Monday, 2 September 2013

Are your kids keeping up with the Jones?

I recently wrote about comparative experiences in pregnancy, and wanted to extend those ideas a little.  If that need to keep up with the Jones' is present when we compare our pregnancies to those we see around us, whether this is real life, TV fiction or some weird Kardashian influenced blend of the two, do those urges dissipate along with the contractions, or . . . not?

When you're considering  {choose your adjective - ordinary / bog standard / general issue / normal / usual / neuro-typical} children, anyone who's been to any toddler group has probably joined in with (or at least overheard) one of those I know my child is gifted type conversations.  They tend to begin with those very natural flashes of pride in one's offspring, and descend into what I can only describe as beautifully wrapped but thinly disguised one upmanship.

The focus of those seemingly innocent chats between convenience friends changes as the children age - sleep; toilet training; reading; school reports, as well as general behaviour.  Individual achievements are lauded and repeated and become a line in the sand, the standard against which all other children are judged and, by extension, our parenting.

I think that subconsciously each (or certainly most) of us position ourselves in a theoretical parenting line up by assessing those examples of parenting we see around us, and by referring back to our own experience of being parented.  Both positive and negative models feed in to our reasoning, which is choc-full of value judgements that we very possibly wouldn't be comfortable sharing with others.

By way of illustration, I'll come clean on something that makes me cringe.  Parents struggling to control their children who then appoint a proxy authority figure - "if you don't shut up the shop lady will come over and tell you off".  Or even worse, "the police will come and take you to prison".  Hate it.  Absolutely hate it.  I know it probably isn't a thought out strategy, but come on!  Your kids need to recognise you're in charge, and that isn't going to happen if you bring someone else into it.  And the police - do you actually want your children to be afraid of the police?  To think that if they argue with their sibling they might end up in prison?

The majority of parents take pride in their child as, of course, they should.  The specific trait being praised is almost irrelevant, as long as it is appropriate and positive - he tries hard in school; she's an excellent football player; he's a fantastic baker; she is curious about the world around her; he is a confident and interesting conversationalist.

So what about negative attributes?  Are these as excitedly discussed and compared with others?  Surely, if we are prepared to take some of the credit when things go well, we should also accept partial responsibility for the less positive outcomes, or would we consider these to be evidence of our less effective parenting tactics?  Which makes you wonder, why do parents of toddlers eagerly share their child's picky eating habits, detailed descriptions of tantrums, and irregular sleeping patterns?  Strangely, these sorts of factors are also subject to comparative parenting, but in reverse - the more difficult the behaviour, the more kudos this earns the parent - but why?

I have a couple of ideas, but would love to hear what you think - do you have experiences to share, or opinions to air?  Feel free to disagree - we all see things from our own perspective after all, and I'd love you to tell me about yours, that's what that comments box is for!   Thanks for reading folks, and remember, if you put your email address in that box up there on the right, you'll get each new post delivered straight to your inbox, like magic!

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