Mom A: “So how’s Shannon doing?”
Mom B: “Oh, she is doing great. I was worried that the transition into 10th grade would be rough, but she is really thriving. She just started speech and debate and even won a regional award at the last…”
Mom A: “Oh, speech and debate, my Richie did that starting in 9th grade—you know, so it could show some continuity in his college applications. He has won 4, no 5, of those regional awards and is running for Vice President of the club…”
One-upping, peacocking, boasting, gloating, showing off…call it what you will, I call it annoying—and sometimes heart-breaking. Occasionally, when I am at speaking events setting up my computer, signing books or preparing my notes at the lectern, I overhear this kind of discussion. One parent mentions something her child is doing in an excited, passionate way and another immediately ‘mom-hacks’ or takes the accomplishment and makes it her own. It actually breaks my heart because I know the first mom wants to just scream “CAN’T YOU JUST BE HAPPY FOR ME, PLEASE!!!!” If she doesn’t want to scream it, I certainly do.
I also see this on Facebook when a mom mentions that her baby just started walking for the first time and tells the story of the special moment. Then her ‘friends’ post beneath with their own stories of their babies not only walking, but leaping, skipping and shooting gold stars out of their feet. Unfortunately, this is not just a mom phenomenon. I often feel crestfallen when I mention something positive in my life and my friend mentions something bigger and better that happened to her. Or, even more confusing, is when you mention something terrible happening in your life and then the person you are speaking to insists that they have it worse.
“Oh, your tired. Well, I only got 4 hours of sleep on your 6. So, there.”
Oddly, when this happens, I often have the tendency to want to beat them before I realize it doesn’t matter who got more or less sleep. Moreover, why would I want to get less sleep than them? Is this one-upmanship in our human nature?
The reason I decided to write about mom-hacking today is because kids are finally starting to notice. Unfortunately, both healthy and damaging competition for teenagers has always been an issue—girls wanting to be prettier than their friends, boys wanting to be the best basketball player on the team and the mathlete wanting get the highest score on the team. However, now I am seeing more and more teenagers responding to their parent’s desire to mom-hack their friends’ kids accomplishments. Take the following excerpt from an email I received for example:
“Anyways, I wanted to get your advice on how I can tell my mom that I do not want to do ballet anymore. I love ballet, but I want some more free time after school. I honestly think one of the main reasons my mom pushes me to play is just so she can tell the other moms that I have big parts in Swan Lake and that I might go to Julliard one day. She talks about the other girls and how I am better than them and I know this makes her proud of me, so I do not want to disappoint her.”
These kinds of emails make me incredibly sad. Especially because we all fall into the tendency to one-up or hack someone else’s accomplishments. In addition, according to a University of Michigan study of about 13,000 college students by Sarah Konrath at the Institute for Social Research, young people today, compared to students in the1970′s are 40% lower in empathy! Konrath says that a possible reason for the lower levels of empathy is the new parental focus on competition. Parents are putting more emotional emphasis on being better than others, not relating to them. This is exactly what happens with mom-jacking. Instead of listening to and celebrating with a fellow parent, we turn to our own accomplishments to one-up theirs.
Today I am going to try to be more conscious about this behavior with my friends and family. In addition, I am going to try to push against the urge to respond to a hack with another hack and instead, kindly call them on it. I hope that by reading this post you might consider stopping the urge and addressing mom-hacking when it happens to you as well.
If you liked this article get more Radical Parenting in our new book: Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded?