The Competitive Mom and the Display Child

Some months back I met a couple of my friends who like me have become First time parents. Over the course of 9 months, I met them three more times and it was the third meeting I realized the sin I had committed of making my child a DISPLAY ITEM.

First Meeting:

(Talking to my daughter as if she understands everything I say) Karunnya, today we are meeting mumma’s friends. You behave nicely ok. Come I will dress you up in new clothes. We will wear jeans and a t-shirt and what is this? Wow! A red colour hairband. My daughter will look the prettiest. I smiled looking at my daughter all dolled up. She was a vision, I tell you. A smile of pride ran across my lips as if it was an achievement for me to dress her up smartly. However, subconsciously my mind ran images of everyone looking at my girl and complimenting her. This was my ulterior motive (First mistake: terrible, I know).

All my friends came with their kids (2 kids in total: one girl and a boy) and I welcomed them to my house and after meeting their children and complementing them, I brought my girl inside. Obviously, I intentionally brought her in late (You know all big stars arrive late so that they get undivided attention. This was my second mistake). Anyway they all complimented my girl too and I was all smiles until my friend made that one comment, “Divya, isn’t she weak? She is so light weighted for her age.” The other mom nodded in affirmation.

Oh my God, what has she said. It was like someone has slapped me hard on my face. Immediately my defensive side kicked in and I said, “No, no. She is all fine and she is in the weight range as per her age” (third mistake).

All that night, I was only physically present during the entire get together. I cracked no jokes, I only nodded and spoke only when answering any question. All the while I just kept on comparing my child with the other two kids while my mind planned on how to make my girl chubbier (fourth mistake).

The moment everyone went back I shared my concern with my mother. She, like me, was too blinded by the love for Karunnya to correct me there and then. Rather, she started pointing the shortcomings in other kids. “Beta, you know your daughter is exclusively breastfed. They offer formula feed also and Meesha has even started lentil-water to her 4 month old. So obviously their children will be heavy. But did you pick them up? They only look fat but they are not heavy boned. Your daughter is skinny but her bones are heavy so don’t worry”, she said. I could not find any logic in what my mom said but it was comforting enough to end my worry for the night and make me sleep (fifth mistake).

My insanity reached its peak when after 3 days of constant worrying about my girl’s health, I paid a visit to her pediatrician. He, obviously, gave the logical answer that my girl is healthy and there is nothing to worry. However, he questioned me if I want a healthy child or a chubby child? I know now what I want, but at that time I said I wanted a chubby baby (I perceive chubby babies as cuter-sixth mistake). I still remember the shocked face of my husband at that time. The doctor admonished me on this ‘chubby baby’ thinking. However, this visit made me touch base with my sanity….. not for long though.

Second meeting:

My sanity was lost again when I met my friends for the second time. Everything was going well until one of my friends wanted to change her son’s diaper. It took her 15 long minutes to change her 5-month old son’s diaper as the boy kept on turning sides.

Earlier I thought jealousy is a trait of lovers only but obviously I was wrong. Though on the outside I showed a pleasant face and complimented Sneha that her son can turn, on the inside I committed the sin of comparing my daughter (again) with her son.

Immediately I was thinking of why my child cannot turn. However how can I stay behind as a competitive mother so I made my girl sit on bed. I knew she had started to sit but I could see Sneha’s son cannot. As expected, Sneha was amused to see my girl sitting and said that her son can’t sit even with support right now. A sigh of relief came to me and I took a deep breath. It was written all over my face that though my girl cannot turn but yes, she can sit and in my eyes that is a difficult milestone to achieve and yes, my daughter is as active as your son and hey, I am no less of a caring mom as you are. I have lost count of the mistakes I committed with this thinking of mine.

Third Meeting:

Some months passed and my friends visited my house again for a get together. As per the ritual, I dressed my girl like a baby doll. Everyone greeted each other and obviously we moms hugged and praised and kissed every other child. We all were generally talking about how our time goes by taking care of these kids when one of my friend was surprised to see my daughter walking. However, unaware of what turbulence his words might create, he commented on and compared my girl with other children. “Divya, your daughter has started to walk at 9 months? Wow, that is great! Aren’t these two kids also approximately the same age? Why haven’t they started walking yet?”

All eyes went straight to the mothers of those two children and I could see their faces sink. From the past two meetings, I had become expert in displaying as well reading these micro-expressions of pride and embarrassment. My face showed pride that my daughter has started to walk but soon it turned red as the other mother spoke in defense of her child, “Yeah, my daughter cannot walk but she stands. See (making her daughter stand without support). Also, she has 3 teeth and she can say ‘mumma’ and ‘papa’. So I believe she will hit the milestone of walking later.”

At that moment, I saw my face in hers. It was like a mirror but from past when I used to take a defensive mode. I thanked God for the wisdom to dawn on me, finally. It is true that all kids are different, all kids are innocent, all kids are prettiest to their parents, and all kids hit different developmental milestones at different ages in their lives. We all parents know this for a fact but we forget this.

We forget that we are only watering and nurturing our plants. The ability to grow and produce a flower is that of plant itself. We can make our kids look good, teach them good habits, provide them a learning environment but we cannot drag them to this void competition of ‘Whose kid is better?’ while fulfilling our ulterior motives of ‘Which parent is better?’ We are like those marketing agents who are fighting for the best shelf to display best features of their products. But, are our children products?

It is this attitude of ours that is commercializing the blossoming of our children. We all set parameters of a ‘smart kid’ and we religiously start making our children walk on that. But think, can all plants give us same flowers? Or can all plants blossom at the same time? Or, is blossoming the only quality of a plant? We take credit for and pride in each and every good thing our child does. We keep on displaying one or the other talent of our child in front of others.  Aren’t we instilling the emotions of jealousy, competitiveness, and pride in our children from a tender age?

The problem is not in showing talent, the problem is when we make that talent a show-off. This show-off one day then makes us terrible parents as well as terrible human beings. We want to show to the world how beautiful our kid is, how intelligent our kid is, the school and college our child goes to, how much money our child makes, what kind of equally eligible partner our child is getting, what kind of marriage we plan for the child, what kind of gifts he gets at the wedding, etc. etc. And the social media is making our job way easier than imagined in showing everything off.

In the end, we complain the systems of society. The dowry system, the commercialization of education, the rampant presence of engineers and MBA’s, the corruption in politics, the pollution of environment. Everything. Everything is an extension of that one need to show-off. When will we put an end to this? I know now that I have to make sure my parenting does not gets lost in making a display out of my child-the display of scores and wins and brands. I’d rather focus on being as humane as possible with her and let her flourish. I know that my plant needs values and love and my time. She does not need to display her qualities to make her mother win. She will not run any race for me. She will walk her own pace.

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