Marblehead Patch columnist Brenda Kelley Kim talks about competition, congratulations and keeping score.
“Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you.” - Irving Berlin
Because it’s graduation season, there are an awful lot of awards going around. I am always so happy for my friends and family members when they achieve something. A friend’s daughter graduated from high school this weekend. She did well, earned awards and recognition and yes, her family was proud. But they were also happy for their daughter’s friends and classmates. They were celebrating their daughter, not comparing her to anyone else.
Parents don’t have to keep quiet when their children do well. I remember when my oldest won a writing contest; I was practically stopping strangers on the street to tell them. I don’t think as a parent you should have to zip it when your kid has accomplished something amazing. However, when someone tells you what their child did well? That’s when you smile, say “How wonderful!” and shut the front door. Someone else’s joy is not an invitation pull out the scorecard and start ranking the opposition.
The level of parental competition has reached new heights. It’s not just around graduation either. It starts way earlier than that. I have sat in an obstetrician’s waiting room and heard two pregnant women one-upping each other over morning sickness. One of them insisted she wasn’t sick because she was having a boy and “my son would not do this to his mother.” Mine did. So did his brother and his sister. Surely I must have done something wrong to have such uncaring fetuses.
Once a child is born, the competition really heats up. All the milestones have to be judged against the books, your family, your neighbors and even strangers you see in the store. I had a mom look at my middle boy when I was grocery shopping and say “That’s great he’s so quiet, my little one just talks to everyone so I had to start coming at nap time.” Her baby was fast asleep in his bucket seat and about three months old, but according to her he was a big talker when he was awake. Not for nothing, I fully expected this mom to tell me he was bilingual and had recently written his first novel.
School, sports and activities are of course the Holy Trinity of parental competition. In the mix of dance class, soccer practice and teacher conferences, usually one parent, most often a mom, emerges to reign supreme as “Sponge Mom Superior Pants”. She does it all, and her kids do too. No one labored harder, breastfed longer or headed up more committees. And she is going to make sure everyone knows it. When she is done reciting everything she does, she will start with her precious child’s resume. Do whatever it takes to get away from this soul crusher. You can’t win. Your child could have been reciting multiplication facts during his bris, it doesn’t matter, hers was probably busy starting his own non-profit organization to provide laptops to disadvantaged elderly war heroes.
I don’t understand why it’s like this. My friend whose daughter graduated this weekend has every reason to be proud of her gorgeous and talented daughter. It is irrelevant to her what the other families and graduates accomplished. Her daughter’s accomplishments exist no matter what anyone else does. Quite simply, she was overjoyed that she raised a happy healthy child. Isn’t that what we all want? Does it really matter at the end of the day where your kid ranks compared to the rest of the class? It matters for colleges I suppose, and scholarships. But does it matter to you as a parent? We all love our kids the moment they are born and we don’t ever stop. They exist for us as living proof that dreams come true, how can that not be enough?
My children have all had their moments, and I have done my share of bragging. What I hope I have done more of though is listening to and celebrating the moments of my friend’s children too. I’m not keeping score because it isn’t a race. I feel lucky to have known some great moms, dads and kids. It’s all good.