The peer pressure of competitive parenting

When you have kids, there’s nothing you want to succeed at more than being a good parent. Everything else takes a back seat, particularly in the early years. Like the cliché goes, parenting changes everything; your whole perspective on life and your priorities. But like everything else that’s important to you, you can lose sight of what the goal of parenting really is, and get distracted by other “stuff” if you’re not careful.

It’s easy to get caught up in the peer pressure of competitive parenting. It’s a thing.

You say you’re not going to be like those other parents. You’re above keeping up with the Joneses. You’re confident, you’re independent, you have life experience, you are way beyond bowing to peer pressure at this point in your life. But guess what? It sneaks up on you, before you know it.

Take the busier-than-thou attitude, for example. That parent is so busy. I’m so busy, too. I’m busier than you are. Let’s have a complaining and humble bragging contest to see who’s busier. Between our kids’s needs and demands, our long hours at work, and trying to make time for our spouse and ourselves… we’re challenged and exhausted. However, these challenges also lead to bragging about how busy we are, and competing with one another. It’s miserable to be around, and we become miserable to be around.

When our kids get older, there’s gifted classes. How did this become a thing, now? The obsession, the testing, the prep classes… And we feel the peer pressure once again, especially when a fellow parent humble-brags about how their kids just aren’t “challenged” enough. The funny part is, your kid is bright, but your kid isn’t gifted. Neither is mine. Trust me, if they were truly gifted, which means genius, you would know it, and they would be in an entirely different educational environment altogether. But nevertheless, we get caught up in this, because maybe, just maybe, our kid is the gifted one… right?

Then there’s sports. The world of youth sports is a fascinating subculture to behold. Within this culture, the obsession with travel sports teams has exploded upon our society like a bad virus. The astronomical costs, the demanding schedules, the cut throat competition to make these teams at younger and younger ages… Why do we do this, again? This is for college scholarships? Really? When the money we spend on travel teams and all of the associated overhead would be better spent if invested into a college fund? When it’s actually easier to get an academic scholarship than an athletic one, when the number of Division 1 level athletes passing through any given high school is a fraction of single digit percentages? Still, we get caught up in this world, because what if our kid is the one, that special athlete… right?

So why do we succumb to the peer pressure of all of this silliness, when we know better?

Maybe it’s to fulfill ourselves. Maybe when we are in the act of raising our kids, we sometimes reflect upon our own childhoods, and what we would do differently, if given the chance. So we try to parent ourselves through our kids. We know we shouldn’t, but the temptation is overwhelming, and we’re pressured by the parenting culture around us, so we do it without even realizing it.

But we know it’s not about us, it’s about our kids. If we can remind ourselves of that before we overbook ourselves unnecessarily so that we can brag about it, or try to cram our kids into classes they shouldn’t be in, or spend money on useless activities, we would all be happier. They just don’t need most of this stuff. So we don’t need it either, do we? Especially the peer pressure.

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