Mom Overachievers

I don’t want to compete with other mothers. Really.



Motherhood isn’t a competition. It may be a weird, surprising, twisted and hopefully joyful journey, but certainly not a contest.


However the antics of some mothers make me feel like I’m falling down on the job. It’s as though they’ve commandeered the definition of what constitutes being a “good mom” and radically overhauled it without consulting me. I just can’t keep up. I’m not sure why some of the things parents are doing these days bug me so much, but I concur with blogger Jen Singer when she says to over-achiever moms: Knock it off, will ya? You’re making things impossible for the rest of us mothers with our feet of clay.


It started the other day when I was reading the New York Times and spotted a front page article about middle school girls whose mothers shell out hard-earned cash to bling-up their daughters’ school lockers. I’m not talking about the garden variety stuff I bought for my middle schoolers like a plain magnetic pen holder, mirror and utilitarian foldable stand. (Even though buying those items felt like a splurge to me.)


The mothers in this New York Times story bought - hold onto your coffee mugs - shag carpeting, wallpaper, decorative flowers, motion-sensor lights and (I still can’t even believe this is a real thing) locker chandeliers among other decorative items.


Locker. Chandeliers.


“If middle school had an emblem, it would be the locker, the first taste of privacy at school at a moment in life when that means a lot,” Elissa Gootman wrote in the Times. “At the same time, lockers are public, visible to anyone walking down the hallway, and therefore an ideal platform to convey one’s image. After all, your bedroom may be worthy of the PBteen catalog, but if the popular girls never see it, they will never know.”


Because apparently it’s important for mothers to stoke the flames of tween and teen competition, reinforce the notion that a locker reflects a student’s personality (an unadorned locker full of books = smart?) and promote parental over-involvement with a girl’s “first taste of privacy” by wasting money on something as insipid as locker chandeliers. Did I somehow miss the news story about the scourge of dimly lit school hallways and lockers that damage students’ vision thereby necessitating locker chandeliers?



Then one of my writer pals, Kristin Brandt, blogged about another parental “trend,” that of wildly over-the-top, motivational, sparkly, educational lunchbox notes that mothers are apparently writing, and the businesses that have sprung up to meet this so-called “need.” (World hunger = a need. Motivational lunchbox notes . . . not so much.)


Lisa Diez

I completely agree with this article! But mommy tracked, really?
The ads of Brooke Burke's (nearly unattainable) body right next to this article send us the same message!!


I wouldn't run a marathon regardless of being pregnant or in labor, but whatever floats each person. As to the scripted note pads, I laugh each time I see them at the store. The thing is motherhood is hard enough whether you work outside of the home, from home or as a homemaker - it is a matter of what works best for your family and life. I am too cheap however to buy a chandelier for my child's locker even though that is luckily many years away. We are just trying to survive Kindergarten.


I didn't slack during either pregnancy, and I'm no marathon runner. I worked full-time until two weeks before each birth (couldn't reach the clutch on my cars anymore by then, as I carried up front and enormous, and have very short legs), walked constantly, gained no more than 23 pounds with either son (no competition, I just ate healthy food, didn't submit to cravings and exercised. My sons were 9 lbs 12 oz, and 7 lbs 11 22.5" each) and was a very happy pregnant woman. Did I do something wrong? Amber is a marathon runner, and what she did she does as a matter of course. For herself. For the majority of women, it would be an impossibility...but why be disrespectful of her? I find it funny and touching that she was honest enough to say that labor and delivery were harder than running a marathon.

My son's middle school only allows moderate locker decoration. I tend to think that some of the haute locker accessories are entertaining, but also a bit excessive, and definitely a new contrivance to appeal to moms who want their girls to be girlie, trendy, and insure their status as socially elite in the school culture. Their actually is a great deal of competitiveness among mothers in the school systems, especially from middle school forward, and more so with girls than with boys. I am not saying that all mothers engage in this...they don't. However, far too many are obsessed with their daughters' status, appearance, appeal and popularity. This is proved out by the all too numerous scandals surrounding cheering, dancers, gymnasts and other female dominated groups in the high schools. It is the mothers driving these fierce, and sometimes deadly competitions. Frankly, the thought of a mother purchasing breast enhancements for her 16 year old (who is in no way finished developing, or mature enough for such cosmetic surgery) to further her goals in high school cheer or dance is disturbing and disgusting.

