Competitive parenting arises from the desire to ensure the best possible development of your children. However, it is easy to see your children too much as an extension of your own ego.
Most parents care deeply about doing a good job raising their children and it’s therefore tempting to make comparisons with other parents and other children to try to see whether the development of your child is ‘on track.’ ‘Good’ parenting has become quite complex and ‘success’ is assessed in a wide range of areas: academic, social, musical, athletic, spiritual, artistic, etc.
There is also the danger of trying to see parenting as a ‘mechanistic’ input/output model with predictable outcomes. The extreme end of this is the ‘tiger mum’ approach that became popular in 2010s. It assumed that strict parenting characterised by discipline and commitment to excellence focusing on academic achievements creates ‘successful’ children. However, recent research suggest that tiger parenting does not produce high-achieving child prodigies but leaves children with social and psychological issues. This is not to say that parents shouldn’t be ambitious about educating their children. But it is important to keep a balance between the different educational goals and not to sacrifice the child’s happiness and mental wellbeing for pure academic success.
Parents should also avoid seeing their children as an extension of their own ego or as the ultimate luxury accessory. While our children are the biological result of our gene pool, they are individuals in their own right and should be nurtured to develop their personality.
The ‘concerted cultivation’ of children can lead to a sense of competition that hurts both children and parents. It makes parents feel anxious, inadequate, and critical of their kids. When parents feel anxious about how they or their children will be evaluated, they tend to behave in more controlling ways. Children who perceive higher levels of criticism from parents also report more feelings of depression and anxiety. At its worst, competitive parenting puts tremendous pressure on children, because the underlying message is that the child needs to achieve in order to prove that the parenting is successful.
It takes a conscious effort to resist the pull of competitive parenting. We need to recognise that our children are not lumps of clay to be moulded. They are each unique constellations of strengths and weaknesses, interests and aversions. They are shaped not just by us, their parents, but also by their own choices, experiences, and other relationships.
In our next blog we’ll be diving into some practical tips to avoid competitive parenting.
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