When we enter the parenting world, we have a lot of expectations and the desire to do things right. But there is something that can catch us by surprise: in the blink of an eye, we can get caught up in a world of birthday parties, school projects, sports competitions, diplomas, and on and on. And all of this can quickly devolve into competition between parents: a terrifying wave that can take us into uncharted waters with no end in sight.
There is nothing that makes us feel more insecure than talking with other parents about the way we raise our kids. Most of these conversations have turned into showing off our kids’ achievements. We often leave those conversations doubting our value as parents, and especially asking ourselves if we are doing it well. But what’s even worse are the signs of competition: a birthday party that goes way over the top, a recycling project that we’re sure the kid didn’t even touch, or the sideline screaming of That Soccer Mom.
We all suffer in this world of “competition” and we are all wrapped up in it. Parenting today is mainly based around the triumphs and successes that we can show others, and we are measured as parents by these types of results. And the competition is so intense that now we are seeing a kind of anti-competition: our kids are the ones who behave the worst, or we are the ones who are the most tired, or the ones who have it hardest. There is also a special category for parent-victims in this competitive world.
How can we buck this trend? How can we learn to let it go and respond appropriately to all this pressure?
First, we have to understand that our focus should be on directing our kids’ education and not our image in the eyes of others. When a parent cheats in a sports tournament so that his kid will win and take home the trophy, he is focused on winning at all costs and on how he looks, instead of on the virtues his child could be learning through healthy competition and through handling winning and losing with good grace.
There is also the false belief that our children’s achievements reflect our skill as parents. If your child is a mini-Mozart, a mini-Messi, or a mini-Einstein, all it means is that he or she had the good fortune to be talented. And we should know that this talent is worth very little if it is not accompanied by the virtues that make someone a good person. And those virtues are learned at home.
And let’s talk about kids’ birthday parties. They are just that: birthday parties. Not large-scale festivals to showcase our image. When we get it wrong on that point, we lose everything: we parents lose sight of the essential and waste our time and energy on things that don’t matter. But above all, our kids lose, because they learn to see life from a merely competitive viewpoint in which the most important thing is how others see them.
It’s important to have the courage to get out of this competitive world: let’s dare to send our son to school with a science project that he did all by himself. Let’s learn to laugh at our mistakes, share the achievements with the people who love us, but also dare to share the struggles.
But above all, let’s remember that what makes us better parents is our love for our children and our ability to do what’s best for them, educating them in what truly matters.
Why I quit my stay-at-home “parenting” job and started being a parent
5 Ways to avoid the ‘overparenting trap’
This article was originally published in the Spanish edition of Aleteia and has been translated and/or adapted here for English speaking readers.