16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. 18 Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”
22 So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. 23 But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. 24 And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant.
25 When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”
31 When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. 32 Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.”
There’s a reason no one thinks back on their junior high years and says, “those were the glory days.” Those middling years are terrible. You do not know who you are anymore. Your thoughts are erratic and often not your own. “That guy is so cute! Is he looking at me? No, of course he’s not. Why would anyone look at me?” Or better yet, “Is that girl looking at me? What’s wrong with me? Are these jeans completely gross?” Not only do you feel like a crazy person, but you feel like you’re the only one. Everyone else has already figured out how to play this game while your lagging behind. Oh, and you don’t recognize your own body anymore. It’s changing so fast it gives you vertigo every time you look down. By the time we reach high school, college, marriage, etc, we are more than ready to leave that era behind.
Here’s the thing. Motherhood is a lot like returning to middle school. All of a sudden we’re back to square one figuring this life thing out. We look around at the sea of other mothers and catch ourselves thinking, “It that mom looking at me? What’s wrong with me? Am I holding/feeding/disciplining all wrong? Are these jeans completely gross?” And the vertigo thing still completely applies. Your body is not what is used to be.
I thought I would be past the need to compete by the time I became a mother. Been there. Done that. I had the degree, the husband, the job, the house, the car. It had to be enough right? But suddenly I was all over the place again. Everything felt tenuous, like I could trip and fall to the back of the pack in a second. I remember the first time I tried to take Charlie to school with the twins. It took me forty-five minutes to get them from car to classroom. Both the twins screamed–screamed like they were on fire. It echoed down the hallways while I pushed them in one stroller and pulled Charlie in another. Other moms slipped by me, gingerly sidestepping our girth with their one or two gentle darlings. I could not look them in the eye.
Each time I read the story of Rachel and Leah, I look for hope. Because it just seems so sad. Leah the plain one. Rachel the beauty. Leah the fruitful. Rachel the barren. Back and forth they fought over Jacob. “Here, take my servant and have children with her.” “No, take mine!” Jacob must have really been something. Or it was just a really small town. Either way, the competition is exhausting. It’s middle school angst magnified exponentially. In the end, between them and their servants, they gave Jacob thirteen children. Not a bad way to start a lineage. But it’s not a way to live.
Competition between mothers will not end. It’s that constant need to look over our shoulders and make sure we’re doing it right. It stems from a good place. We want to raise our children the best we can. We want them to thrive. We want to see what’s working for others. It’s when this desire turns from altruism to aggression that the junior high panic creeps back in. Most of us do it subconsciously. In aiming to present our family in the best light, we forget to nurture and care for others outside our family unit. But if you think about it, other mothers are also our family, our sisters, out there fighting the same fight.
It’s so much easier to remember no one else has it all together when I stop trying to have it all together too. Rachel and Leah eventually made peace when they left their father’s land with their husband and had to rely on each other for survival. That’s what it often takes to drop the gloves: exposure to vulnerability. I think that’s what we all need. If I could talk to my twelve-year-old self, I would tell her: “Honey, it’s okay. No one else gets it either. Maybe go sit with that other girl next time she’s alone at lunch.” And if I could talk to my new mom self, I’d say the exact same thing.