Throughout both my pregnancies other mothers felt it necessary to comment on my size in the way that is almost obligatory when you are ‘with child’. Under no circumstances would a stranger brazenly march up in Sainsbury’s and remark on how large your arse is, but it seems that bumpism is fair game. Mine was apparently ‘extremely small’ which of course had me free-falling into a worry pit and Googling into the early hours, accompanied by much eye-rolling from The Husband.
When my children were born, they were both enormous babies. Huge doughballs with several chins, and cheeks so pendulous they practically dragged along the floor. At my son’s first trip to baby clinic, the Health Visitor carefully plotted his weight on the percentile chart and I watched as her pencil headed into a blank wilderness somewhere above 99.6th. Apparently there was no baby on record bigger than mine. Other mothers would look on wide-eyed as they cradled their neat little bundles, and say helpful things like ‘Wow, he’s a whopper’ and ‘Did you crave a lot of cake in pregnancy?’. Ironically (and downright ridiculously) my ‘too small’ had apparently now become ‘too big’, which had me straight back in the worry pit, all over Google again and The Husband probably on the phone to the Lawyer citing irreconcilable differences.
I can see the silliness in this more clearly now, with the cynical-tinted glasses of four years later. But my concern, paranoia and self-doubt at the time was largely a result of comments and comparisons made by other mums. Surely we should all know better?
As I went on to discover, it only got worse as the babies shed their sleepy newbornness and started to actually do some stuff. Fortunately as it turned out, my firstborn stamped out any chance of me joining any games of mum-upmanship in the early years by being the laziest child when it came to any developmental accomplishment. He viewed each ‘next stage’ less as an exciting milestone and more as another tiresome hurdle. Consequently, I had to endure months of fever pitch excitement from other mothers proudly logging First Word, First Sitting Unaided, First Steps…whilst mine was still just sliding along the floor like a slug.
When he did eventually decide that being vertical was more interesting, we walked to the park one day and bumped into a mum I vaguely knew. She was one of them: A Smug Mother. I suspected as much when she started cross-examining me on exactly when the boy had started walking and whether or not he was yet able to run. She was satisfied to hear that ‘No’ he could not yet run, which therefore meant that her son, who could, was better. She was then compelled to add that he was also – aged 21 months – taking French lessons. Well of course.
Why do us mothers do this to each other? What is the point? We are all in this game together, with no rules and several opponents (most of them under 3ft tall). Yet, at times we still try and outrank each other. I know in theory we should all be batting for the same side, but sometimes I’m really not feeling that Sisterhood thing.
We’re a funny old mix, us mums. Sometimes we can be so supportive of each other and other times not at all. There are some fantastic networks, yet there are so many cliquey groups. There is a sea of mothers feeling the same insecurities, yet so many try to hide them for fear of admitting they might need a life-raft sometimes. There is so much honesty and yet still so much pretence.
Having spent many a night pondering the point of mum-upmanship with a large glass of red, my belief is that if mothers pass comments and make comparisons about their child and yours, it has nothing to do with your child. As women, we tend to seek validation for our decisions and we need to know where our own triumphs and failures measure on the overall scale of mummydom. So perhaps some mums are making themselves feel better about their choices and using yours as a benchmark. So what? Just try and consider it a jolly beautiful benchmark. Let’s be honest, we all pass occasional judgement about other people’s offspring and different parenting styles and we believe our own children are completely brilliant. The trick is to just keep your bloody mouth shut about it.
Without sounding cheesy here, The Husband and I just want our children to be happy above all else. And if that means they come last at sports day or need some extra help with fractions or don’t turn out to be the high flying executives we’re planning to retire on, then that’s just fine by us.