Other people’s problems (and why you can’t make them yours)

Categories: Career, Hacking Life, Parenting, The Juggle, Uncategorized

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I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the way women interact at work, the way we interact as mothers and as friends, and the way we inadvertently undermine our professional and personal relationships. And I’ve come to a pretty liberating conclusion: Much of the time, it’s about insecurity. But you can’t control other people’s behavior, only your own. Which is why you can’t make other people’s insecurities your problem.

There’s an old saying that men kill their weak, but women kill their strong. I think that’s why there’s no real female counterpart to The Old Boys’ Network; for men, eliminating a weak link makes them all safer, but women, focused on individuals rather than a unit in the workplace, often revert to high-school era “mean girl” strategies, trying to undermine those whose strengths makes them a threat to the others.

That’s a huge generalization, of course, and so is this next one, but I’m going to make it anyway: I think insecurity is a key issue in the Mommy Wars, too. In all aspects of it, in fact – stay-at-home vs. work-out-of-the-home, bottle vs. breast, single parent vs. married parent, one child vs. many, bio-mom vs. stepmom.

Generally speaking, instead of acknowledging that we’re all doing the best we can and making our decisions based on what’s best for our families, many moms tear one another down (sometimes via a Mommy Drive-By, sometimes via gossip, sometimes via our kids) in order to build themselves up. The Mommy Wars are largely about attacking people whose decisions don’t validate your own, and making yourself feel superior at someone else’s expense. It’s especially evident in the stepmom/bio-mom battling you see on message boards and blogs — iVillage’s contradictory 15 Things Moms Secretly Want To Say To Stepmoms and Lindsay Ferrier’s even-handed rebuttle on Suburban Turmoil are two great examples. And much of it stems from insecurity.

But, you know what? Dimishing yourself in order to make someone else feel better about herself is foolish,  a waste of time and energy. There’s a difference between living your life and tailoring it to make someone else feel better. That’s not to say that we don’t have a responsibility to help others; in many situations, I think we do. But that doesn’t mean we’re responsible for other people’s actions.

Your successes are not someone else’s failures.

And someone else’s crippling insecurity or feelings of inadequacy are not your problems.

Have you found yourself putting yourself down in order to make someone else feel better? What made you notice?

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One comment so far...

  • Hmm, I have to say that being a mom has made me more confident and straightforward, if anything. Granted, I was raised to be humble, so it is not unusual for me to make a humble or even self-deprecating statement before stating my point of view. But what I don’t do much is apologize for my choices. Unless I truly believe I’ve made a mistake.

    Another thing I’ve noticed is that it sometimes takes a “problem” to bring someone down off their high horse. In my own case, being quite knowledgeable about child development, education, and literacy (and how to maximize all three), my eyes were opened to a new world when I realized my kid had pretty significant vision issues that impeded all of these. I am a lot more compassionate toward families with kids who struggle in school for no apparent reason. Also, my recent trip to the emergency room was humbling - stuff happens no matter how many things you’re doing “right.” So maybe some of those drive-by moms just haven’t had their awakening yet.

    But, mostly, I don’t care what their issue is. My kids aren’t their kids anyway. My kids are doing just fine.

    It’s not like I’m going to quit working anyway, right?

    I think if someone’s judgment bothers the judgee a lot, usually it’s because the judgee has not really stopped doubting her decision. Third parties’ comments just remind her of her own unresolved internal debate.

    SKL  |  December 3rd, 2010 at 4:18 pm