Mothers need to learn from each other, not compete

Annie Ridout, editor of The Early Hour

We all have different parenting ideas but rather than being judgmental and critical, how about quietly observing and learning from each other instead? Annie Ridout on how competition amongst mothers serves no purpose…

A friend has a son the same age as my daughter (three). In many ways, we have similar ideas about parenting: we both chose to breastfeed (and for the same amount of time), we give mostly healthy food – fruit, veg, fish, pulses – but don’t mind the occasional sugary treat. A combination of ‘attachment parenting’ and the opposite – leave them to it – suits us both.

However, there are certain boundaries I give my daughter that she doesn’t give her son; and vice versa. For instance, she will let him roam further when we are out walking, or go off on mini adventures at the park. While I tend to keep my daughter within eyeshot at all times.

She has her reasons; I have mine. We don’t criticise or judge each other, we simply ensure that we stick to our own parenting methods, as this is what works for us and each of our children.

It feels like rather than competing, we are watching and learning

But from time to time, we do discuss it. She talks me through her thinking – exposure to some risk, so that her child can begin to put into practice the safety guidelines she hopes to have instilled. I explain that I feel a watchful eye is necessary for my daughter at this age, as her behaviour can be erratic and unpredictable.

We each go away and have a little think. I possibly loosen up a bit, she possibly tightens up a bit.

The reason I use this relationship – and these exchanges – as an example is because it never feels like a competition for who is the best mum. Or the most right. It feels like rather than competing, we are watching and learning.

Sometimes I may be surprised by a parent having different boundaries for their child. But I try not to say anything unless they ask. And even then – to keep it as non-judgmental as possible. And other parents will be shocked by my mothering – the food I feed my kids, the nappies I use, our sleep habits, and so on. But I am grateful when they, too, hold their tongue unless asked.

I’m a stickler for routine but love to hang out with friends who don’t have any routine

We are all giving it our best shot. Information for dealing with each stage – newborn, toddler, preschooler, school-aged, teenager – is picked up from various sources. We might read articles that give us parenting ideas, or books. Listen to a podcast. Chat with our parents or in-laws.

Sometimes we will hear about parenting ideas that totally conflict with our own. If we are not inspired to shift our values and methods, this insight may instead inspire us to stay strong and keep doing what we’re doing. It doesn’t mean anyone is right or wrong – it means we all have our own ideas and it’s for each parent to pave a path that suits them and their family.

So rather than only hanging out with mums who seem similar to me, I like to change it up. I’m a stickler for routine but love to hang out with friends who don’t have any routine, because it encourages me to drop the nap for a day and go with the flow, instead (and the tantrums that will inevitably ensue).

As mothers, we have so much to learn from each other. We don’t have to compete and judge and bitch; we can sit quietly, observe and learn. Everyone has their reasons for making the choices they do. We should respect other parents and their choices. And hopefully they will do the same in return.

Do you agree: is it better to watch and learn from other mothers, or is some competition healthy?