I like my kids, most of the time.
Sure, they can create challenges; like the time one of them lay down on the ground in the security line at LAX because the TSA agents DIDN’T ask him to take off his shoes. Or the kid who licked a bathroom wall in a public outdoor restroom to prove their personal autonomy. Or the general complaints every time there is laundry to be folded.
Usually, I like them. I love them. I would lay down my life for them. But my kids aren’t, like, phenomenal. They haven’t been on Kids’ Baking Championship. None of them has a YouTube channel that funds our family’s lifestyle. They don’t rack up trophies like a toddler beauty queen in the South.
They take some music lessons, but so far no one is obviously going to be a virtuoso.
Is that enough? It is enough if I raise people who are capable of supporting themselves and maintaining healthy relationships? Because that was originally my goal, but lately I’ve been feeling pretty behind if that’s all I’ve got. According to Facebook, other people’s kids are constantly winning tournaments, performing in high production value theatrical events, and apparently generally crushing it at life.
My youngest sons spent last Saturday drawing dozens of pictures of monsters. And digging holes in the backyard. And fighting about what movie to watch that night. One of them told me he was going to “make an island” which turned out to be 8 pieces of graph paper duct taped together and living on my kitchen counter.
Should I be organizing their time differently?
Part of me just wants to blame the advent of social media for what I perceive to be the rise in competitive parenting. Back in the day (when I started the role of Mom), if you wanted to feel bad about your kids you just had to listen to some chick at a preschool playgroup talk about how her 2-year-old was already reading. But then you could go home and forget about her and just assume she was either lying or delusional, but either way there was no way her kid was going to wind up fun to talk to as an adult.
Now she posts a video in her InstaStories of little Betsy reading “Hop on Pop” surrounded by cream colored organic cotton and wearing bespoke toddler gear complete with #bossbabe manufacturer hashtag.
I hate her. And Betsy.
Society in general is intensely competitive lately. Or at least more so than the pressure I felt as a kid to “win.” We have a President who calls everyone who disagrees with him “sad” or a “loser.” Last year he said, “trade wars are good, and easy to win”, a concept that has not been borne out by the history of the world. It might work if the global economy were actually a giant monopoly game with absolute winners and losers, but it’s not.
Celebrities are frequently applauded for “clapping back” on social media as though wealthy and influential humans in positions of power acting like children is somehow a personal victory in the realm of standing up for oneself. Heaven forbid you don’t “win” a twitter battle with a complete stranger. However would you be able to carry on with your privileged lifestyle if you let it go?
Competitive parenting has become so crazy that we’ve all just learned about the rich, powerful, and famous families straight up cheating to get their kids into certain colleges.
Why?! I guess I sort of understand if your family is four generations deep at Yale and you donate another building to keep the family pride in tact over at the club. Or golf course. Or wherever it is that rich people brag about their kids. But in what world do you think that having two rich and famous parents won’t be enough of a leg up for your wealthy, attractive children and you have to cheat to get them into school?
Pick a different college. Don’t go to college. Go to college in a few years when your kid is less self absorbed. If people with far more connections and financial resources than most of us will ever see feel such crazy pressure to let their kids “win”, what hope do the rest of us have when it comes to the Great Kid Competition?
So, where does that leave my kids? Should I be pushing them to better or stronger or faster or, just… more? Am I failing them because we don’t do enough extra curricular activities? Am I failing them if I don’t demand more time spent studying? And, if we did do more, when would they draw monsters?
Kind. Faithful. Generous. Patient.
I’d really like my kids to “win” in these categories. Last week my 14-year-old came home concerned about a friend who doesn’t have anyone to room with on their upcoming school trip. The girl identifies as bisexual and hadn’t lined up roommates by the deadline. She was worried about whether there was anyone left who would want to room with her. My kid said, “Mom, I didn’t know what to say to her to make her feel better, and I don’t understand what she’s going through, so I just tried to listen.”
I may give her a trophy for that.
Obviously, it would be perfect if I could raise empathetic humans who are also high achieving winners at everything. And perhaps I’m just a curmudgeonly old woman griping, “Back in my day kids were stupid and unaccomplished and we LIKED it that way!” If your kids are rock star-ballerina-pianist-geniuses, congratulations. I look forward to their YouTube channels.
But if you also worry that maybe your kids aren’t enough in the world sometimes, I’m with you. None of us really knows what will prepare our children for their futures. And that’s terrifying. The least I can do is make sure they’ve got room in their lives to reflect and grow as people. And maybe some monster drawings to take with them for protection.