However, if a girl wants to purchase some of these (ridiculously) expensive items of decor for her locker, why not? If she wants to accessorize in some other, more individual and creative way, even better. Especially if either is purely her own idea. I don't necessarily perceive competition in this (though they are competitive, even in middle school, incredibly, disturbingly, heart-breakingly so)...but I also don't think it's crucial to achieving their individuality and true identity. Girls hung pictures from Tiger Beat and Seventeen magazines in their lockers when I was that age (I hung pictures from Creem and Heavy Metal, the boys tried to hang centerfolds from Playboy and Penthouse). This is just a more commercialized, deliberate enterprise.
As for notes in lunches, yes I have written and deposited a few for blue children, or nervous test-takers. And my harried, hard-working husband, too. I'm not in competition with other moms at all. But maybe the column's author will think so after this reveal. I can cook like a mad woman, and did it even when working full-time. I can fix cars (older models), change tires, and change oil...including filters. I can hem pants and sew on buttons so they won't fall off...ever. I can balance a checkbook, raise a newborn kitten, beat up monsters in closets and tell one hell of a ghost story (convincing enough to terrify full-grown adults). I have a weird sense of humor, know more about military strategy, tactics, armaments, weapons and warriors than most men I know, can debunk most of the popular paranormal shows, and have a black belt in tae kwon do. I cannot use hot rollers, a flat iron, a curling iron or curlers...but I give a mean buzz cut, and wear one myself. I like Hello Kitty and Clive Barker, have a collection of erotica, and believe my very small family always comes first.
So, do you want me to Just Stop? I'm not in competition with anyone, you know...but you probably think that I am. Which, my dear, not only is ridiculous, but simply furthers those Mommy Wars. I've never felt in competition with other moms, superior to any, or cared much how others viewed me. We are all individuals, and it's time that so many stopped even joking about The Competition. Live, and let be.


"Working Moms, - DONT HATE .. be happy for the Moms who can, and do. Chances are they can help you out too!"

COMPLETELY inappropriate comment, the article had nothing to do with mom's working situation. Plus your comments assumes that working Mom's "can't" and "don't" do any of those things.

What really bothered me about the New York Times article is that it was yet another example of the parent taking over and doing what the child should be doing. My child's locker is just that, THEIR locker. It is their responsibility to decorate, not mine. If they want to use their money and buy that stuff, fine (and I'll fully admit, I would have LOVED that stuff at the same age) but I'm not trudging into school to put it up for them. I think one parent in the article said something like decorating her child's locker helped her (not her daughter) ease into the transition into middle school. So whose benefit is this decorating for, the child or the parent?


Locker chandeliers belong in the same category as standing mani-pedi appointments for middle schoolers. I have to laugh sometimes when my 11 year old daughter comes home with such outlandish requests just because "so and so" at school is doing it. After we have a chat about priorities she usually agrees that stuff like that is ridiculous to obsess over.


I am a lunch box note mommy and I even write trivia for Jonah because he doesn't want me to write little love letters on his napkin. I have never thought once that I was in competition with other moms. My dad put little notes of endearment around for us while we were growning up sometimes in my lunch box other times I would find them in my car or on my bed. It is a tradition I carried on. As for the lockers well, that was a bit over the top and since I haven't even seen any of Mitchell's lockers you can rest assured I won't be hanging any chandeliers.


I agree with you 100% on the lunchbox bling and the shag carpeting and wallpaper for lockers. I have to admit, though, I think those locker chandeliers are a little bit awesome.


Every mother does what feels right to her. I strongly believe this to be true. Amber was an avid, life-long runner and finished a marathon by walking a mile, running a mile and did it in 3 hours longer than her normal time. She did what felt normal to her. Not all of us are marathoners, but to her it would have been out of character to sit around like a beached whale eating bon bons for 9 months. I don't view this as a competition, this is just moms doing what they do and being comfortable in their own skin. There are no slackers, there are no over-achievers, we all just do what feels right. If it's not locker chandeliers and marathons, that doesn't mean that those moms need to 'knock it off" just because you feel insecure about not doing those things. All we can do is be ourselves and be authentic....whether that authenticity is in the form of over-embellishing, our sense of humor, making brownies or running marathons. We need to remember it's not a contest and we don't need to ridicule those who we perceive as 'over-achievers.'

Well, this is very funny., I say HOlD ON THERE. Any Mom who is upset about other kids lockers is too busy body herself. She feels
like she has to keep up with other Moms, she is missing the point. Moms do what we can, when we can! I am a crafty type mom, and I would LOVE to give my daughter a cool locker theme. But she wont let me! When I saw another middle schooler locker all done up, I was thinking WOW, way to go, and I want to do that too! BUT the locker is not MINE, it is my daughters. If she wants a chandelier, and wants to pay for it- Good for her. Whenever there is a sport tournament, I am one of the Moms who go and decorate ALL the teams locker. I love it! that is fun for me! AND the kids like the recognition. I say- chill out! If you have time DO IT, and if you don't- then don't. If your teen wants a special locker you should try to help her get it done. Working Moms, - DONT HATE .. be happy for the Moms who can, and do. Chances are they can help you out too!


I enjoyed reading this, and I agree with your general annoyance, but one of these things is not like the other. Marathon mama - well, good for her I guess, but it seems like a very personal drive she has that most of us can not relate to and that really has nothing to do with parenting. Your first two examples are not examples of parents competing to be the best parents - they are just examples of consumerism run wild, and the unfortunate passing down of materialism from one generation to the next. Help your kid learn how to organize their locker = good parenting. Buying stupid unnecessary stuff for the lockers, no. Writing a heart-felt note - ok, although I never felt the need to connect with the kids while they are at school learning to be their own people. Buying pre-made notes, no. Stop teaching your kids that you have to buy more and more stuff to be a good parent or to be happy. Every bit of research on the topic shows that buying stuff makes you happy very briefly, then almost immediately you are even more dissatisfied.