One day when my son was around five years old, I was in the supermarket looking very tired and bedraggled. My dark circles had dark circles and I could’ve easily been mistaken for one of the undead, all thanks to a particularly bad stomach bug my son had acquired.
Somewhere around the frozen desert aisle (I needed an ice cream pick me up) I bumped into an acquaintance of mine, who I referred to in my head as ‘Lady McSmug’ as she was, without doubt, the smuggest person I have ever met.
Lady McSmug was one of life’s Perfect Parents. She had three perfect children, a perfect husband and a perfect home. Her life was like something out of a Disney family movie – all shiny, sparking floors, prayers before bedtime and whistling while they worked. She lived deep in the countryside, and I always imagined her pegging out her washing with the help of the forest creatures while few of Bambi’s cousins frolicked happily in the distance.
So, there was me; a trolley full of microwave ready meals and chocolate, perusing the frozen sugar section with Lady McSmug floating serenely towards me, trolley abundant with all the fresh, organic food that Tesco stocked.
“Gosh! Look at you!” Exclaimed Lady M as she saw me. Then came the head tilt and in the baby voice that she always addressed me in, “you wook werry tired. Are you ok?” (Why she spoke to me as if I was a two year old, I never managed to work out).
“I’m just tired” I replied, in as gaily a tone as I could muster, “We had a bad night with Buddy. He’s got a bug, so I’ve been up changing sick covered bedding for most of the night.”
Without missing a beat Lady M trilled, “Oh, I never have to change the sheets! My children are very skillful at being sick in a bucket! Always have been!”
You see, not only was Lady McSmug the smuggest parent in the world – she was also the most competitive. She even had to compete over who’s child had the best vomiting technique.
I don’t think Lady McSmug is such an extreme example of a competitive parent. I am sure we have all come across a few. It all starts when our babies are newborns, a time when we should be supporting each other. Sadly, some people see their role as a new parent as if they are the first people ever to have procreated and this can lead to a game of never ending one upmanship for them.
I once knew a mother who was so competitive that she would set up play dates for her year one child just so she could sneak a peak in their book bags. She liked to look at what level of books they were reading and read the comments in their contact book. Unhinged behavior in my opinion, but for her, it was completely normal.
I have also known mothers who volunteer to be a class helper in order to listen to the peers of their children read to gauge how far ahead their own offspring are.
To relieve the tedium of this I came up with a little game called Competitive Parent Bingo. It is a game I like to play now that I am on my second child and realise that all children are different and that life is far too short to compare them. The rules are simple; hang around with other parents and tick off each one of these competitive remarks. You win a trip to the pub to drown your sorrows when you have ticked them all off (at your own expense) and believe me, you will have ticked them all off within half an hour of conversation.
1) “Oh, I didn’t want any drugs during labour. I did it all myself with just gas and air, I just breathed him out. It was wonderful” – This is usually said in response to you telling the story of your horrific 40 hour labour where you begged for all the drugs in the world (and a gun to shoot yourself with), ending in an emergency cesarean section and a blood transfusion.
2) “Ours have all slept 7am until 7pm from four weeks old, it’s a good routine that you need” – This is said when you are so tired form two years of sleep deprivation that you can barely function without an intravenous drip of Red Bull. You have tried every routine in the book and now share a bed with a hulk of a toddler who kicks you awake every thirty minuets and thinks 5.30am is a perfectly acceptable time to start the day.
3) “My children will eat anything. I can’t abide fussy eaters” – As your three year old throws a tantrum and deposits the contents of his lunch box over your head because their banana was the wrong shade of yellow.
4) “Mia was reading Harry Potter books aged six. She’s reading the Hobbit for fun at weekends” – When you have been called into school for the fifth time this term because your child will not sit and read. Ever.
5) There are bonus points for the following: Boasting about the 12+ or private school entrance exams, that their child has been scouted by a model agency or that they have filled in an application for MENSA.
So how do you deal with competitive parents? Don’t try and compete with them, it will never end in your favour. If you try to out do them, it will end up with you proclaiming your child to be the first under ten to make it to the moon and will bring you down to their level of utter ridiculousness.
Competitive parents either really believe their child is a wonder on par with the greatest achievers of all time, or they are actually terribly insecure and overcompensating. Either way, they will always want the last word.
You do have a few options though. The first is to agree with them; “Yes! You are right, Phoebe is the best gymnast EVER and will make the next Olympic games!” or “Yes, yes, he will be prime minister” (you can choose whether to do it in a serous or tongue and cheek way, depending on the parent and their level of sense of humor).
The second option is to play down your own child; “Wow. Penelope is on level five reading books already? Milo can’t even recognise his own name. Actually, I think he might be a bit thick”.
The third option is my favorite; nod, smile and then blog about it later.