Competitive Parenting

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By Rebecca Koerselman

Has parenting always been competitive? Or is it just the internet, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest that demonstrate more clearly the “bragging parent” and the competitive nature of parenting?

Our lovely daughter recently turned three. I made a cake. We had some family over and shared a meal. We sang the recently liberated for public domain “Happy Birthday Song” We opened presents. We had a wonderful time together.

I did not, however, commission a butter sculpture of my daughter as a three year old, or arrange for a marching band to compose and perform an original fieldshow depicting the life of my daughter thus far—all three years of it.

To be clear, I love cake. I enjoy birthdays and parties. And I heartily support designers who work at bakeries and in other businesses who make creative visions of art. But when birthday celebrations are more about the parents outdoing each other than the child who is celebrating the birthday, I find it troubling.

Sleeping and potty training are other top categories for competitive parenting. My infant sleeps through the night at 3 weeks old, some new parents rave! We attended a church where all children were expected to be toilet-trained at 18 months, someone told me. What!?

I thought that when I reached adulthood, that seemingly high-school ritual of labeling people with certain identities and competing with each other was over. But it isn’t. Competition as a way to find value and purpose continues into adulthood.

To be fair, I’ve also heard my fair share of parenting fails. Accidents, not sleeping through the night consistently, birthday cake flops, and the like. But those honest parenting moments came from people that I know well. It is the parents that I don’t know very well who tend to do the most one-upping about parties, potty-training, and sleeping. So is the core of competitive parenting not so much about the kids as it is the desire to show that we are all great parents?

I have also noticed that Christians seem to have a lot to say about parenting. Purity rings, particular prayers, learning verses about obedience, and lots of rules. But what does God have to say about parenting? There are a number of Proverbs that emphasize discipline and teaching, and the passages in Colossians and Ephesians that balances discipline with the warning to avoid provoking children. And that is about it.

Except for one of my favorite passages from Deuteronomy 6 that reads, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” I love this passage. I love the phrase “impress them on your children.” This passage instructs us to engage with our children and talk to them about what is going on, what we are doing and what we have learned.

What better model for parenting?

Rebecca Koerselman teaches history at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa.

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