As my journey into motherhood has progressed, I have become acutely aware of the judgement zones that exist across various categories of moms. Breastfeeding versus not; baby-wearing versus not; screen-time versus none. I guess I expected to encounter those issues.
What I didn’t plan on encountering is the competitive mothering landscape that exists within the mom world.
Rather than defending myself for the decision not to co-sleep, or whatever parenting choice my family made, the majority of uncomfortable mom conversations I find myself in are more about how we’re all measuring up against each other, rather than our parenting choices.
What size pants are you in? How many words does your son know? Are your floors real hardwood?
The feeling these questions generate is icky because they’re masked in good-natured dialogue and not straightforward debate or even “getting to know each other” chit-chat. I don’t feel like I’m being approached as a friend, rather I’m being measured and weighed in this competitive mothering battleground.
I’ve had a hard time processing how to engage with these competitive moms. At first, I wondered if I was reading too much into these remarks, but soon it became clear: there’s a competition in the mom world over who has the nicest house, the smartest kids, the best job, the most devoted husband, and the smallest butt.
The competitive mothering conversations always start out on neutral footing but quickly end in one-upmanship or question-and-answer sessions that feel more like intel gathering than genuine interest.
I’ve encountered quite a range of these competitive moms. For example: A mom I’ve crossed paths with over the past couple of years recalled that my house was for sale. When she asked me where we’re living now, I told her we recently built a townhouse nearby, to which she responded, “Oh, we prefer to buy older single-family homes and invest in fixing them up.”
That conversation progressed into this woman questioning which of us would get a better return on their investment (rude, I know!) and asking what we’ll do without a yard for our son. Her yard, of course, is considerable, and they spend, “Just so much time mowing it.” (Which confirms my decision to buy a home that requires zero lawn maintenance to begin with. Cue eye roll.)
These interactions happen all of the time, and I’ve only been in the mom game for 23 measly months! I began to wonder, how much worse will this get? Isn’t being a mom hard enough? Aren’t villages meant to support and celebrate each other? I really want no part of this competitive mothering experience.
I find that competitive mothering makes us start to measure ourselves against other moms’ Instagram feeds, or become obsessed with keeping up with the Joneses.
I started to find myself trapped in a competitive cycle, and it didn’t feel good. I was too busy behind my phone streaming my life than focusing on actually enjoying it.
I’m no stranger to competition; in fact, I thrive on it. But I only like competition when it helps make me a better person, not a more insecure one. And after engaging in the grueling mom joust, I realized that there’s really no way to win.
Once I took space and stepped back, my annoyance and anger at the competitive moms softened, and I started to feel compassionate towards them. I felt empathy for their insecurities and sad that we can’t just be happy with who we are and what we have. These ladies could be my mom team, instead of my mom frenemies.
With that, I took myself out of the game because when it comes to the mom competition, anyone who plays is playing to lose.