Parental competition is rife in society now. Parenting can be a tough job; not only do you have to deal with your own children but all of the insecurities that come with being a parent.
It is not simply a case of saying ‘it’s only a job’ because you never get time off, paid or a company car for your work; parenting can drain the last ounce of energy from you.
Imagine your despair, when you have had the most testing day with your children; you open up Social Media and see the images of the perfect parent with their perfect children. We all know somebody who has ‘done it all’ so successfully and loves to remind you of how fabulous they are and how perfect life is.
Imagine this ‘perfection’ and mix in a dash of ridiculous crying, tantrums and attitude from your children; it is enough to make anyone crack. This need to ‘compete with’ and compare your child to others and compare and compete as a parent could be the thing that feeds your anxieties.
This sense of competition could not only be feeding into your own unhealthy expectations and ultimately a decline in mental health; it can also affect your children. What message do we send our children when we ‘compete’ with one another?
We are a competitive species.
Why do we compete? This comes down to basic psychology; it is a fight or flight instinct. We compete with others as a means for survival; it is a basic biological trait. The human brain is programmed to survive. This has evolved from out running your fellow hunter while a bear chases you. Now it is having the best job, car, house and other designer trappings.
We have a fear of failure. This is why we feel the need to compete; proving you are better than another human makes you feel confident and powerful. We are a society that is obsessed with statistics and measuring the progress we make in life. From the day we are born, we are weighed and measured and that continues through life.
The comparison trap strikes again
Why do you compare yourselves to others; are we not all equal as humans? Our actions and choices through life do shape us but they do not define us. Many of you might think a child is inherently ‘naughty’ just because they act a certain way. I would contest that the child acts in their best way to survive; if behaving badly gets they what they want, they will carry on, it is their choice.
Likewise, a child might be ‘naughty’ because that is the only way they can get attention or they have a fear of having attention withdrawn when they are good.
Children are complex and are build links in their brain all the time; does comparing them to their sibling/ friend or child down the street help them? We worry about young girls getting eating disorders but we compare ourselves to airbrushed celebrities or the person with the flashy car next door.
Letting our mind compare ourselves to others is a slippery slope to overthinking. Why do you need to be like another person; we are all equal in the world. Understanding your true worth in the world around you and focusing on being grateful can be liberating. We are all the same in the way that we are all different and have different drives and beliefs. We are all special and unique and should not feel the need to fit themselves into a box made for another person.
Why do parents feel the need to compete with each other?
Nobody wants to be a failure; deep down we all have the drive to get the best out of life. As our world becomes more and more focused on materialistic gain and status, we compete for everything: education, jobs, cars, houses, potential partners, skills. It is with this sense of ‘being better than someone else’ that means people use their children to expand their own sense of self-worth within society.
As a mother, I have fallen prey to this. Feeling like a failure when my son was two and had not said his first proper word yet while other two-year-old’s were reciting the alphabet. I used to joke to my husband that I would get my son to quote Shakespeare as soon as he could speak a sentence, I wanted to win.
I have also seen my inner competitive ‘beast’ unleashed at the Easter Bonnet competition. My Son and I had to make a bonnet and I decided to full out all the stops, grab my glue gun and spend time making the best bonnet I could in the hope of beating all the other parents.
I have witnessed my mother boast about me having a degree and being a teacher; it made her proud and she made sure she let people who doubted her daughter know they were wrong. She had won the battle of ‘making sure your child gets a stable career and good money’.
What does it gain?
Our species survival relies on competition in moderation. Imagine if we had no ambition; we would be extinct as a species or unbelievably lazy. It teaches our children to always push to be the best version of yourself. However, in excess or with an unrealistic expectations, competition can be mentally draining. The pressure in a child’s mind when pushed to ‘always win’ must be immense. Would you like that pressure?
As a teacher, I see a dramatic rise in this idea of ‘parent pressure’. Children worry about exams, assessments and what grades they are on; mostly because they want to please their parents. Children feel emotionally responsible to not ‘let their parents down’, I know I felt it when I was at school. I see more and more students worked up; their mental health suffers because they want to be better than a sibling or get the best grades in the year group.
Likewise, if our children see their parents always competing and comparing ourselves to other people, what will that hold for their future? Children learn from their parents and if they hear Mum say ‘I’ve got to lose weight so I don’t look fat compared to the other mums’, or Dad say ‘I’ve got to show that person that I’m in charge’ then surely that is a recipe for insecurity and doubt.
What is more important?
What is more important; success or happiness? People would argue that a higher ratio of success will lead to more happiness, but does it? Are your children’s grades and future prospects more important than their well-being and sense of self? Are children at risk of mental health issues due to this pressure? Competition is not a bad concept; but is it so important that your children always get it right and always come out on top?
We are all fallible to mistakes and failures, we are only human after all. I am not the perfect mother, nor do I think the perfect mother exists. Whatever we do for the best, we will cause issues somewhere along the line. We are a product of our upbringing; do you feed the competitive ‘monster’?
I would love to know your thoughts and opinions on parental competition; do you think it can damage a child? Let me know what you think and let’s have a healthy debate in the comments section.
Ciao for now beauties xx