Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better: Competition Between Moms Needs to Stop

by Samantha on July 10, 2011

Perhaps it started way back when in the prehistoric annals of domesticity, the 1950’s. If one went by the media and popular accounts of daily life that were portrayed at the time, women wanted to do nothing more than to keep a beautiful home and cook a wonderful meal. The name of the game was perfection and the holy grail was a sparkling kitchen floor and a husband’s shirt that was devoid of the feared “ring around the collar.” Apparently women enjoyed just being able to please their husbands by having the floor swept and dinner ready when he came home from a long day at the office. If she had any type of personal stresses to contend with, e.g. demands from the children, a feeling of low self-esteem due to an unfulfilled existence or otherwise, she made sure that it didn’t interfere with her partner’s “more important” requirement that he have a scotch and soda and a steak upon walking through the threshold at the end of the work day. After all, he deserved it, didn’t he? He was the primary breadwinner, after all.

Fast-forward to today.

We’ve come a long way, Baby, at least that’s what we’ve been told. We can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan. We have it all, apparently, yet, there is a pervasive insecurity that underlies many of us working moms’ daily lives (myself included).

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Case in point: the one-upmanship that is inherent in many schoolyard conversations between moms. What is it that compels us to try to make ourselves seem more together, smarter, more efficient…well…just better than other moms?

Listen closely at any morning drop-off or afternoon-pick up of kids from school or daycare, and you will likely hear anything from a smattering of one-off comments about recent personal or business-related “successes” to a full-blown roar of “Super Moms'” latest triumphs, often conveyed as they effortlessly snap their kids into their strollers while simultaneously checking messages on their smart phones. But don’t think that boasting about babies and business deals exists only within the realm of work-outside-the-home moms. The stay-at-home mothers have their own corner of the bragging universe covered, with frequent updates about little Ethan’s big score at the little league game, or of their daughter Emma being accepted to the best private school in the city. And don’t get me started about home renovations. Apparently everyone in my neighborhood is updating their home, without any apparent concern about finances or costs. I’m jealous.


Despite whomever is the designated speaker at the moment and whichever mom or dad is on the listening end, there is an underlying sense of…well…competition. Not being the competitive type by any stretch, I find it very uncomfortable, to say the least.
More importantly, one has to wonder where this competitiveness comes from and why it prevails. Is it because, despite our chosen daily “lot” in life (stay-at-home mom or work-outside-the-home mom), we are not completely invested or sure about the choice that we have made? Is it because we didn’t have a choice, really, and for whatever reason(s) (financial, personal or both) we either have to go drop off our kids and continue on to the boardroom, or schlep along with our many kids to drop one, two or three of them off at the daycare/babysitter, then go home and deal with the remaining kids and laundry??

Women in particular are very good at pitting ourselves against one another. Which begs the question: Why aren’t we allies? Shouldn’t we be supporting each other in our various ventures and lives with our kids and families, not setting up camps that are looking more and more like the haves and the have nots? So we can’t reno our basement as nicely as you. Sorry. So our kids will have to go to public school while your child continues to excel in private. Good for you. We don’t have a family cottage like you do, and we make do by taking our kids to the park on the weekends. Is that so bad?

Excuse the very apparent snarkiness of this post, but it is frustration borne of the inability to “keep up with the Joneses.” Somethings gotta give.

I’m not sure what the root of this behavior is, but I suspect that it is a result of our inherent insecurities about our abilities to parent as well as we would like to. Society has set up unrealistic “norms” that, through media, movies and otherwise, has made many of us feel like we just can’t compete. Hence the overcompensation via bragging to save face in the view of our peers who, ironically, are doing the exact same thing. All for appearances.

I think it’s safe to say that it’s okay to not have a perfect house. It’s okay that your child is not top of his or her class at school or daycare. A simple day at the park is fine, even if you don’t have a cottage or country home to visit to get away from the proletariat.

Perhaps I’m dreaming of a Utopia, but I think it would serve all of us moms better to treat each other as allies, not adversaries. Of course we have our friends who are in our camps, but in a larger sense, this issue of competitiveness and one-upmanship is very real - and very sad. It would be great to somehow join forces and have more supportive and collaborative ways of connecting with our kids’ schoolyard friends and their parents instead of getting the feeling that we just can’t measure up every time we drop our kids off for the day. Because, after all: can’t we all just get along?

Do you feel like you don’t measure up when you drop off the kids at school or daycare? Do you think that there is an underlying competitiveness with other parents when you run into them in your neighborhood? What do you think could be done to change this situation?

I look forward to your comments!


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