Competitive Parenting

My daughter is 7 years old. She goes to school and is learning to spell, read, do math. And of course she does this in a classroom filled with a lot of other children.

The school she goes to is very focused on cognitive abilities, which is fine with me. There isn’t a lot of focus on creative expression as far as I can see, but we more than compensate for that at home with story telling, drawing, singing, dancing and movie watching and making.

I firmly believe that having a set of basic skills offers a valuable set of tools to accomplish the things you want to accomplish in later life, but I’ve noticed of late that there seems to be a great deal of competition among these children when it comes to scholastic achievement, even as young as at age 7. But even more so, there seems to be an even greater amount of competition among parents.

Perhaps I’ve only started noticing recently, but there is a lot of comparing going on. Wherever I go, I hear conversations between parents who trumpet their children’s test scores, ability in math or reading, and overall brilliance. I’m sure all those children are performing extremely well in school, and naturally a parent would be very proud of that, but I’m not sure at what point discussing these things began crossing over from talking about our children into out-shining one another as to whose child is at least as brilliant as, but preferably more brilliant than the other parents’ child(ren).

Some of this is most certainly perceived on my part, by which I mean that my daughter is a smart child, but I have no test scores to flaunt (nor would I want to if I did) or extraordinary achievement awards to present on her behalf. The things she is good at will not show up on an academic record because school is not interested in her particular skill set – which lies much more in the creative field. Perhaps for those reasons I feel like these conversations going on around me are an exercise in performance boasting.

Still, all this talk of above-average achievement does lead me to wonder: at what point do we cross over from helping our children achieve their full potential into pushing our children to compete incessantly, causing them to constantly compare themselves to, and compete with, everyone else? The latter seems unhealthy to me, because it instills a false sense of superiority in children based on performance, and a damaging sense of inferiority in children who don’t perform as well. I would imagine that society as a whole is much better served by children learning that there is value in each individual person’s own unique skill set. I’m pretty sure we can manage that while still teaching our children to be the best they can be.

The same is true for parents, incidentally. What a relief it should be not to feel like you constantly have to point out your child’s academic and other achievements as soon as you start talking about your children. Instead, we could say lovely things like: “My daughter was all smiles today. I love seeing her enjoying herself so much at school,” or “My son said he really enjoyed working together with your son on the class project today. It’s great to see them find out what you can accomplish together.”

As far as my daughter’s achievements go, I am happy when she enjoys herself at the things she does, whether she excels at them or not. If she’s having fun, I know she’s applying herself to the fullest, and that is all I would ask of her regardless of measurable results. She is who she is, and at that she’s the best, as is everyone’s child.

Me, I would just really like to get away from the competitive parenting game. My child is my child. She excels at some things, is not particularly great at others. It doesn’t make her smarter, dumber, better, or worse than anyone else. I don’t want to extol her achievements or virtues all the time, or feel the need to defend her when her skills at certain subjects are not yet at the level of someone else’s and what’s more: I don’t want to feel like I have to.