This is the second in a short series on competition in middle aged women.
Moms use their children to compete with other moms. I am perpetually surprised by how many moms and dads act like their children’s successes are their own. It’s natural for parents to be proud of their children and live somewhat vicariously through their children but, there are limits. The mom didn’t shoot the winning basket, the kid did. The mom didn’t ace the SAT’s, the kid did. I can’t enumerate how many times I have witnessed a group of moms at a school function or sports game bragging about their kid’s triumphs as if they were their own.
Not only is it unfair to expect a child to fulfill a parent’s need for success, it is misguided. Children grow up and get on with their own lives. If a parent lives vicariously through their child, they are left with nothing but an empty house when the child leaves.
I have been one of those moms. I never intended to get sucked into the gossip swarm but I am far from immune from the lure of the sweet nectar or the venom of its sting. I have a child that people underestimated for a long time. She was never the fastest runner on the team but she ran faster and faster each time. She was an excellent student but never the top student. She’s a charming young woman but she was never considered popular. I think she’s fabulous. I want other people to think she’s fabulous too. When she won the college admission jackpot, it was hard not to see her success as my own.
I firmly believe the universe puts people in our path at the appropriate times for us to learn a lesson from them. One such person came yelling and screaming into my life about five years ago. She taught me to be proud of my children without relying on them for my own self worth. Fay has several children around the same age as my daughters. When I first met her, she told everyone who would listen how sure she was that her eldest child was bound to make it big on Broadway. He never even went to New York. He went off to a nice little school to study religious music and barely speaks to his mother. She picked herself from that “failure” and started telling me how her second son would definitely get a football scholarship to a prestigious school. She usually followed up that boast with a dig about how unfortunate it was that my child didn’t win the most recent race or how much more popular her son was. Those digs got my competitive juices flowing. When my daughter earned high scores on her standardized tests, it was difficult not to brag about it to Fay. When she was accepted into a prestigious school, it was tempting to rub Fay’s nose in it. When her son didn’t get that football scholarship and didn’t get accepted to any good colleges, it was hard not to giggle in delight. It’s hard to be compassionate in that situation; it would have been easy to match ugliness with ugliness. Luckily, I like Fay’s kids and saw how hard it was for them to live under the weight of their “failures”. Fay has taught me to build a life of my own that I can be proud of. My children have their own lives, successful or not.