HYDERABAD: Twenty-five years ago, when my daughter was born, I realised that she was an early teether at three-and-half months. When I casually mentioned this to another mother at my doctor’s clinic, the mother snapped: “Don’t act smart, my baby is just as good, in fact, better than yours!” The incongruity of what she said was lost in the ferocity with which she said it.
Today, things are far worse. Children are cloistered, stressed and depressed, and a big factor at hand is that parents are taking the lead in what is known as competitive parenting, vying with other parents to prove that their kids are better than the others, right from birthing to adulthood. Today’s parents are in a constant competitive mode. Today, parenting means reserving seats in school before the baby is even born because it’s the best school, parents telling each other that they are the best and that the world should view them that way. The traps and pitfalls of comparing oneself against the parenting styles of others is a temptation that seems hard to avoid and many parents unconsciously fall into this quagmire.
What we fail to understand is that the brunt of this competition is borne by the children. Parents often overstep their boundaries and make unreasonable demands on their children and themselves. Did you feel a twinge of something when your neighbour’s child of the same age as yours, started talking earlier? Do you constantly compare your child’s performance to others and criticise your child? Do you involve your child in multiple-structured activities or push them into hobbies whether or not they like it? Do you constantly badger teachers to give better opportunities to your child? Do you constantly correct their mistakes and force them to study? Have you already decided their career paths while they’re still in the fourth grade (or earlier)? If you have answered yes to even two of these questions, it is time to back off and evaluate your parenting style.
Why competitive parenting can be bad:
- Children become depressed, indulge in self-harm, have low self-esteem because they can’t seem to win your appreciation
- They become anxious when faced with failure
- Begin to lie, cheat and manipulate to avoid losing
- Become disengaged and feel like they don’t measure up or harbour feelings that they aren’t good enough
- Social avoidance, aggression, mood swings, inability to take criticism, weepiness, poor performance in anything they try
- They give up
- In some cases, substance abuse, high-risk behaviour or even running away from home, school truancy and vandalism
How can one stop being a competitive parent?
- Stop comparing
- Stop pushing your children to do things just because it makes you look good
- Every child is gifted. Find the gift your child possesses and help develop it
- Be less critical and more appreciative
- Teach them that it is okay to fail and help them deal with failure
- Plan a day where you have fun as a family
- Have unstructured fun times along with structured classes
- Be spontaneous and eclectic (deal with your own parenting uncertainties)
- Adequate playtime is a must
- Establish a platform and safe space for your children to express their feelings, emotions, dreams, aspirations and choices
(The author is a mental health professional and psychotherapist at Dhrithi Wellness Clinic)
Dr Purnima Nagaraja