“When did your little one start walking? 12 months? Oh darrrrling, my little princess Cherry-Blossom could do back flips by then!”
There are certain parenting mistakes that we can make. We’re not talking about mistakes like not keeping a boundary we’ve set, or saying something in our child’s hearing we shouldn’t. No, we’re talking about a different kind of mistake – mistakes in the realm of what we believe – the mistake of forgetting the gospel and being robbed of our joy and freedom in parenting. These are mistakes in what we believe about God, ourselves or our children, things that lead to a sense of guilt and inferiority, or else pride and superiority.
That’s why we decided to write this series of posts: “5 Parenting Mistakes To Avoid”. The aim of this series is to remind us of the wonderful good news of Jesus in areas where we often forget it as we parent. If you missed the first post (“5 Parenting Mistakes To Avoid: The Comparison Game”), then click through to read it, and to find out more about this series.
This week we’re thinking about the second of these parenting mistakes: competitiveness.
But before we go any further, just a quick reminder. There’s a type of competitiveness we very much encourage – entering our competition! You have until just 5pm today to enter our competition to win a Madlug backpack. Click through to last week’s post to read more about this wonderful organisation and find out how to enter – the winner will be announced tomorrow!
Back to this week’s topic.
Getting The Scales Out
We’ve all met one, haven’t we? A parent like Cherry-Blossom’s mum. That parent who is constantly putting their child on the scales against yours. Which child talked first, or with greater clarity or broader vocabulary? Which child is more socially accomplished? Which child has greater dexterity, better problem-solving skills, has a better grasp of maths, is more creative, is more beautiful? Which… well you get the picture.
The funny thing is, it always seems to be their child that tips the balance.
Not many parents are as brash as little Cherry-Blossom’s mum. Most are far more subtle. We see it in that knowing little look or that “innocent” comment.
Competitive parenting is so unattractive.
But let’s not be too quick to point the finger. We love our children, we spend so much time with them and grow to appreciate their talents, the developmental steps they take, the new things that they learn. That’s right, of course. But as we do that, it’s all too easy for us to move from simply appreciating them, to comparing them to others. When this comparison starts, we’re just a few short steps away from being that competitive, pushy parent.
A Bit Of Healthy Competition?
So what’s the problem? A bit of healthy competition is good, right?
We’re not so sure. Broadly speaking, we think that competitive parenting only ends up leading to one of two things.
Firstly it can lead to pride or arrogance. As we look at other children in comparison to ours and come to the conclusion (rightly or wrongly) that our child is “better”, we feel proud or arrogant. We feel superior to that other parent – their child is clearly either genetically inferior, or else their parent(s) haven’t done quite as good a job as us.
On the other hand, if we’re on the sharp end of competitive parenting or if we look at our child and see that they’re behind their peers, we’re deflated. We feel guilty – have I not been doing the right things to teach my child? Am I doing something wrong? We feel inferior – I’m just not as good a parent. We feel disappointed – why can’t my child outdo the others? We feel short-changed – how come I’m the one who gets the child that struggles?
It’s not a surprise that here on the Gospel-Centred Parenting blog we think that the gospel has something to say to competitive parenting.
A Unique Answer To Competitiveness
What the gospel says to competitive parenting is wonderfully liberating.
The Bible describes humanity as made in the image of God. Every single person has dignity and is deeply significant because they bear the likeness of the God who made them.
And what’s more, that is not simply generally true of all people, but personally true of each individual in a unique way. Check out these wonderful verses from the Psalms:
“You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
Your child was intiricately and purposefully created by our kind Father. They are who they are because that is how God designed them. That means that gratitude is the appropriate response to your child’s abilities (be they top or bottom of the class) because the good, sovereign God of the universe knew exactly who he wanted them to be, and made them so. That strips away both inferiority and pride (it’s not down to us really – and even when have taught our children something well, it’s only because God knew my frame in the secret place and knit me together to enable me to do it – it’s down to him, not me!) We can rejoice in who our children are.
What’s more, we can rejoice in how God has made the other children around us too. They are masterpeices of God’s creative, varied goodness and each show us something of him as his image-bearers.
So next time you meet Cherry-Blossom’s mum at play group, don’t let her comment get to you. Whether what she’s saying is true or not, you can rejoice in both who Cherry-Blossom is, and in who your child is – there’s no need to compete. You can be grateful to God the master craftsman, and you can get on with your day with joy and freedom.