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Competitive (or Comparative) Parenting & Its Effects

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 0

Keep your competitions, comparisons, and negativities away from my parents!

007's Got Nothing On Bean!
Credit: BeanKeeper

A Reminder to Parents:

Children are to be treasured, not measured.

Do you remember that feeling you always received when your newborn achieved their firsts?  Perhaps it was his first smile or the music-to-your-ears sound of hearing your new name and title clumsily pronounced - Mama, Dadda! Or maybe it was when she crawled or sat up for the first time?  Whatever the moment, achievement, or milestone, your chest undoubtedly swelled with immense pride and joy as you fell in love once more with the little person who has held your heart from the very instant you heard theirs on the monitor. 

Unforgettable as those moments may be, there are other moments that captivate your spirit as well.  In fact, these moments truly imprison a parent's heart.  It was when another parent down-played the triumphs of your child - do you remember the feeling that erupted in your chest then?  It was also when that other parent - as if genuinely interested - asked you to share the progress of your baby only to interrupt with how much quicker and more advanced their child was at that stage.  Do you remember how moments like those made you feel?

It's something I call "Competitive/Comparative Parenting" and it is much more than just a nuisance - it's a lack of common decency, an assault on social etiquette, and a window into the soul of insecure, self-centered parents whose greatest fear is that somehow, their feelings of inadequacy will turn out to be more than just feelings.  Their only solace is in snubbing, rejecting, and putting-down others by any means possible - especially those they feel threatened by.  The easiest and quickest way to induce the same feelings of inadequacy that they have (about themselves and even about their own children) is to skillfully and artfully make comments or remarks or ask a seemingly innocent question in just the right tone or wording that implies that parent is failing or that parent's child is less worthy of praise and admiration.

Comments and remarks.  A comment could be as simple (yet snide) as the following: "You chose a very interesting color for your son to wear.  I've only seen yellow on girls."  Or, it can be as obvious as: "Hmmm. Most babies are walking by 9-months.  Mine did.  Oh, well... some children are just slower than others."  No matter what degree of nasty they reach for, it always stings and offends.  You begin to wonder if putting yellow on your son will make him feminine.  You worry that your son is slow or that something is wrong progress-wise if he hasn't begun to walk yet.  Even the most confident of parents may stumble into doubt and worry upon receiving such comments or remarks.

Questions.  Sometimes it isn't the question itself but the manner in which it is asked.  It could be the way it was worded that allowed it to pass as innocent while still implying something.  The question could even be their reconfirmation of a statement you made, followed by silence or a critical look: "Oh, so she didn't say her first word until 7 months?"  It is also oftentimes just a sound made after a question, such as: "Your son still doesn't sleep by himself?  Hmmmm."  To anyone else, these are just questions, but to you - to your heart - these are implications that you or your child fall short of something.  Your daughter is too slow, isn't smart, or has some sort of problem because she didn't say Mama until she was 7-months-old.  Your son sometimes sleeps in your bed because he hasn't transitioned yet to the crib - that makes you either a lazy, impatient, or negligent and risky parent.

Whatever the method, competitive/comparative parenting is shameful and utterly ridiculous.  We all remember those beautiful moments with our children from pre-birth to first steps and beyond.  I often wonder if the reason someone is a competitive/comparative parent is because they never experienced unstoppable, heart-bursting joy during such moments with their own children.  Is that why they are cruel - because they don't know what it's like to be in love with a child and to be overwhelmed with pride over every detail and achievement?  Or is it just jealousy of the other parent, whether over looks or brains?  Could it be that some people are just cruel?

I don't have an answer for all that.  Everyone is different.  Every individual walks a separate path in life and there are many reasons for cruelty and insensitivity.  Many behaviors or attitudes can be solely blamed on defense mechanisms that developed due to negative or uncomfortable encounters with other harsh people.  The possibilities and roots of this issue are endless and grow very deep within the person.  It doesn't matter why someone is behaving or acting this way.  It is more than obvious that it stems from insecurities, feelings of inadequacy, or maybe just a lack of common sense. 

