Am I a bad mom if my kids aren’t superstars?

Back-to-School Night Made Me Feel Like a Bad Mom, complains Jessica Lahey in The Atlantic.

When I left the house for parent-teacher night, I was a good mom. My younger son was doing his homework, and my older son was in his room practicing the opening riff of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” on the guitar.

. . . Kevin’s mom was out of breath because they had to rush to school from his cello lesson and Ilse’s swim team practice. Heather came in late because her daughter, one of the top Nordic ski racers in the northeast, was at dry-land training. Jason and Brian, on the other hand, were on time–because they stay after school to help with math tutoring and soccer practice. Suddenly, my sons’ after-school activities seemed less impressive.

. . . My younger son had spent his afternoon not at dry-land training, but in the backyard, whittling a sorcerer’s staff out of a stick with one of my good kitchen knives.

The compulsion to compete for most outstanding child has been named Pressured Parents Phenomenon by Wendy Grolnick, a Clark psychology professor. Competitive parenting is contagious, says Grolnick.

Lahey includes tips to “vaccinate” yourself against PPP. I will summarize: Chill.

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  1. If you hang out with upper-class homeschoolers, I swear it is even worse! I agree about the “just chill” advice. If you are doing what you need to do, you are actually more likely to fall into this. The people who need the big kick in the hiney are just the ones who don’t feel this sort of peer pressure.

  2. Crimson Wife says:

    It’s easy to say “chill” but the reality is that college admissions have become so competitive that top grades and test scores are no longer enough. The only kids I know to be accepted at a good college in recent years have been the ones who have excelled at a national level in some extracurricular activity.

    • Where do you draw your cut-line for “good college”?


      Does UC Santa Cruz (#86 on the USNWR National Universities list) count as a good college? University of Texas (#52)? ASU (#142)?

      • Crimson Wife says:

        I was thinking more along the lines of top 30 or so. UT-Austin does have a strong engineering program, though.

  3. Oh man! My kid spent the day synching her Animal Jam toons to the Gangham Style sound track, analyzing a dead butterfly in the backyard and composing a narrated video tour of our new house for Great Grandma so she could decide if she’s going to be able to visit. She’s toast!

    I’ve already told her we’re not paying for Sarah Lawrence and that Brown is a color…

    Time to stop the automatic 529 contributions.

  4. Stacy in NJ says:

    These types of article are written for the perpetually CONCERNED class of middle-class strivers. What she really wants here is reassurance that she’s doing the right thing by not pushing her kid.

    Thousands of mediocre kids with okay grades and SAT scores will go on to complete a degree at an okay school that leads to a pretty good job. America is full of middle class people who manage to feed and cloth themselves without Harvard, Yale or Stanford educations.