Competitive Parenting

It’s funny, but I hadn’t thought about this consciously since my kids passed through those first three years of life: How does my child compare to others her age? Is she developing right? Is she exceptional or is it just my blind love for her that makes her seem amazing? I had thought, until tonight for some reason, that we had all passed through that stage of life when everything about your young one seems to be a competition. Whose baby walked first? Whose baby spoke in sentences before two years of age? Whose baby learned her alphabet before the others? I remember a feeling of almost agony when my baby didn’t walk until about 15 months old when other babies of the same age had been walking for five or six months! (like any one of those parents had ANYTHING to do with their own kids walking early anyway). It was like “get on with it, kid! You’re supposed to be the BEST! You’re supposed to be first because I’m the SMART one in the family!”

Nevermind how ridiculous, self-centered, and how completely unrelated those stupid sentiments were—if we’re all going to be honest—MANY of us over-achiever mommas have had the same thoughts about our own kids. It’s almost like we BECOME our children during those times of comparison. But underneath, we’re all playing negative feedback tapes to ourselves—self-recordings that contain all those negative thoughts, those endless loops that play over and over again in our heads repeating our greatest fears: “you’re failing, you’re not good enough, you’re not measuring up, you’re not showing everyone else how it’s done right.”

Competitive-ParentingAfter a good decade and a half of parenting, I *thought* I had outgrown that behavior and those feelings of victory based on my child’s developmental milestones. But something important became clear to me tonight, after seeing a friend’s Facebook profile picture change. Nothing about it was unusual, really. The new photo was not of her, but of her son, who had done something remarkable, yet again, at his young, now teen, age.  Sssscccrrreeeccchhh!

I don’t know what it was about that particular post, but all of a sudden, I hit the brakes. I stopped hard and reverted back to those B-side loop tapes from ten to fifteen years ago. I felt, albeit unreasonably so, like my kids weren’t keeping up; weren’t excelling enough; weren’t going to be competitive in an exceedingly risky market of high schools, colleges, and workplaces. What did I need to do to make sure they had done something to favorably compare to this teen?

I did go crazy for a couple of days, I’ve got to admit it.

After obsessing for another day or so, I decided I had to break out of this competitive vertigo I had gotten sucked into. I took a recess from Facebook, where everything is always super great or stupendously horrible, and I re-programmed my thoughts. I focused on my work, my house, my part-time jobs, and other things for a while. I cleaned out closets. I decompressed. I tried for a few days straight to see my kids as themselves in all of their greatness and faults. I tried to recognize something daily in them that I admire. I stopped following some people who seem to trigger these competitive feelings in me. Doing this *sort of* worked.

I am back on Facebook daily now, but I have vowed to keep myself in check when it comes to comparisons. There is no use for them, and I now know that I am still vulnerable to these destructive thoughts. And it’s OK to feel this way, but it’s also important to recognize it and step out and away from it quickly. This was like a quick fender bender for me, but the danger to my heart and mind (and my kids’ lives) is not over. I have to stay extra vigilant on this road called life to protect all of us from me.


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