Competitive parenting. Has parenting become a competitive sport?


Twelve years ago I set up my business to give me the freedom and flexibility to spend more time with my children.

As they head into their teenage years, I admit to feelings of guilt because I still feel like I didn’t spend as much time with my children because I worked .

I was convinced I wasn’t a ‘proper mummy.’

The fact of the matter is I love what I do and fourteen years after the birth of my first child I wonder if I would have made a better mummy had I given up work altogether and been a stay at home mother. i love my job

My decision was based on feeling uncomfortable being reliant upon my husband because I wanted to manage my own life, be in control of my own finances and I admit that had I had given up work it would have felt like I’d be handing control of my life to someone else.

Like many mothers I put my children first but there have been times when I’ve had to cancel a really important meeting with an all new prospective customer, how hard it was to get that appointment, there were times when I could have screamed and cried ‘why do you have to get ill now!’

I can recollect missing one harvest festival and one christmas carol concert both due to circumstances beyond my control.

I was always home with them when they were sick and remember on one occasion when I was visiting a client, getting a phone call from the nursery to say that I should come and collect my toddler as he had developed a high temperature.

Apologetically, I bid a quick farewell to my host and flew out of the office.

There were days when the only conversation I had was with my bundles of joy and when my husband came back from work it was a moment of celebration as it meant that I could engage in adult conversation rather than baby talk.

From the outset of parenthood I’ve become increasingly aware of the pressure to make sure we are doing the right thing for our children.

When my children were between the ages of 4-6 years I felt that I was in competition with other parents to enrol my children into as many sport and social activities – swimming was an absolute must and as an ex-gymnast I hoped that maybe one of the boys might follow my footsteps into gymnastics.

As a former gymnastics coach I experienced first hand the pressures placed on children by their parents forcing them to concentrate on one activity and pushing them beyond what they were capable of.

I adopted the opposite attitude by encouraging my children to do what they wanted my thought process was that if they tried something and really enjoyed it they were more likely to stick with it rather than me dragging them kicking and screaming to an activity they hated but one I felt they should do.

I was mystified when well meaning mums enrolled their children into everything from childnastics, swimnastics, to toddler rugby and music classes.

There were times when I felt inadequate as a parent because I did not have the time to do the same for my children.

Was I wrong to deny my children access to all these activities? Did I fail them by not ‘pushing’ them harder?

Watching a hockey match recently, I overheard a mother speak to the coach about why her son should be playing for the A team and not the B team. Perhaps a better question might have been what does my son need to do to be considered A team material.

As parents we are protective of our children and want the best for them so I understood what this mother was asking. What surprised me was the presumption that she thought that her child should be in the A team.

Is this not down to the wisdom of the coach? I felt that as a parent she was overstepping the mark and questioning the teacher’s authority and knowledge?

I’ll admit to getting angst if my boys aren’t selected for what I believe to be the best teams just because I think they are good enough but, I accept that maybe they aren’t as good and who am I to determine what team they should be in?

As parents we see our children through rose tinted glasses believing them to be brilliant. The truth is often very different.

We need to be able to accept that maybe our kids aren’t and can’t be great at everything. By recognising their limitations and encouraging them to be the best they can be and to enjoy themselves is more important than our single-minded quest for them to be the best at everything.

business team standingParents evening is a clandestine place for competitive parenting.

Observe the competitive parent hanging onto teacher’s every word in the vain hope that the smiles and addressing teacher on first name terms will automatically guarantee Henry an A in his next maths test or better still a prize at prize giving.

Then dad asks the most important question did teacher watch the rugby on Saturday because he knows teacher coaches rugby and dad wants his son in the A team. What can he do to make sure that happens?

Invariably at the end of the evening you chat to other parents who can’t help but tell you how well their children are doing without admitting they might need extra help with school studies.

In your naivety you admit that your youngest needs some extra help with his studies and you are left with that feeling of inadequacy because you feel like you have failed them as a parent.

I’m left reeling with the thought there must be many mothers who despite their best parenting efforts feel a failure. When did competitive parenting suddenly make you feel bad because you were unable to attain a perfect ten in motherhood.

How did women get to feel this way? Am I the only one?

Is it because we had children later in years after having established ourselves in a career or well paid job?

Women have to compete in the boardroom, for managerial and senior positions continually striving to improve and show how good we are.

Has this competitive element spilled over into our child-rearing efforts? What are we trying to prove? Our kids are blissfully unaware of this competition that is until school sports day.

Cross Country Team RunnersParents are secretly praying that the ‘superstar kid’ who always gets picked for every A team will fall and give their child a chance to win. Parents shout and scream at their offspring to run faster, giving them advice and tactics on how to be the best. I’m one of them.

Work now sits a very comfortable second place to my life as a mum and that for me is as it should be.

I love my kids unconditionally and ponder momentarily over the toddler photos I have of them in my office. The joy of being a mother engulfs me as a tear swells in my eye for I know I can never have that time back again.

I’ve accepted that the most important thing in my life is the welfare and happiness of my children and whilst they quite possibly may not end up being selected for England, I believe they will be the best they can be and that parenting isn’t a competitive sport with rules, training manuals and a referee, it is a life long learning skill.

Perhaps the only true indicator of your success as a parent is when your offspring turn out to be well rounded individuals who show compassion, care enough about family and friends, have a sense of morality and finally understand that maybe mum and dad weren’t that bad after all.

If my children are still talking to me when I’m 65 then I’ll consider my parenting efforts a success.

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