While browsing around my favorite clothing store alone a few weeks before school started I was trying on a dress and overheard a mother and daughter having a conversation in the dressing room next to me.
What first sounded like a mother encouraging her daughter to get a certain pair of jeans because they "looked so flattering on her even if they were really expensive" ended a bit unexpectedly.
The girl seemed hesitant and told her mom she didn't really love the jeans and didn't see the point in her mom spending all that money on a pair pf pants she was "hardly ever going to wear." The mom reminded her it was what all her friends were wearing and she was going to get them for her even if it was "going to break her to keep up" with her daughter's friends.
While the conversation made me feel sad, there was a part of me that could relate. As a mother to three teens, you notice what other kids are doing, what they are wearing, and how much playing time they are getting during sporting events.
It's easy to sit back and say those things aren't important and we should solely focus on raising strong, capable, kind kids who are aware of others and what they are going through, and really mean it.
We all lecture that material things and being the best on the teams aren't that important.
But if we are being honest, I think most of us might have a bit of a competitive streak when it comes to our kids and our parenting, even if we don't even realize it.
Sometimes it hits us when we see our kids wearing off-brand sneakers while everyone else on the team has expensive name brand shoes.
Or maybe you feel like your child isn't getting the playing time they deserve so you say something to coach, get ignored, and it burns you up inside knowing if your child was a little bit better, they'd be given more of a chance.
Photo by Getty Images
Once my daughter told me she didn't like having friends over because we never "have good snacks or do anything fun."
In all honesty, she had a point, but the thing is when I was younger, having a friend over was the treat. My parents sat back and didn't do anything much extra, but times have changed.
When she comes home from a friend's slumber party and talks about all the fun games they played, and the spread of food that was there, it makes me want to do more of the same when her friends come over sometimes (not all the time, this mom is tired).
Does it seem silly? Yes, I know it does. But according to some of my other mom friends, they feel the same way when it comes to certain things that involve their kids.
A friend of mine told me her son plays hockey and doesn't stand a chance. "All the other kids were taking private skating lessons really early on, and we didn't. His skating skills are good for his age but way behind everyone else."
Another mother of a middle school student revealed she hates how social media makes her feel less-than.
"My son is average," she says, "and there are times when the star of the track team's mom posts about how he won the meet and made high honors. I know it shouldn't make me feel bad, but I wonder if I am doing everything I can for my kid. I wonder if he notices he's not the best on the team and struggles to get decent grades. I want better for him I guess."
And I'll never forget the day I was watching my daughter’s basketball game when another mother leaned over to me and said, "every girl has on Nike shorts, and there's my kid in her older sister's generic shorts. How embarrassing."
The bottom line is we all want our kids to be happy, and we try to create that happiness whether it means buying them special sneakers or spending more time with them throwing the ball on the weekends.
Mama Bear instincts turn on fast when you have a baby, and those instincts don't limit you from wanting to give your kids everything, even if you can't. Being competitive is human nature.
Now that my kids are teens and having certain things, wearing certain clothes, and "promposals" are a thing, I've had to work hard to find that balance of giving them enough but not handing them everything or making them feel entitled, and it's been one of the hardest things I've had to do as a parent.
Some parents just want to give up. In Anne Josephson’s Huffington Post essay titled, An Open Letter to Competitive Parents, from a Parent Who Hates the Rat Race, she wrote:
"Dear fellow parents,
I am writing to you because I give up. Your child is better than mine. You win. I will no longer play the game of competitive parenting. I’ll admit it, I’m scared. What if by quitting the competitive parent game my kids are doomed to a life a mediocrity?"
Parenting expert John Sharry explained in his Irish Times article that our society is way too competitive in sports:
“Over-competition in sport is problematic for children’s mental health. Some competition is fine to keep them focused, but too much is a problem. It’s bad for the less athletic kids because they feel bad [or feel] they may be letting the team down, and rejected if they are dropped. But it’s also a problem for the high-achievers who can become anxious about their performance."
Emma Seppälä, the Science Director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University and author of the book The Happiness Track, says we've been teaching our kids the wrong way to be happy. In an article for Quartz, she explains how we need to stop pushing them to be their best selves at every moment, always be planning for the future and setting goals.
Seppälä found through her research the key to happiness is more about staying in the moment, and teaching kids it's okay to try things and fail instead of always thinking they (and we) have to be doing our best at every moment.
While I don't have all the answers, I do know my kids and I are happier when we ignore the outside noise and pay attention to the things that make us happy.
There are times when that means we skip a practice or two, or don't go out and get the expensive shoes because they already have a pair from last year that fit, and we spend the money and time doing something else.
That mixed in with some extra reading time or practice in sports outside of their regular playing time, when they feel like it, seems to be working out just fine for us.
If our kids want to put more time and energy into something, it's definitely worth the investment, but it should be because they have goals which make them happy, not because they feel pressured into doing it or because they have something to prove to anyone else.
Katie Bingham-Smith lives in Maine and is a full-time freelance writer. She's writes about all things parenting, food, and fashion.