What truly matters is how you as a non-competitive/comparative parent react to their indecency.  Do you allow it to overtake you with anger, worry, or less pride in the success of your baby?  Or do you take it for what it is - a pathetic attempt to belittle you or your child simply because that other parent is jealous and insecure?  Even still, it could be just a misunderstanding due to your own insecurities and fears - did they really mean to harm your pride or do you simply look for negativity in every situation?

If you are that competitive/comparative parent, importance weighs heavily on recognizing and understanding the consequences of what you say and do to that other person. Do you realize that your every fear could come true if you continue to portray yourself as an insensitive, competitive parent?  Most parents love their children too much (more than life itself!) to ever be persuaded by an outside source - you will simply be categorized as boorish and pitiful in their minds and they'll want to avoid you altogether.  The consequences of your insecurities affect others more than they affect you.  Remember that the next time you feel the urge to be unpleasant and make yourself feel better by making someone feel worse.  Even just keeping your mouth shut will ensure you will be liked and invited places and eventually, being liked and invited places just might cure your insecurities.

If you just happen to be someone who manages to unintentionally offend or insult one parent after another and you can't figure out why.  Please take a moment and think of the one thing in your life that you are proud of - something you made or even the way you look - and consider how it would feel if someone similar to you came along and made statements or asked questions that made you feel like you or that admirable thing in your life is less worthy of your pride.  What if you spent hours doing your hair to make it absolutely perfect and one day shared with someone your secret to success only to have them say, "How unfortunate that you have to go to all that trouble each day.  My hair is naturally like that."  The concept is exactly the same for parents.  Our positivity is momentarily (and sometimes permanently) assaulted when someone compares the love of our life - our children - to someone else's children.

As a non-competitive/comparative parent myself, I have much to say to those who feel it is necessary to belittle me or belittle my children with intentional or even unintentional implications.  Be aware of what you say.  Think about how a remark, question, how the tone of your voice, or even how a look can insinuate a message. 

I love my baby because he is mine.  I made him out of love, I took great care during pregnancy because of the immense value I placed on him, and when I held him in my arms for the very first time, I could have died of happiness.  My feelings for my son will never dissipate or be destroyed because of some outside source and most-definitely not because of anything he could ever do.  I guarantee that most parents feel this way toward their own little ones, which sadly sheds some very revealing light on those who compare their own children to others'.

I also care for children in general, not because I am necessarily friends with their parents or because I only know children who are worthy of care and attention.  I care about children because each one is unique, special, and deserving of love.  Whether they are born in perfect health or in poor health, each child is full of unending potential and a great capacity to love and contribute. 

How I feel about the children of others will always rely solely on what is ethical, not on whether or not their parents are even kind to me. I would never snub a child on the account of its mother or father and to do so is not only disgusting, it is also incredibly small-minded and embarrassing for the perpetrator.  My feelings for my son, for the children of others, and for other parents in general, do not rely on how they measure up to me or my son. I do not, nor have I ever, felt jealous or insecure because someone's child talked before mine, crawled before mine, walked before mine, ate solids before mine, or whatever else these people deem absolutely necessary in the making of the decision to snub or accept someone.

I am very pleased to see parents who are genuinely proud and excited for their child's milestones and achievements; but it's when I see parents who are just out to compare their child to mine, I am sickened and heartbroken for their children.  I hope the intent to be superior over me and my child does not mean they do the same to their own children by making them also feel less than who they are.

The overall truth is this - and this may even help some of you who are worried: each baby is different.  There isn't a book or a website that can pinpoint where your unique child will be at each stage.  There are general levels of accomplishment per age group but your baby isn't an average.  She isn't the 99 out of 100 children studied.  He isn't Joe-Shmo's son who ran before he crawled.  They're your children, they're individuals, and they will always be worthy of praise and admiration. 

I once had someone tell me that as long as my son could walk, hold conversations, feed himself, and wipe his own butt by the age of 18, I was a great Mom.  I want you to keep that in mind the next time you are tempted to compare your child’s progress with the nation’s average or with a friend’s baby.  Hold tight to the feeling you had during their firsts and always remember that it isn't a competition.  You and your children are beautiful, worthy people - never forget that!

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