Have you got competitive mum syndrome?

12:0AM, Sep 7th 2009

Sophie Radice

Does your baby only ever leave the house in designer garb? Do you lull her to sleep with the audio version of War and Peace? Do you think you might be a teeny bit competitive?

Does your baby only ever leave the house in designer garb? Do you lull her to sleep with the audio version of War and Peace? Do you think you might be a teeny bit competitive?

One of the best things about being a mum (apart from your gorgeous baby) is making new friends. From the women you giggle with in your antenatal classes to the mum of the baby that was born on the same day as yours in hospital, motherhood can introduce you to a new set of mates. You moan together, share experiences and support each other through the ups and downs of parenthood and you couldn't be without each other.

Of course, as well as offering sympathetic noises and helpful tips, you might also let slip that your baby had his photo taken for the midwives newsletter because they thought little George so beautiful, or how you were asked to give the other mums on the ward a breastfeeding lesson because you took to it like a duck to water.

Don't be too embarrassed about the need to tell other mothers about your triumphs after all, you've done something amazing, and the competitive mum is in all of us. It started in pregnancy (hands up who didn't compare their bump with the other women in your antenatal group?); and you're not the only one doing it. There's the mum who crows about her the drug-free labour, knowing you had an emergency caesarean; the mum whose baby said her first word/rolled over/started crawling before anyone else's and that's just the beginning. From then on, there will be an element of competition running through every conversation you have with another mother right up until your child collects his university degree. But why do we do it?

Dr Alvin Rosenfeld, child psychiatrist and author thinks that mother's are made anxious, persuaded that in their hands lies their infant-to-be's entire future. The message from all around is, 'do it right from the beginning and your child will be a winner. Do it wrong and they will be losers and you will have only yourself to blame.

Far too much child care advice seems to play on this insecurity and makes developmental detail seem potentially crucial. It makes us over-scrutinise our children from the start so that instead of enjoying that our child is crawling we think about when it was exactly that his cousin started crawling.

Doctor Rosenfeld does not think that this over-competiveness is limited to the West, but it is becoming the prescribed way to parent worldwide, turning natural parenting worries into a project, which is in itself counterproductive. Kids should not be judged on every aspect of their performance in life it puts too much pressure on them and too much pressure on us.

Of course, there are varying degrees of competitive mum syndrome and sometimes it can go too far, for example, it can be extremely difficult dealing with a friend who is an over-competitive mum.

Sarah Reynolds has a son Sam, who's now two, and her friend Geri has a daughter two weeks younger.

'Whenever we met up with our babies, Geri would have some new piece of equipment, like an expensive baby gym or new toy. I felt she was using it to illustrate her daughter's superior hand-eye co-ordination or outstanding intelligence. Finally, we had a huge argument after she told me that I wasn't stimulating Sam enough because all I had above his cot was a mobile my husband had made.

'When we talked about it afterwards, it turned out that she was feeling vulnerable. Geri had a high-powered job before having her daughter and she admitted that she felt very out-of-control and unsure of what she was doing. Her way of trying to get on top of things was to do everything by the book. Luckily, now things are more relaxed between us and we see each other at least once a week but on much more neutral territory like the park or the playground.'

So remember that while it's only natural for any mum to want to sing their child's praises from the rooftops (and if you can't beat 'em, join 'em) don't get so hung up on what your baby is doing and when and how his speech patterns compare to your sister's baby. Just relax and enjoy the uniqueness of your own bundle of joy.

How to tell if you are an over-competitive mum

1. You start reading your baby Lord Of The Rings and tell everyone at your mother and baby group how much she enjoyed it.
2. You make sure that you and your baby are fully co-ordinated in a designer label to go shopping.
3. You help your toddler build a sandcastle in the playground and then pretend that that she did it single-handedly.
4. You speak to your baby in French even though you have no connection with France.
5. You demand a re-count when your baby fails to win 'The Beautiful Baby' competition in your local newspaper.
6. When your child learns to walk before his first birthday you give your designer pram away to a friend whose baby 'still really needs it'.
7. You carry your baby's health book around in your handbag just in case the stranger on the bus wants to see how much weight he's put on.
8. You realise that you have more toys and equipment then the local mother and baby group.
9. You keep a video of your child's first word running on a loop on the telly when your friends and their babies come round.
10. You not only frame your child's first painting but have it colour photocopied and framed for all your friend's Christmas presents.

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