I'm not sure when I lost the competitive-parent race. But make no mistake, I lost.
Or rather, decided early not to compete.
I'm not sure when it all began. But my kids didn't go to preschool because that seemed rather unnecessary to me, and I wanted them home for those years anyway.
Later my then-second-grade daughter, along with her classmates, was tested as a matter of routine for the "gifted" program, which began in third grade at her public school. I was barely aware of the testing, and only glanced at her raw number results before filing them away. So I was surprised when I received an e-mail from the teacher to all of the parents, literally begging them to stop barraging her with inquiries about the "cutoff" for the gifted program before she herself had the information.
Flash forward: When my family moved to the Chicago area from the D.C. suburbs, I couldn't have been happier to discover that here, children were not expected to be fully reading in kindergarten.
So, I was more than a little pleased to read "Rush, Little Baby: How the Push for Infant Academics May Actually be a Waste of Time or Worse" by Neil Swidey of the Boston Globe. Featured in the recent Sunday Magazine, it was a great profile of parents who push their littlest kids to intellectual extremes. And for what?
He writes about mothers who show their 3-month-old reading and math flashcards every day. Several studies released in recent years show that such efforts have no positive effect on the child's cognitive development. But Swidey says that's just one part of the picture. Flashcards for babies "might actually be no more extreme than the increasing mania among professional parents to armor their youngsters with every educational enrichment program available Baby Einstein DVDs at 3 months, junior Kumon tutoring at 2-1/2 years, SAT summer camps at 15 all at the expense of old-fashioned but vitally important unstructured play."
I wonder: Just how many parents today would admit to having a wonderfully average child?
Maybe I'm not on that track because of how my parents raised me. I'm the youngest of five. Yes, there were a few horseback-riding and ballet lessons. But that was about it.
Only, that wasn't "it." Our house was full of books, my mother read to me a lot and pursued an advanced degree and professional success, my father was busy supporting the family, and my parents' friends were interesting and our home was one where ideas were discussed and debated. But here's what I remember most: My parents and their friends didn't talk down to us. We kids had to get our act together and talk "up" to them.
My parents' world didn't revolve around me. Their egos weren't tied up in me. They wanted their children to become whole people of character. What a gift. What freedom, in the best sense, to develop all of me. And what a difference, I think, from many of today's parents who are on the competitive track.
Of course I want my own kids to do well in school. Not because it's a "ticket" to something, but because it's their calling to be the best students they can be. And yes, education is a gift.
So look, maybe I'm just an anti-snob snob, or a rebel at heart. Maybe I know at some level that I couldn't successfully push my kids anyway. For me, just successfully chasing all four children into their pajamas at night can be a stretch.
And yes, I know that the "competitive parents" love their kids like crazy, too, and want the best for them.
But I also know I want so much more for my kids than a Baby Einstein DVD could give them, even if it worked. When it comes to my children, my ultimate goal for them is heaven, not Harvard. If they go to the latter on their way to heaven, that's great. But if I reverse that equation, I've failed them.
For this parent, that's the ultimate motivation.