When a friend asks for parenting tips – tips only you and a handful others are privy to – do you share the love or keep mum about it? In this week’s Material Moms, Cherie Tseng gives her take on this tricky subject.
It started innocently enough when I was looking for a mandarin enrichment playgroup for my second son. My elder son used to go to a fairly popular program but we left because I felt the standard of the class was systematically falling. And while I heard they had since cleaned up their act, I was more than open to checking out another program. So I did what most mums would do – I asked the brood of mummies around me for their opinions, thoughts and recommendations. Some were superlatively forthcoming with recommendations, offering to help me arrange trial classes and giving me the inside scoop on which program teacher they felt were superior. Most, however, were noticeably silent or, at best, vague and non-committal with their comments.
Things got, well, let’s use the adjective “interesting” (for lack of a better word) after I registered my interest in a fairly popular program based on a fellow mum’s fervent recommendation. While all this which-program-is-good-evaluation was happening, another mummy friend – let’s call her Mummy H – was also making the same considerations and I fully expected to see her in class when the term started. To my surprise, she opted not to sign up.
As it turns out, Mummy H had spoken to another mummy friend, Mummy F, and was (supposedly) close to joining the enrichment program fray since Mummy F’s kids were both in the program too. The latter strongly dissuaded her from joining and related all sorts of negative things about the center, teachers and program and that she herself was only there because it was a convenient location for her. Plus, her kids were already fairly comfortable there and she was lazy to move them. It was the classic “I’m in a sinking ship (not!), but I’m too tired to move, you go save yourself!” Mummy F’s comments were completely untrue and driven by some warped notion of parental competitiveness: that you would want the best only for your kids, but not your friends, lest your own child loses out. This is what I call, Zero Sum Parenting.
The same kind of behaviour has been related to me by friends with regards to doctors, OBGYNs and even supplements! Oh, I only see Dr So-and-so because he is my dad’s friend but he is actually not that good. I hear Angel’s doctor is pretty cool, why don’t you try her out? / Oh, the supplements I give Natalie are not that good, my husband bought a whole carton so I feel bad throwing it out. You should try the supplements from Brand ABC; I hear many others are taking it and it supposedly rocks.
I have heard of such behaviour with regards to some of the notable tuition centers, where parents teach their kids to lie to their friends about where they are getting extra curricular help so that they would retain an advantage over their peers. Because, what if second-place Billy comes to the same center as my first-place Alex and learns the trick of the proverbial (academic) trade and displaces my son for top spot? Heaven forbid!
I’d admit: The world we live in is a place of rank and position. Grades are judged on a bell curve, development is pegged to percentiles and we all like to win first place. It is one thing, however, to want what is best for your child, and another to want it at the expense of others. It is the difference between being a mum that feels your child needs to keep up versus a mum that feels your child needs to win every single time. It is parenting to raise competitive kids, as suppose to parenting competitively. Perhaps the Kiasu (afraid to lose) culture is so pervasive that even parenting has its own Me Vs. You score card. Mummies seek to outdo each other vis-à-vis their kids; daddies strive to mold a best-of-class champion to live vicariously through.
The truth is, most of us have many awesome fellow-parent friends. You know, the mummies that are happy to share her new found door-to-door organic supplier, the next great kids bookshop, etc. Peak performance guru Steve Covey wisely promoted the Abundance mentality: When people are genuinely happy at the successes of others, the pie gets larger… Success in others adds to, rather than detracts, from our lives.
It is Win-Win Parenting Vs. Win-Lose parenting. It is Mothering from a place of Abundance Vs. Mothering with fear of Scarcity.
I am an essential oil enthusiast and have been for a while now, before the whole go-natural hoopla that seems to be hip and cool these days. For fun, I sometimes hold essential oil gatherings at my place quite in the vein of Tupperware ladies. With the sudden uptake and media spotlight on these therapeutic grade essential oils and health, the company (Hello Young Living Singapore!) I get my oils from has suffered a real shortage in product. This frustrating situation has led to some mummies to comment that we should stop sharing with other mummies – even if they would really benefit from the essential oils, lest there are not enough for themselves.
Right on the other side of the scarcity-abundance chasm are mummies who dig into their own stash to help other mummies who are joining the go-natural route, some even gifting the (limited in supply) bottles of oils.
So, what kind of parent are you? Are you an Abundance Parent or a Scarcity Parent?
#1. When you discover an awesome kid program, you:
(a) Tell all your close friends and encourage them to go for a trial. Quick! Before class is full!
(b) Keep very mum about it, refraining from posting your usual Facebook updates about it.
#2. When your mummy friends ask for your opinion on a parenting know-how, you:
(a) Think things through and share your own experience and best-known practices.
(b) Keep quiet or say something vague because you worry your child might lose his/her edge.
#3. When your child does well and someone asks how their kid might do the same, you:
(a) Share all that you have done, even if you qualify that you child “got lucky somewhat.”
(b) Say “I don’t know!” … but you actually had a full-on gameplan.
#4. When your child’s school/tuition center gives out a kick-ass piece of study material, you:
(a) Tell your close friends about it, at least, when it comes up in conversation.
(b) Hide all evidence of it if friends are coming over and instruct your child to never speak of it.
#5. You find an excellent tutor/coach/instructor. You:
(a) Share their contact willingly when someone asks for it.
(b) Dodge having to share their contact, sometimes making excuses about their busy schedule.
It goes without saying which category each option goes under.
When I think back to my early days of motherhood – the nights fraught with worry and the days wrecked with exhaustion – I am grateful for mummy friends that shared their own parenting journey best practices. And so often, when I meet a mum that reaches out, I feel deeply compelled to dig as deep as I can to reach back. Not just because karma’s a bitch, but to borrow the words of one Sarah B. Breathnach:
Both abundance and (scarcity) exists simultaneously in our lives as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend. When we choose to be grateful for the abundance that is present – love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature and personal pursuits that bring us joy – the wasteland of (scarcity) falls away as we experience heaven on earth.”
Cherie Tseng is mum to two little boys: Quentin, four, and Evan, two. They love superheroes, pizza and going on pretend adventures with mummy and daddy to save the world. She runs a regional training consultancy, co-owns a Singapore-Myanmar business brokerage outfit and is an essential oil enthusiast. In her spare time, she crafts, makes diaper cakes and practices aerial circus arts. Cherie occasionally blogs at The Growing Tree Project.