release from the insular world of parenting for me."

Halting a one-upper

For some parents, there's no baby trick too minor--or too early--to warrant strutting. Evelyn Denisse Morris, a mother of two in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, once heard a mom swear that her newborn had shown signs of genius in the womb: "She said that when her baby was taped in a sonogram, she caught her waving at her! I could not believe my ears. I thought she was joking, but no."

How to keep such moments from morphing into an hour-long bragfest? Simply congratulate the other parent, says Marla Paul, author of The Friendship Crisis: Finding, Making, and Keeping Friends When You're Not a Kid Anymore. "Don't interject your baby's accomplishments." Another way to short-circuit the cycle: "If it feels safe, share something you are insecure about--say, breastfeeding or naptime," says Paul. "She will likely respond with her own problems, and you will have punctured the 'I am a perfect mommy with a perfect baby' posture."

If kindness and vulnerability don't defuse the situation, humor might. "My brother's daughter is two weeks older than my twin boys," says Ellen Mauro of Cortlandt Manor, New York. "He's always going on about how much she's talking, because my boys aren't really talking yet. I just tease him and say, 'Well, my boys just put together a car engine this morning!'"

If someone's bluster still drives you nuts, you could just quit hanging out with that someone. But it may be worth trying a heart-to-heart first, says Faith Boninger, Ph.D., a life coach in Scottsdale, Arizona. Tell your friend why her boasting makes you uncomfortable, she suggests. Smile and say: "I keep getting an urge to compete with you, but I'd rather be in this together." If she cares about you, this will likely help, though she may need a reminder now and then.

Light at the end of the jungle

The good news, some experts and moms say, is that experience can take a serious bite out of one-upmomship. "If we are lucky, parenting eventually makes us wiser and more humble," Peskowitz says. And more confident, says Nina Kaye of Birmingham, Michigan: "Now that I have two kids, I just kind of tune out the bragging. It's easier to say, 'I know what works for my family.'"

For me, experience has made it easier not to worry about when my kids reach milestones (they both sat eventually), which makes me less prone to anxious boasts. Although I do have to say that my second-born, Lily, is brilliant with a sippy cup. Especially when she's banging it on the piano.


"Of course there is a 'development Olympics,' and the last thing you want is a bronze medal"

"Those proud 'know-it-all' types just conveniently forget to mention their child's less-than-perfect qualities"


Babytalk contributing editor Melissa Balmain is a writer and mother of two in Blacksburg, Virginia.


Anything your baby can do, mine can do better Stay out of the competitive-mommy fray! For more tips, go to


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Source Citation
Balmain, Melissa. "'My Baby Can Read!'." babytalk Dec. 2007: 60. General OneFile. Web. 9 Jan. 2010. .

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