I first noticed this phenomenon when my daughter was only weeks old. It would have been impossible not to! How long was my labor? How much did Sara weigh at birth? Was she sleeping through the night? Was she breast feeding? Successfully? The competition grew more obnoxious as she got older. Can she sit up by herself yet? Has she crawled? Is she showing signs of walking? And The Holy Grail: How many words does she have? Is she showing signs of brilliance (like other parents claimed their child was)? This last one was usually delivered a little more subtly, but it was loud and clear: My child is better than yours. Ahhhhhh!
I’ve always wondered if this comes out of parents’ (even grandparents’ and other family members’) fear for their child’s future place in the world. Surely it comes out of insecurity. But it made me wonder: were they better parents than me? Was I a better parent than them? Why did it matter?! Weren’t we all products of our own experience and just doing the best we could?
I’ve had countless conversations with parents about how painful it is when their child doesn’t seem to measure up in some way. And the deep hurt that another parent can inflict with a seemingly casual comment. Another parent (often with a child of the same age) will “mention” that their child knows 33 words, and that he or she uses them correctly! Let’s say your child knows 12 words. Let’s say, god forbid, that you haven’t counted the number of words your child knows! And so on…….
I spoke to a parent recently about this subject. I asked him if he had experienced competition among parents. His reaction: “All day, every day!” He has two children, ages seven and nine. His experience when it came to this subject boiled down to this: He and his wife have lingering doubts that they aren’t doing enough, or doing the “right things” for their kids. His advice is, if at all possible, don’t get sucked in to the competitiveness. He also posed these questions: Is there only one way to raise a child? Are kids’ sports supposed to be an all out war or an opportunity to motivate? What are adults saying in front of their kids? And: What is the “best?”