Emily Howlett: I’ve had enough of competitive parenting

Posted on April 22, 2014

Kids, eh? They certainly get under your skin.

How many new parents turn to the Internet to blog and tweet and otherwise explode across social media with a sudden joy they just can’t contain?

How many of us simply have to share the incomparable awesomeness of these little humans we have discovered?

Before the world wide web we could only tell a very small pool of people about little Hagrid taking his first steps, or the exact geographical coordinates of Eggletina’s spontaneous potty poo.

Now, we are able to tell THE WHOLE WORLD, whether they want to know or not. New parents can rave across the blogosphere, crash the chatboards and send 52,000 photos of little smiles within seconds.

We can even demand that the Editors of online news magazines allow us to write never-ending baby-based blogs. Ahem.

And why shouldn’t we? Nobody is forced to read these things, and the initial explosion of wonder generally tails off to a more manageable level as time (and nappies) goes on.

I think it is a lovely thing to be healthily fascinated by small children. We can certainly learn a lot from them… A case in point being a recent christening we attended. Despite being strangers until that moment, all the children piled into the toy corner together without a single reservation or hard word. Adults have mostly lost those skills somewhere along the way.

Lovely, lovely, lovely stuff. Must be time for a ‘but’.

I really do love seeing people appreciate and celebrate their children. Everyone should do it, because they utterly thrive on it and so do we. BUT. Do we have to be snobs to other parents over it all?

I am BORED of children’s achievements being used as weapons in some bizarre, never-ending competition. Who invented this jollop? They need taking out and shaking like a dusty rug.

Who decided that is isn’t enough that a child has done their best, or has had a great time, unless they have done better than someone else? What does this teach them, and what on earth does it mean for the poor child who comes bottom of the heap?

I am BORED of seeing the same old competitive conversations –

“Frankenstein is only 12 months old, but he already knows sixteen different signs!”

“Sixteen? At 12 months Germania knew at least fifty signs, but then we all sign at home, all the time!”

“So do we! We sign ALL THE TIME! We sign at breakfast, when we are playing. Sometimes we wake him up in the night just to do some more signing!”

“Well, my health visitor said too much signing will stop them from speaking well, so we take care not to overdo it. It’s working! She’s only 14 months but she said “photosynthesis” last week.”

“My darling Frankenstein first said “Mummy” when he was only 12 weeks old. I think he will be Prime Minister.”

“We bought Germy a lectern, to practise speeches, but I think she’s more interested in the arts. So I bought some unicorn hair paintbrushes last week and, DO YOU KNOW, she hasn’t eaten ANY of them. She respects quality.”

And then I usually say something like, “Get off my planet, you’re wasting the air,” or “Well, my beautiful boy ate his first bogey last week.” Which, of course, is still engaging with the competition. I might not be saying, “Oh, my DARLING was speaking while he was still IN THE WOMB!” but I’m not exactly rising above it either.

So, what am I meant to do? I feel like I’m being forced to get involved with the Top Trumps of Stuff Babies Do.

I don’t want that. I just want to enjoy my little man’s first, seconds, thirds and forevers as and when he does them. I don’t want to push him to eat with a fork, because his cousin does. I don’t want to make him draw with crayons if he’d rather put them in his trousers.

I don’t want to make him say this, sign that, jump this hoop, so I don’t… And he still seems to be doing ok. He speaks, he signs, he jumps – be still my heart, he jumps off EVERYTHING – but he does it when he wants to.

Does that make me a terrible mother? Should I be pushing him to achieve, so that he won’t always be at the bottom of his peer group? SHOULD I WORRY ABOUT THESE THINGS?

Because, I really don’t.

And when I see the mothers who are trying to force one more achievement out of little Septicaemia and baby Borrowash just to keep up with next door, I feel strangely removed from it all.

But I don’t think they’re wrong. Just because I don’t personally connect with their parenting style, doesn’t make them wrong. We all just want to give our children the best start, and we all have different ways of doing it.

I don’t think anything can be truly wrong, if it doesn’t hurt or damage anyone. We just have to watch out for this competitive element, because that has the potential to be very, very damaging.

And then, in amongst all the bickering and deep contemplation, my boy jumps off the top of the steps, and my heart stops. And then he lands like a cat and scuttles off to eat something disgusting, while some parents look at me in horror and some sigh because their toddler doesn’t even walk yet.

To these parents, with their static child, I say, “Don’t worry, dudes; they all do it in their own time. Enjoy the fact they stay where you put them for a bit longer.”

To the horror-struck parents, I say, “Yeah, but he can sign 84 different things, and one of them is VERY, VERY RUDE.”

Ahh, crap. Looks like I’m the worst of us all.

Emily Howlett is a Contributing Editor to this site. She is a profoundly Deaf actress, writer, horsewoman and new mum. Emily used to be found all over the place, but motherhood has turned her into somewhat of a self-confessed homebody. She now has not one, but four grey eyebrow hairs. C’est la vie. She tweets as @ehowlett

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