We all know a competitive parent. You know the ones I mean. The parents who are raising the next Olympic gold medallist or the next Cambridge graduate, possibly both.
When we think of a competitive parent, we think of a parent that is militant, harsh and pushy. Never in a million years do we think – not for me at least – that we could be a competitive parent.
The idea of looking further into competitive parenting came to me after I sat through an entire playdate listening to how much better and more advanced my friend’s child was compared to mine. When I mentioned Oliver’s new words such as ‘dog’ or how he can now relate an animal to the sound it makes, my friend would tell me about her child’s new capability to recognise words in their storybooks and say them out loud. When I mentioned how Oliver has started to get quite good at his shape sorter, she would reply with how her child’s mathematical skills are advanced for their age and is shown by how they can count to ten. While hearing about a 19 month old with literacy and numeracy capabilities that rival a pre – schooler was impressive and in all honesty quite unheard of, it sent me into a bit of a parental panic and made me question if I was doing enough to ensure my son was getting the best start in life that he could.
This parental anxiety caused me to question if my son was actually falling behind of his peers (a ridiculous notion considering he is only 18 months old), resulting in my upping the ante at home and spending more time trying to teach him new words and sounds, so as not to let him fall behind in the rat race. It was then I realised that instead of allowing my son to grow and develop in his own unique way, I was trying to enforce the start of a rigid schooling system, where results are the main goal and this is not the sort of parent I had set out to be.
After reading a number of media snippets about how pressurising children to achieve high academic grades is damaging to the relationship with their parents, their mental health and their overall wellbeing, I decided to find something that would give me a better insight into the effects of ‘competitive parenting’. This lead me to find ‘Taming the Tiger Parent’ by Tanith Carey. Tanith Carey is an award – winning journalist and parenting author and this is illustrated quite obviously in ‘Taming the Tiger Parent’, where facts and figures are used to create a strong element of ‘scare mongering’ about the detrimental effect that a competitive academic system and pushy parents are having on their children, but the fundamental message behind the book definitely struck a cord with me. Even in a mild sense and without me realising it, I had become a competitive parent.
Instead of looking at the bigger picture and noticing Oliver’s growing love of anything artistic such as drawing, painting and music, I had been drawn to focus on areas where he wasn’t as strong. That isn’t to say behind, but where he should be for his age, where he was – dare I say it – about average. There was this parental worry that had arisen from a conversation with a competitive parent (who is convinced they are raising the next Albert Einstein), that had led me to start competing for a competition that is never ending and cannot be won.
This realisation has caused me to come to a fork in the road of my parenting journey. One path focuses on academic achievement and one focuses on the happiness and wellbeing of my children. One path takes me down the road of extensive personal tutoring and an obscene amount of extra-curricular activities and the other path takes me down the road of nurturing well rounded children that are allowed to be just that, children.
When put into black and white terms, it’s an easy choice to make. I want happy, secure children that develop at their own speed and their own pace. Not unhappy, insecure children who are petrified of failure or – heaven forbid – being average. Each child is individual and while academic grades and sporting achievements are important, so is the teaching of morals and kindness. I want my children to grow and develop into the wonderful young people they want to be, not the young people society tells them they have to be. Encouraging our children to do well and succeed is a positive thing, pressurising them and setting unrealistic expectations is not. So with all that in mind, here is my resignation. I’m ducking out of the competitive parenting rat race.