Motherhood Is Not a Competition (OR: I’m Not Decorating Soccer Ball Cookies to Make You Look Bad)

I remember the moment well.

About four years ago, I had invited a little girl over to play with my kids. Her mom dropped her off and we chatted while the kids played and then she told me she’d be back in an hour.

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About seven minutes later, apparently our basement full of toys became completely uninteresting, so I was confronted by three little people carrying a science experiment book.

“Pleassssssse can we do something in this book? We won’t make a mess,” they begged.

After falling down laughing about the mess comment, I started flipping through the pages to find something simple and not labor intensive. I decided to go with Gak because I had all the materials on hand. And because I’m an overachiever, I took some store-bought dough out of the freezer and made the girls “homemade” cookies. I could seriously have my own show, I was being so domestic.

When the mom came back, I invited her in for a few minutes. She smelled the aroma of fresh-baked cookies and saw the kids happily playing and said this: “Wow, you go all out for playdates. I just usually throw some goldfish at them.”

I was a little surprised at the disdain I heard in her voice, but when I snapped back into reality I instantly went into defense mode, which for me is self-deprecation in overdrive.

“Oh, Gak is just glue and detergent and I had promised my kids we would do it, and the cookie dough was leftover and my kitchen never looks like this normally but we have company coming over tonight and …” I rambled on like an idiot. Because apparently trying to be a good mom is something I was doing to offend her.

I felt shamed for doing something fun for my kids—and hers. Shame for even trying to be a good mom.

This has happened to me a lot over the years. I have heard comments about my volunteering too much at my kids’ school, or hosting too nice of parties, or making a Pinterest-inspired handmade soccer cookie (one time.)  Most people are appreciative, but there are always others that say something along the lines of: “Way to make the rest of us look bad!”

But here’s the thing: I never do anything to make anyone feel bad about themselves. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I do these things because they make me feel good.

It’s tough not to benchmark our own existence against our peers. We see a snapshot of another woman and believe we know who they are. And when we are in the thick of it—trying to balance work or young children or kids with special needs or weight gain—it’s easy to think that people are trying to shove it in your face.

As women, we live a contradictory existence. We say: “Yes, you can do it, I am behind you!” But what we really mean is: ”Yes, go do it, but don’t be too good at it as I don’t want to feel bad about myself.”

It’s like the mom who decides to lose a few pounds and then ends up entering bikini competitions. How dare she! She must not spend any time with her kids.

Or the mom who dresses up every single day she drops off her daughter at kindergarten while the rest of us schlep in dirty yoga pants. She must be so vain. Or have a nanny.

Or the mom whose house is so spotless when you drop by to return some Tupperware that you think her husband must be like Julia Roberts in Sleeping with the Enemy. Because who has kids and can keep their house clean.

Or God forbid you are the mom who sends in the elaborate Valentine’s Day box or a well put-together bento lunch. It’s like you’re just giving me the finger.

Because don’t we have enough problems as parents than to hate on the ones that are actually trying?  Because there isn’t enough neglect, enough abuse, enough bullying of our children that we have to be mad at women who actually want to be better parents, better people, better than who they were yesterday?

Yes, there are always moms out there who feel the need to one-up someone else; but at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to do our best—and no one should get penalized for that.

So, the next time you see that woman all decked out to the nines hop out of her Escalade (and you in your spit up covered Target fleece), maybe just tell her your love her outfit. And when you see the four-tiered cake someone created for their son’s third birthday, maybe just tell her it is the most delicious thing you ever had. And when some mom makes Gak for your kid, just say thank you.

Because I’m not trying to make you feel bad. But I’m still going to keep trying to be my best.

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Whitney Fleming
Whitney Fleming is a mom of three daughters and a marketing professional who writes about finding joy in life's struggles at her blog, Playdates on Fridays.