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).

Image courtesy of
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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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Holly Ann July 11, 2011 at 2:36 am

Very well said, Mamma! I completely agree with you. I always hate hearing about what other families are doing with their kids when I know damn well that I could never afford to do such things with mine (e.g. vacations, private lessons, etc.) regardless of how much I might like to. The fact that I can't do those things doesn't make me a bad mom and I know that, but it sure does make me feel crappy.
Anyway, the so-called "Mommy Wars" are a big part of why I chose to begin the "What I Love About Me!" Blog Hop that I now host weekly with my friend Allison. I'd love it if you came by and linked up this week. You could even link up this post as it sheds a lot of light on the need to have a meme like the one Allison and I started. See, it's not about being arrogant; it's about reminding ourselves that it's okay if we can't keep up with the Jones'. :)


Melanie July 11, 2011 at 8:45 pm

I think people are always trying to keep up with the Joneses and many of them struggle with debt because of it. Buying on credit, appearing like you are something you are not simply for the sake of image is crazy. However, with our consumer-obsessed society, it's a method that seems to be working for brands out there.


championm2000 July 12, 2011 at 12:29 am

I think I have made peace with this issue by accepting the fact that you never know what is really going on in the homes of others. From the outside, it may seem like they have it all together, but on the inside, the parents can't stand each other and they buy things to compensate or distract themselves from their real issues. Remembering things aren't always as they seem helps me keep my guilt/feelings of shortcomings in check. I think we would all be better off if we focus on just being the best parent we can be with what we have. Easier said than done!


Holly Ann July 12, 2011 at 3:19 am


Wise words!


Samantha July 12, 2011 at 3:37 am

@Holly Ann Hi Holly,
I love the idea of doing something positive on your blog. I'll definitely check it out and add my name. If we all did something like this, we wouldn't have to worry about how we're perceived by others, or feeling that we don't measure up on one level or another. Thanks for sharing.


Samantha July 12, 2011 at 3:38 am

@Melanie Hi Melanie, I agree - there is so much pressure now for people to live up to certain standards that are set by - who knows - big companies? It's crazy. Keeping things in perspective makes one realize that most of it is not important, at the end of the day. Thanks for commenting.


Samantha July 12, 2011 at 3:40 am

@championm2000 Hi Melissa - I agree with Holly - those are very wise words. You never know what is really going on with people and the fact of the matter is that when people are talking about how great their lives our, it is often the opposite that is really going on, sadly.
Thanks for your comment.


Samantha July 12, 2011 at 3:40 am

@Holly Ann Agree!!


Grumpy Grateful Mom July 12, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Excellent post! I definitely have seen this. Moms trying portray how perfect their life and kids are. I have even fallen into that trap before, wanting to seem perfect for my perfect friends. But, I completely agree with you. Let's support each other as women, despite our choices and differences.


Samantha July 12, 2011 at 2:52 pm

@Grumpy Grateful Mom Totally! I really like what Holly is doing on her blog "Twins Plus One, Two Times the Fun" where she is allowing us to be supportive of one another, not adversarial. I'm going to add a post/link there in the spirit of her meme - you may want to do so too!
Thanks for commenting :)


Anonymous July 12, 2011 at 6:53 pm

As a resident of a neighbourhood that underwent an extreme gentrification over the past ten years, I can totally relate to how the invasion of these ultra high net worth parents feels. Many of these parents enjoy extraordinary wealth through either the good fortunate that their parents created a trust fund for their benefit. Others were provided with a leading advantage educationally through a private school education that enabled them to benefit from a very high paying career. When you are surrounded by glaring examples of wealth, any self aware individual feels exactly the way you have described so passionately on your blog. I am not sure if what I feel at times is jealousy or perhaps a sense of resentment that these parents do not need to suffer as extensively to make ends meet. Living alongside the wealthy does manage to inspire a variety of feelings. I have decided that instead of succumbing to these negative feelings, I have tried to keep things in perspective and focus on trying to provide the best living environment and as many interesting and stimulating activities and opportunities as I can for my children and family. These may fall short of what others have, but as long as I feel I have tried to do the best I can to my full potential, using whatever skills or means I possess, I feel a sense of satisfaction. This is the benchmark that I use instead of looking to these wealthy people as a measure. Instead of aspiring to be more like these well off people, I often find myself looking at my own extremely hard working, blue collar parents who did everything in their means for their kids as my inspiration instead. My parents worked a lot harder and were way more selfless than I could ever even try to be. They are more of an inspiration to do the best for my family and I feel that this honours the spirit of upbringing versus trying to compete with the privileged around me. I guess there is a danger to generalize about a parent who brags about their child’s success or one who feels proud of the home they worked to create because these things may be of great significance with respect to what brings value to their family. Sometimes it might be difficult to interpret this from an outside perspective. I do agree with you that respecting one another regardless and keeping true to one’s core values are what brings true wealth.


