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New-Mom Envy

Object of envy #1: The Martha mom

It's hard not to notice the Martha mom. She's the one who packs her baby's clothes away according to size and season, and arranges her toys as if they were on display in a museum. She's also able by some manipulation of the time and space continuum to get showered, styled, manicured, and made up daily.

"My girlfriend's house is always neat and tidy...and she is always out and about," says Hainesport, New Jersey, mom Michele Morelli, who feels as if her own home has been in disarray ever since her baby arrived. "There is always laundry to be done, and it seems the mail and every other piece of junk is lying on the kitchen counter." The disparity is so noticeable that she says she can't help but ask herself, "What am I doing wrong?"

Mary Peters of New York City knows the feeling: "I once stopped by a neighbor's apartment to borrow something and was stunned at how immaculate everything was, even though she has two kids. I never dropped in again."

While these moms may be able to win a proverbial "Tidy Bowl," any illusions about their superiority might go down the drain if we got to really know them, says Leslie Morgan Steiner, editor of Mommy Wars (Random House, March 2006). Indeed, the neat mom might be the first to say that envy from other moms is misplaced.

Kelly McElwain of Davidsville, Pennsylvania, used to berate herself every time she visited a particular mom's spotless home, until the woman confided that her husband was Attila the Household Hun who had no tolerance for messy surroundings. "She told me that if he found papers or clutter around, he would throw it away immediately," she says. Later, after McElwain moved out of the neighborhood, she also discovered another fact worthy of Wisteria Lane: This seemingly stress-free neighbor was popping Prozac, along with every other woman in their playgroup, to combat her supermom anxiety. "That cured my envy," says McElwain.

Flo Huffman of Noblesville, Indiana, mom of a 1-year-old, understands the pressure of having a neat house  -- it's one she puts on herself. "I get caught up in trying to be the most organized mom and homemaker," she says. "I envy women who can put laundry on hold or leave dishes in the sink to play with their babies." In other words, is the dirty glass in the sink half-empty or half-full?