Those seeds of self-doubt can grow into serious anxiety. Experts say that competitive parenting is one reason why problems such as eating disorders and alcohol abuse are now showing up in middle schools—and even elementary schools.
"It all backfires," Roth says. "Everyone's stress levels go off the charts. You get impatient parents, stressed-out kids, power struggles galore, and it brings the intensity of the whole family up. It creates frenzied families."
If you're honestly concerned that your child is behind on an important developmental milestone, talk to your pediatrician. If she assures you that your child is just fine, the best thing you can do is . . . relax.
It's important to keep in mind that accomplishments in the baby, toddler, and preschool years—as exciting as they are—do not necessarily predict future success. Your friend's early walker might turn out to be a teenage couch potato. And nowhere on his future college application will your son be asked, "At what age did you say your first word?"
If you want to loosen up, chill out and stop competing with other parents, try these tips:
- Give yourself permission to relax. Take that developmental milestones chart off your refrigerator. Accept that there is no such thing as a perfect child—or a perfect parent. And that's OK.
- Give your child permission to grow and learn at her own pace. Chances are excellent that, sooner or later, she'll master walking, talking, reading, using the potty, and a hundred other skills. It doesn't matter to her if some—or all—of her playgroup pals get there first. Why let it matter to you?
- When faced with a competitive parent, refuse to get dragged into the game. Just say, "I'm confident that Lily will (crawl, drink from a cup, learn the alphabet) when she's ready. I'm following her lead and letting her take it at her own pace."
- Instead of competing with other parents, try offering them praise. Say, "I really admire how patient you are. I struggle with that" or "You know, you're a really wonderful mom." Focus on the positive, be honest about your own self-doubts, and you'll cut down on competitiveness.
- If all the moms in your social group are competitive types who make you feel inadequate, maybe it's time to find some new mom-friends.
Two of the best gifts you can give your child are unconditional love and acceptance. So let him be himself. Instead of comparing him to his peers, respect his unique ways of growing and knowing and learning. He'll be happier and more relaxed—and so will you.