Samantha July 14, 2011 at 1:12 am

Wow! What an insightful, thoughtful and well-articulated reply. You've touched upon a number of topics in your response that deserve addressing.
With respect to those who come from wealth and a private school education, I too have felt somewhat envious of the perceived ease at which some of these folks seem to glide through life, while others struggle trying to make ends meet. It often doesn't seem fair, especially when one is running for the bus, late for work and passes someone on the patio of the local coffee shop chatting lively with another fortunate friend, with no thought of work in sight. That's when the jealousy and feelings of inadequacy often rear their ugly heads, but upon further introspection, I too - like you - realize that a) perception is not necessarily reality and b) I'm thankful for the work ethic that my parents instilled within me. So while my family is by no stretch independently wealthy (ha!), even if we were, I would always work and have a career because that's just how I was raised and there's nothing like an honest job and a full day's work to feel like you've done your thing and earned your keep (even if you don't need to).

Family, as you've referenced, is the most important thing and as parents we are obliged to teach our children the right lessons - about work, about treating others with kindness (perhaps NOT bragging to make those listening feel inadequate) and about doing the right thing. Too bad that some folks (like the ones in your neighborhood) didn't get the memo. Their loss.

Thanks so much for this great response.


Maranda October 24, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Well said! I think there's a distinct lack of community in parenting circles these days, and a lot of it has to do with the issues you mentioned. Instead of banding together, we're in constant competition. We look back on the 50s with disdain, but I have to wonder what the next generations will have to say about us. We try to have it all and fail miserably (or feel like we do) and lot of that has to do with a lack of support and community. Consumerism, the economy and even the internet coming into it's own are all factors as well, but this keeping up of appearances is certainly the largest part IMO.


Samantha October 25, 2011 at 8:23 pm

@Maranda I think that those factors are certainly ones that have contributed to this problem, Maranda. As well, I would add that the perception and presentation of women and families in the media - the all-powerful superwomen who do everything with a smile on their faces - has added to this stress. Most of us know that this imagery is a fantasy, but somewhere inside we deride ourselves for not living up to the expectation. And when we see some other mothers who seem to have it together more than we do, we lash out. Sad but true. It's got to change, that's for sure.
Thanks for your comment.


MarcieMom May 11, 2012 at 10:49 am

I don’t really feel that I have to compete with other moms, though few people told me I’m competitive!

Maybe that’s why I work endlessly on my blog - I want it to be THE resource parents go to, have fun, have a laugh, learn from experts and relax knowing all aspects of their life is taken seriously, enough for me to find experts to help!

So, now, there’s more on nutrition and parenting on my blog, plus a Q&A with a leading pediatrician in Singapore who specialised in allergy. If there’s a way I can guest blog here to spread awreness, would be even better! Let me know k, and I’m off to do #FF !


Joani Plenty July 22, 2012 at 10:13 pm

Wow! You hit the renovation nail on the head!!! This was a great (and honest) read! Thanks! Oh, and yes…insecurities are most definitely at the root of the problem. So, those who can’t “renovate” right now or whose kids have more fun playing in the hose than an in-ground pool, lol, you should be flattered when moms do this to you! ;)

All kidding aside, great thought provoking post. Competition is great when it’s done in a positive, healthy, way…one that will benefit the both of us and help us both grow. I give, give, give when it comes to resources which I find many women tend to hoard so that you can’t 1up THEM. But I fall in love when I meet a woman who isn’t competitive with me. Her confidence is a breath of fresh air!


Samantha July 23, 2012 at 1:57 am

Thanks for the kind words, Joani. It’s a sad day when you and I and so many other women are relieved to meet another woman where competition is not on the agenda. Whether it’s about kids, parenting, home, money, whatever - it seems that we’re all in this state where we feel like we have to “keep up with the Joneses” to our detriment. We need to all stop, take a look around and realize that we’re doing the best that we can - and it doesn’t have to be the same as or better than our neighbours. When we realize this and stop making everything into a competition, we’ll be a lot better off.
Thanks for commenting!


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