I’ll never forget the overwhelming pressure (er, competition) that came with new motherhood. Fellow moms were certain that flash cards, educational (noisy) toys, Baby Einstein videos, and special-ordered board books would turn our infants and toddlers into geniuses. Shameless bragging was all the rage. Could your newly turned fourteen-month-old count to five—in Spanish? Did Blake know his shapes, or how about his letters, days of the week, or months of the year? Letter sounds, baby signing, and site words are just as important. Oh, and did your kindergartner make the honor roll?
Newsflash. Babies just want to play. That should be their only job, besides poop, pee, tantrum, sleep, and eat. But we weren’t having it. Our kids would be the best, and we would be sure to let you know about it—often. However, as I got older and had more kids, I realized that parenting is simply not about the parents. Our kids aren’t better off if we brag about them–or if we gossip about how crappy other kids are. In fact, I’m pretty sure it just makes us look like total jerks. I also learned that the competition to make our kids above average—and tell everyone and their mom about it–is pure privilege.
There’s nothing wrong with being proud of our children, nor is it wrong to share their accomplishments with friends and family—which, as we know, happens more by social media these days than in-person. But when we force our kids to perform for adults, mainly to feed our own parental egos, it’s just gross. Plus, it does nothing for our children except teach them that they’re only as good as what they do to make us temporarily happy.
The thing is, parents can do all of the things, including nurture, love, support, and encourage their kids, and this doesn’t mean their kids will shine when compared to their peers. Some children have special needs, while others are different without a diagnosis. Where do they fit in to the parental competition? When I overheard newer moms conversing at the park, each humbly-not-humbly bragging about what their toddler can do, I wanted to scream. What about the mom on the outskirts of the park, pushing her child in the adaptive swing, the child who is non-verbal? Where does she fit in?
Also having the “best” kids, or so it seems, comes from privilege. Only some parents can afford to send their children to camps and trainings to help them hone in on their skills—whatever those may be. Tutors and coaching sessions can be astronomically expensive. Going to weekend events—like out-of-state championship games—is all about privilege. Most extracurriculars come with a moderate or heavy price tag, with few scholarships available. This means that kids that already have a leg up in life are more likely to experience the best-of-the-best, propelling upward further into privilege—and bragging rights.
Meanwhile, those of us with children with special needs have to fight for the basics, like access to a free and appropriate public education, one equal to that of typically functioning peers. We sit in IEP meetings—as well as plenty of other conferences—fighting for the services our children need to barely make it. We fight insurance companies for the therapies our children need.
I truly believe that most parents love their children, but when parents hint that they are better-than-the-average-parent based on their kids’ accomplishments (ahem, privileges), what they’re really saying is that they are somehow more apt at raising kids. They are special, possessing some sort of magic that others, especially those who are raising neuro-diverse and children with other disabilities, don’t have. Plus, looking down on children (comparing your above-average children to other kids) is pointless and frankly, rude.
The ableism and privilege that exudes from the parental bragging is disturbing. Other parents just need to try harder—set their eyes on the prize. Stop making excuses, create goals, and go for them. What we really know is that kids who excel often have a whole lot of money and opportunities—ones not available to all kids—working in their favor.
We are okay with our children being who they are. If they are small or big for their age, if they have different abilities, if they need help—whatever. We will work hard to help them succeed at their own pace. What we won’t do is subscribe to the parental bragging that stems from selfishness. This doesn’t serve our kids in any way, and it certainly doesn’t make us better or good parents.
I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that it doesn’t really matter when my baby crawls compared to other babies. Who cares if a fellow mom’s toddler is sleeping through the night and mine isn’t? That doesn’t make me a crap mom, nor does it mean there’s something wrong with my kid. It doesn’t matter when my preschooler learned to write their name (which wasn’t in preschool anyway) or stopped mixing up all the numbers between thirteen and nineteen.
Parental bragging is a waste of time. For the bragger, it temporarily inflates their self-worth, and for the hearer, can stir up resentment and jealousy. It’s a lose-lose situation to make our children’s growth—no matter what that pace looks like—about us. We can authentically celebrate our children’s accomplishments without telling the whole wide world how awesome we—er, I mean our kids—are.