Sunday, January 18, 2015

Parenting is Not a Competitive Sport

I am so tired of competitive parents. It is tiring to have to watch & think twice about every word out of your mouth because it might offend some parent who takes everything as a personal challenge to her child's development.


Seriously, why are people so bloody competitive about everything? When someone asks me how my kid is doing in math, I should be able to answer honestly (at the moment, he is in 5th grade and almost done with Algebra 2), without the person on the other side of me rolling her eyes, accusing me of bragging, and making some snarky comment about how her little Johnny would have been even more advanced in Math if she had the option of homeschooling him, but instead she had to put him in public school where they simply can't handle his genius and won't allow him to work at his appropriate level, which is why he is still having trouble with basic multiplication facts in 7th grade.

Someone should be able to say their child learned to read at 3 years old without someone else feeling the need to claim their 18 month old is reading Dr Seuss. You should be able to say your 6 year old is still struggling with reading without someone telling you their kid taught herself to read by the time she turned 2. It's not a damn competition. There is no prize for the parent whose child learned to read at the earliest age or whose child is better at math, baseball, sports trivia, etc.

Ok, fine, you think your kid can sing. Your kid likes to sing. Get them a singing coach. Sign them up for choir. Have them sing at your church. Whatever. Just remember that not everybody shares your opinion of your progeny's vocal talent. Not everyone wants to hear your child sing 20 times a day. I understand you and your family are proud of what you consider to be talent, but not everyone else in the world agrees that your kid is the next Freddie Mercury. So, find something else to talk about on occasion. Find something else to listen to once in a while. You will not beat the rest of the world into agreeing with you by forcing them to listen to your 3 year old screech at the top of her lungs while you tell them she has the voice of an angel, especially when she gets more than 50% of the words wrong.

A few years ago, someone asked my husband's opinion on a video of their kids playing a song - one on drums the other on guitar. My husband is a musician. He has been playing guitar for many years. That was why this person asked his opinion. Now, I cannot say this enough times here - his opinion was solicited. He did not watch the video & give an unsolicited opinion. He was specifically asked, by the parent, to watch the video & provide an opinion. So, he watched it and gave his opinion. His opinion was not bad. He did, however, along with the comments on what they were doing well, provide a little constructive criticism (I'd say exactly what it was, but this was years ago, so I don't remember his response verbatim). It was not a rude response, and he did not insult the kids at all. However, because his response was not "They are the best I've ever seen/heard!" the parents started chewing him out for giving an honest opinion and not boosting their egos with false praise. Now, if he had said they sucked or were talentless or had been rude at all, I could understand that, but he didn't. He offered constructive criticism, which those kids will need to learn to take at some point in their lives, especially if they want to continue in music. Apparently, though, these parents don't plan on the kids taking constructive criticism until they are adults & the parents can no longer shield them from everything. So, after multiple messages chewing him out for his opinion (this was all public on Facebook, btw), both parents unfriended him. The mom also unfriended and blocked me, despite the fact that I had nothing to do with it. All of that because my husband gave an honest opinion.

Then, there are all the blog posts & articles about accepting your kids as they are and not trying to push them to be extraordinary. Now, I don't disagree with this concept. Let me say that right away here. I fully support accepting your child for who they are. Unfortunately, these posts & articles always assume that anyone with a child who is advanced or extraordinary is either pushing or lying. That is where my problem is. When you post about how competitive other parents are and in your post you say "how am I supposed to compete with that?" you are saying that you are the competitive one. Not everyone with advanced kids are jerks who push their kids or lie about their kids development. Not everyone who has high standards has them just to prove they or their kid is better than anyone else. Not everyone is trying to compete for some imaginary 'World's Best Parent' title. My problem with all those 'accept your child for who they are' posts, is that they all assume your child is average. If you try to tell them that you do accept your child for who they are, and your child happens to be advanced, you are called out as a liar & hypocrite. I've even read some that specifically call out for parents to embrace their child's mediocrity, and while I understand these are meant as somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it hammers home the point that the writer only accepts average children and clearly has no tolerance for anyone who is extraordinary. This kind of goes against the whole point of their post. What they are really saying is "Accept your child for who they are, unless they are legitimately extraordinary (in which case you should drag them down to average so I can feel better about my child because I am a competitive prick who can't handle anyone who has skill, talent, or intellect that is superior in any area or any way to that possessed by my child or me)."

Now, my kids have always been extraordinary, and I have always worked to teach them not to be cocky about it. I want them to be confident, but I don't want them walking around with an air of superiority & condescension. This is more of a struggle with my son than with my daughter. He has so often informed adults of things they didn't previously know or surprised adults with his large vocabulary, his knowledge & understanding beyond his years, or his well-thought-out theories about things, that it is difficult to keep his ego in check. He tends to get a big head and an inflated ego from the reactions he so often witnesses and the comments so many people have made to him or to us (in front of him), about what an amazing child he is or how incredibly intelligent he is. I try to model and encourage (and sometimes more forcefully push) humility as a very important trait. I will not however, try to hold either of them back just so someone else can feel better about their child or their parenting.

My daughter is currently looking into which colleges she will apply to and receiving lots of praise, encouragement, and comments about the fact that (assuming she stays on track), she will graduate high school this fall. I will not tell her to not talk about her early graduation or her considering applying to Yale just so other people don't feel bad. I will not keep my mouth shut about it either, just so some other parent doesn't feel bad that their child doesn't have to same aspirations or so that some competitive dick doesn't accuse me of pushing my kid. I do push her. I push her to be the best she can be, to do the best she can do, to follow her dreams, to not settle for mediocrity when she has the potential for so much more. I did not push her to apply to Yale. She chose that all on her own. She is the one choosing her career path. I simply encourage whatever her dreams are at any given time. I did push for her to go to college, and I am pushing for my son to go to college, as I do feel it will be best for both of them. However, I have never pushed for a specific college or even for a specific type of college. I never told her she needed to aim for the Ivy League. I never even implied it. That was her choice, entirely.

I do often try to be as unoffensive as possible when talking about my kids. I try to talk about them and their accomplishments in a way that doesn't come off as bragging and that doesn't overtly invite some competitive person to turn the conversation into a pissing contest. When someone does try to turn it into a competition or starts bragging about their 'genius' kid, I smile and say something along the lines of "That's nice." When someone is talking about their kid and mentions something the child did that they are proud of and they don't do it in a competitive 'my kid is better than your kid' way, I sincerely congratulate them and tell them how awesome it is. I love when I can talk with another parent and not have it seem like they are just trying to one-up everything that is said.

I have watched so many people proudly mention something their kid has done & then seen their face fall as someone else starts making claims (whether true or not) to one-up what they just said. It makes me want to punch the competitive jerk for doing that, for needing to make everything about them & stealing the moment from someone else simply because they are so damn egocentric they can't allow someone else to shine for even a second. I am tired of having to watch how I word everything or having to keep things to myself around some people to prevent those stupid contests.

I do not talk about my kids to start a competition. I don't talk about my kids to brag. I don't think my kids are better than every other kid in the world. I have no interest in joining in your stupid pissing contests over who is the better parent or who has better kids. Some of us, really do just want to do our best to raise our kids, help them become the best they can be, and don't spend our time comparing our kids to other people's kids.

You want a competition, take up a sport. Play tennis, basketball, hockey, etc. Parenting isn't a competition.