If you’ve spent any time on parenting forums or Facebook pages, you’ll be familiar with the concept of – and the contempt for – performance parenting. If you’re not familiar with the term, but you’re a parent yourself, chances are you’ve encountered it without even knowing it.
“Performance Parenting” is the name given to the phenomenon where parents basically turn parenting into a performance (pretty self-explanatory really, isn’t it?). So, for example, you’re wandering around the fruit aisles in the supermarket, minding your own business, and suddenly there’s a mother loudly encouraging her six-month-old to say “pomegranate”, looking around to make sure people are observing what an excellent parent she is.
Or you’re out for a day at an aquarium, and a father loudly implores his pre-school children to remember all the pre-daytrip research they did into the habitat and conservation status of the axolotl, speaking at the top of his voice to ensure that everyone is noticing his top-notch fatherhood.
Performance parenting comes up so often on people’s lists of pet peeves, and I can sort of understand why – it can be seen an obnoxious, smug and boasting, with the aim of making other parents feel inferior.
That said, I really can’t get that annoyed by it. I sometimes roll my eyes when I hear someone almost aggressively trying to coax their toddler to recite a times table (okay that’s maybe an exaggeration), but more often than not, I actually think the reason people “performance parent” is the opposite of feeling smug and wanting to boast.
Let’s face it – so much of parenting feels like a competition. It’s all about who breastfed the longest, who weaned the quickest, who used the potty first. We ignore the fact that babies and toddlers develop at wildly varying rates, and use these milestones as indications of our own parenting ability. This inevitably leads to feelings of superiority in the parents whose children appear to be ahead – and inferiority in those who feel their child is “behind”.
I think it’s these parents who tend to shout the loudest when it comes to educating their children. There’s always something very desperate about performance parenting – a need for people in the vicinity to see that they are doing a good job with their child, and to hear that they are encouraging their child’s learning. I can’t bring myself to get worked up about that – I’m more angry about the fact that we have turned parenting into a competitive sport. How exactly did that happen?
The honest truth is that the randomers in the fruit aisle and the strangers in the aquarium don’t really care what your child is capable of. They’re busy thinking about their own lives – what they’re going to cook for dinner tonight, or whether they can get away with buying Sunny D and Froobs and pretending they’re for the kids, or what milestones their own children (all genuine thoughts I’ve had whilst wandering around the supermarket/aquarium/most public places).
Even the competitive mums who appear to be boasting about their children reading War and Peace at the age of three, don’t really care what milestones your child is hitting. The only person it truly matters to is you as their parent.
Actually, sometimes when I hear “performance parenting”, I smile. I love hearing people chat to their kids, even when they’re tiny babies or toddlers. I used to do it when SB was a newborn; wandering around shops with her in the trolley, just chatting to her about nothing in particular. I probably seemed either completely crazy or a total performance parent, but I was actually just lonely. It’s a very lonely time, and SB made great company – she was a great listener, before she could answer back.
Sometimes, I wish I had the balls to parent loudly. I do things like pointing out colours to SB and asking her to name them (everything is still “yeyow” at the moment), and trying to get her to repeat words, but I always worry that if I’m too loud, I’ll end up being judged for boasting or showing off. When did we get to the point where just talking to our kids is seen as a bad thing?!
I’d rather hear someone loudly talking to their children about different types of fruit and veg, or educating them about the real name of the “Nemo fish” in the aquarium, than to hear them effing and blinding at their kids, or taking zero interest in their education. Of course there’s a middle ground, and of course there are some parents who do the whole “performance parenting” thing to try and feel superior, but honestly I’m all for anything that makes parents feel better about themselves and their skills – particularly when it benefits their children too.
So, mum in the fruit aisle and dad in the aquarium – keep on doing what you’re doing. Have faith in your abilities, don’t freak out over milestones, and ignore the naysayers and the eye-rollers. You’re doing your best for your children and keeping yourself sane – if other people have an issue with that, that’s their problem.