The sport of parenting

Mothering Heights - Claire Smith

Mothering Heights - Claire Smith - Credit: Archant

The fever of the Olympics has long gone now and people aren’t so passionate about getting into sport at the moment. Probably because we’re still stuffed from Christmas turkey. However I’ve noticed one event that runs continuously in the playground, in coffee shops and around any groups where children/parents are present. It’s called Parenting.

Parenting is a blood sport.

And, boy, is it competitive. Not only between families but between mum and dad too.

I am, of course, the better parent in this family. While my husband loves to come home at 8pm and play Fun Daddy, I am the parent who soothes after the crazy play has gone horribly wrong. I am the parent who ensures that they’re in bed on time and the stuff they need for the following day is all sorted. I’m the parent who keeps them clean, irons their clothes and feeds them.

Yes, such a scoring system exists, albeit in my head where I keep a running tally.

Every point I earn from displaying worthier parenting acumen is notched up and it’s pretty safe to say I am kicking my husband’s bum.

He is too much into damage control by giving them what they wanted in the first place, too willing play games even though they’ve got homework and too lax at bedtime when a new episode of Top Gear airs.

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For all these offences, and more, he loses points.

And yet, my husband often acts as though it is him, not me who is the better parent. Often he dares to inform me that I’ve done something wrong. But that’s okay.

I just remind him of all the times he’s taken them swimming without packing their bathing suits and that night they went for a sleepover and he sent them off without pyjamas or a toothbrush. It’s so laughable.

It’s okay though because this is just between him and me.

We also join forces when one of the kids wins an award and we do the whole “Oh maybe we’re doing a good job after all” dance. But let me tell you this – any competitiveness we show is strictly kept between the two of us.

We never post to Facebook, we rarely brag to our own parents and we never ever tell our friends. Because we’re in a society that often lives through our kids and their achievements. It starts early, it’s fierce and it scares me.

In my opinion, there are three types of parents where competitiveness is concerned.

1) The parents who are openly competitive.

2) The parents who are secretly competitive.

3) The parents who are non-competitive.

Let me explain.

The Competitive Parents.

These are the ones that have the competitive fire that drives great athletes. They’re Parentzillas. It starts with playing classical music to the bump, continues on to only allowing toddler to watch Baby Einstein and then the classes. Oh the classes – signing, music, yoga – and all before baby is one.

I understand that we live in a culture which constantly tells us to get the best for our children, but really? Shouldn’t children be playing at age five instead of being subject to so many educational activities? Once upon a time, children were allowed to be, well, children.

The ultimate aim of the Competitive Parent is to have their rival parents know exactly what they are up to and how clever their child is. Also – they make you feel crap.

The Secretly Competitive Parents.

These are definitely the worst kind.

If you are non-competitive, they lure you in based on your shared non-competitiveness. But that’s their aim, they reel you in and just at the point where you’re talking about how you’ve fed your kids fish-finger sandwiches for dinner, they STRIKE. It starts off subtle, a comment here, a funny look there but they are very clever.

They say things like “Oh I felt so bad having a go at her about not doing spellings but then she won The Headteacher’s Award.”

They use your child by saying “Isn’t it great that Charlie and Tommy are so brilliant at maths” even though your child isn’t but they’re letting you know that their child is.

The terrible fact about these parents is that the minute you mention that your child has won something they cry “Oh, you’re not turning into one of THOSE parents are you?”

The Non-Competitive Parents.

I admit, when I had my first child I was a tad competitive. Until he did everything last within my baby group and I realised I possibly didn’t have a child genius. From these moments on, I understood that it was pointless trying to compete because somebody will always go one better.

I found the minute I judged another child’s behaviour, my kid would infinitely do something worse. There ought to be a support group for Non-Competitive Parents, where we can talk about how playing classical music to the bump is nonsense and how Einstein never watch Baby Einstein but he turned out okay.

I wonder if competitiveness is also about the security we have in ourselves as parents. My children are great because they’re mine and I love them.

I don’t feel the need to talk consistently about what they’re good at and what they’ve achieved.

Of course they’re smart and funny etc. but they have shortcomings and weaknesses just like we all do. As parents, if we want to take credit for the all the good stuff, then we have to be accountable for the not so good stuff too.

And really, without the failures, how can we fully appreciate the success?

Which is, of course, the BEST phrase to use if your child will never be perfect, no matter how competitive you are.