By Debby Shulman
Lately I’ve read a number of articles addressing low self-esteem and heightened anxiety in young teenage girls who not only engage in aggressive sports but also who possess a competitive personality. It’s not just academic and athletic, but social and emotional competition stemming from unhealthy messages passed along by insecure and jealous parents. (Think “Dance Moms” on steroids) And all of this destructive behavior makes me feel we are moving a bit backward instead of paving a positive path for our children to follow. We don’t need any more hostile, little Tonya Hardings charging down the lacrosse field … so is raising a competitive child doing more harm than good?
Competitive Mommies (CMs) are nothing new. Girlilla Warfare has brought wisdom to your door with tales of competitive parenting … but the evidence continues to mount: Whether using their children as pawns in their own game of “Good, Better, Best” or refusing to play nice in the Sandbox of Suburban Life, CMs are a festering sore for the rest of us who are trying to offer our children some much-needed balance.
And while I’m gratefully past this stage of Mommyhood, Competitive Mommies are alive and well, blooming from polar fleece pods buried beneath our pristine athletic fields.
Easy to recognize, they possess similar personality traits, in real life AND on social media: a little high-strung, a little on edge, and a little loud – and they are fooling themselves if they believe their manipulative behavior goes unnoticed by their friends. Cue the kick-under-the-table at the soccer pizza party, girls.
Competitive Mommies like to make you believe their spawn appear flawless; tremendous students, terrific athletes, taking extra lessons on the sly that are alluded to but NEVER discussed … worthy of everyone’s admiration. They ask a lot of questions about your children in a way that hints at some major insecurity and insist on interrogating them, once securely strapped into the back of their SUV. Competitive Mommies seem blind to the reality that their own kids are right there in the back seat, too … listening intently to the never-ending barrage of questions about grades, soccer, hip-hop classes, and so wait, where did Mom get you that outfit?’
It’s one thing to catch up with your children’s friends but crossing the line and turning into Jealous Town takes it up a notch.
That crazy DEFINITELY gets noticed.
So I think it’s pretty clear what happens when the kiddos overhear nasty cell phone talk about an incident or a game or quietly listen (from the top of the stairs) as Mom and Dad bash other people and their children – they develop an exaggerated sense of self, believing they ARE THE BOMB and far better than the rest of the crowd. Sure enough, they drink that toxic, competitive juice (Snack Mom has brought enough for everyone), and now we have a child that seeks to squash and insult others in order to tap into fabricated feelings of self-worth.
And that is not going to help maturation or problem-solving any time soon.
Let’s face it: Some competition is healthy for children and teens but ONLY the kind that promotes confidence and competence – not the kind that relies on ‘losers’ to boost self-esteem.
When we depend on other people’s failures to elevate our feelings of success, we’ve lost the game. Rather, teaching our children personal achievement comes from hard work (win or lose) and effort (win or lose) might result in kinder, more humble children. Athletes or not, honor society or not, we must teach our kids to embrace the generosity of encouragement. Make others feel good about personal achievements – even if they are competitors – and we might see a change in the way our kids respond to all kinds of competition.
I’d like to believe we have moved past “Black Swan” behavior but when I hear stories about Competitive Mommies trying to take each other down through gossip, back-stabbing, or sabotaging each other’s professional endeavors, it stands to reason their kids see it too. Tearing another woman down because she has talent? Belittling someone else’s accomplishments because that threatens you? Letting jealousy get the best of you because someone else does something better? I don’t think so.
Our kids — especially our daughters — MUST observe the mandatory grace required when dealing with competition.
Behaving otherwise fuels shallow behavior in our children we can no longer afford to ignore.
Folks, the Carringtons have left the building.
We have the freedom to covet, condemn, and criticize … but at what cost to our kids? When parents find it okay to rationalize the loss, whether it’s softball, debate or getting the lead in the big show, by expressing snarky disrespect to those who truly deserve legitimate recognition, then we all lose. That little voice inside our kids’ heads is screaming with angst. They know this is not how things should be. They know how the other team played. They always know who is the best. Blowing smoke and getting ugly about who got the part, who won the game or who scored a 36, isn’t healthy.
This can’t be the way we define what it truly means to be a winner.
The best approach? Teaching our children to work hard and perform better – for themselves. We want them to set reasonable goals for success, whether academic or athletic, that promote character and integrity. Competition is meant to improve one’s own personal performance. Creating this from the inside out offers a solid foundation of confidence that will grow organically – not by way of tearing someone down or claiming someone else to be the ‘loser.’
Looking at the examples set by athletes Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, and comedians Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, prove the empowering benefits to lifting up the competitor and celebrating her talents. Authentic appreciation for a performance worth celebrating because we genuinely admire what it took to get there.
We MUST instill in our children that it feels good to APPLAUD our competitors.
It feels good to be the first to congratulate and mean it, honoring the accomplishments of those who succeed. It makes winning something feel that much better. And in the end, they’ll discover bringing the game is much more fun than winning it.
Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: Debby Shulman is a college essay consultant and academic tutor with a private practice in Northbrook, Illinois. She also professionally collaborates with Amy Simon College Consulting in Bannockburn, Illinois. Debby also blogs about Motherhood/Teen issues for Your Teen magazine (www.yourteenmag.com). Check out her valuable advice.