Of parents and parenting

It started with the son going to playgroup – my regular interaction with toddlers and their parents who came to the same playgroup. In my 2 year stay here, I have come across people who have only appreciated the kiddo and have always had a kind word to say about him, ‘oh, how lovely, oh how sweet’ ‘oh he’s such a big boy’ ‘oh how well does he sing’ and so on. I was always stunned and somewhat humbled by their genuineness. It never seemed that they were deliberately appreciating my boy. Why would they? What’s in it for them? And they were all foreigners, I mean UK citizens. In the playgroup however, I came across some Indian kids and their mums. It was almost 2 weeks before my son happily settled in the playgroup and until that then I had to be with him during the entire time.

During those days, I always got support and encouragement from these other mothers telling me not to worry about it and that their kids were the same and it is very common for them to cry when they stay away from their mothers for the first time. There was never any criticism or cross word. Then, when my son had settled in, many new kids came along and I found myself telling these new ladies that it would be alright and not to worry. It was then that I came across this Indian lady whose husband incidentally worked at the same office as my husband’s. Her son took about a week to settle in and she used to stay there the entire time as I used to.

Initially we talked a lot about the general stuff, how long have you been here, life in Edinburgh, weather and our kid’s. Then one day when I went to collect my son, she makes this statement in a condescending manner, ‘Your son doesn’t have any snacks during their break.’ My first reaction was, ‘What does it have to do with you?’ but instead I replied, ‘It’s all right, he has a heavy breakfast.’ A couple of days later, she tells me, ‘Your son is still playing with the bike (even though it is time to tidy up and sit down for story time)’. Again I replied, ‘It’s all right!’ Then one day I was late for dropping off my son at the playgroup and this lady meets me halfway and smiles snidely and says, ‘You are late today!’ I mean WTF?

I mean who the hell is she to patronize me in this manner? Why can’t she mind her own business? She is not the playgroup leader or an administrator to criticise or discuss my son’s habits or behaviour. I was so angry that I was about to blast her then and there to mind her own business. Instead, I had a long talk with my husband to blow off the steam. The calm being superior to me in terms of patience and wisdom told me calmly that most probably I won’t be seeing this lady in a couple of months’ time when the son starts going to nursery school and I would probably never see her again. What does it matter what a stranger says? I agreed and calmed down but it was still lingering in the back of my mind and every time I saw her. I wondered whether I should make some nasty comments about her son just to give her a taste of her own medicine but her son is sweet and am not the kind of person who does such low things.

It got me thinking however, why do parents criticize other children or other parents to prove their own superiority? Do they think so lowly of their own children? Were they themselves treated in such manner when they were kids? Is this the only way in which they can prove their child’s calibre? Why do they always have to compare their own kids with others? Do they realise how this affects their child’s self-esteem?  What is their benchmark for such comparison? I have often seen extremes of these comparisons, some parents feel their munchkins are so adorable that they find all other kids beneath their own kids and wouldn’t mind stating so in public. The other extreme is to complain about your own kids to anyone and everyone who would listen. But I digress.

There is a concept in psychology – performance goals and mastery. Performance goals seek to demonstrate ability to others. Mastery goals on the other hand, seek to improve and learn. Mastery learning (ML) means students should master each learning unit before proceeding to a more advanced learning task. In ML, teachers evaluate students with criterion-reference tests rather than norm-reference tests.

Rather than getting into the technicalities of it, this site provides a fantastic example of mastery and performance goals.

‘Paris Hilton and Meryl Streep – they’re both famous actors, but they seem to have extremely different approaches to acting.  While Paris Hilton’s goals seem to be concerned with obtaining attention and fame, Meryl Streep’s goals seem to be about mastering her craft.’

Hilton Students vs. Streep Students

Many students approach education like Paris Hilton approaches acting: caring more about how others react to their actions and demonstrating their abilities to others than they care about learning. More people need to approach education like Meryl Streep approaches acting: caring more about learning and mastering than whether they look awkward or how they compare to those around them.

What made me go into all this learning psychology?  I know it is a farfetched comparison but I think this learning attitude is very similar to our attitude in life. We are content when we think we are doing comparatively better than our peers/neighbours/friends. People are more focused on winning, looking good and doing better than others. There is nothing wrong in wanting to do better and achieve in the world. But when this is achieved by disapproving and censuring others it is not victory in the just sense. Instead of finding faults in others it is important to focus on your own goals and achievements.

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10 thoughts on “Of parents and parenting

  1. I think this all stems from insecurities. Pointing out mistakes of other people helps you to feel good about you even though you are aware that you are not perfect. It is so strongly embedded in some people that they don’t even realize that they are doing it subconciously.
    Anyways, I prefer to give the person a piece of my mind rather than regretting that I didn’t say anything. Next time just bow your head and say – Yes mother! 🙂

  2. I will tell you a small incident.
    Yesterday I was sitting sketching with Arnav & I made a tiger and showed to him. He was busy scribbling his own things and my MIL who was sitting next to us was busy with her commentory. “Arnav also made something, he made it better than Mumma”!!!! Now tell me was there any need to say that?
    I guess the mentality is such that you have to show your kid is better than everyone else. I guess all this comes from insecurity and that is why people need to prove to others that they are better and then forget everything else.
    As Amit says, listen upto a point but not beyond that. You are niether answerable to the lady nor should you take shit from her.

  3. I don’t understand why some women(read most women) have this comparison syndrome. They think their parenting style is the best and world class, and other mothers are just not worth raising the child. And 2nd they think their child is the smart (Their child may be smart), but why do they underestimate other’s children. I’ve seen this a lot in India with my relatives and friends. Maggie, you are just being too nice to her. Next time you see her, tell her something that she’d never utter similar comment to anyone.

    • Yeah exactly the comparison syndrome! I hate it even when parents compare between cousins. I am definitely going to give her a piece of my mind if next time she says something cross! 🙂

  4. I strongly believe that parenting and education are the key to saving the future from our own madness. The observations you have made in your post are proof of how thoughtless and self destructive our behaviors have become. Superiority and jealousy are perhaps traits natural to all thinking organisms, but the reason we consider ourselves the pinnacle of evolution is because we can choose to act out of a moral construct, instead of just instinct. The fact that many of us lack a humane moral construct is probably the greatest threat we are facing as a civilization.

    • Yes, people react rather than respond. I wanted to note further that this behaviour is more common in Indians but then perhaps am generalizing but I haven’t come across such destructive out pours from these foreign people here.

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