"Today's young women have been brought up to believe that they can have it all, that they can do everything and do it well," Roth says. "They're expected to reach for the stars, so whether it's working or parenting, everything becomes competitive."
We modern moms put enormous pressure on ourselves to succeed, to produce results. If we work outside the home, we feel pressure to "produce" a superior child to prove that we're juggling all our roles successfully. If we stay at home, we feel pressure to "produce" a superior child because raising kids is our career.
All that pressure leads to competitive parenting, Roth says. We worry that we're not good enough. We look at other moms and think, "She's doing a lot of things and I'm not doing as much. Maybe I should be doing more."
So we make competitive comments out of a need to boost our own shaky self-confidence. When your friend says, "My Ashley started walking at nine months," what she's really trying to say is, "I'm doing a great job as a mom." She's trying to reassure herself, not impress you. Competitive parenting isn't about the kids at all; it's about how we feel as parents.
Less than Perfect
So where's the harm? Isn't a little competition a healthy thing?
Not when a young child is within hearing distance. When you talk about how your children compare to their peers, they hear one of two messages: "Mom loves me because I'm good at doing X" or "I'm not good enough." If they hear messages like that often enough, they start to believe they have to perform—and succeed—to be worthy of acceptance and love. They grow up feeling like they have to prove themselves, be the best . . . be perfect.