Ultra-Competitive Parents: Red Flags and Warning Signs

by Amy Weitman

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I love kids but sometimes I hate parents.  This might come as a shock - as part of ModernMom, I work to perpetuate the idea of mothers supporting one another.

However, when it comes to the ultra-competitive parents among us, I am ready to give up hope. 

I often use humor to describe difficult parenting situations. My essay on Soccer Mom 2.0 was an accurate but comical sketch. Ultra-competitive parents, however, are no laughing matter.  I’m not referring to the helicopter parents who hover around their offspring or a parent who pushes their child to succeed. I’m attempting to describe the ultra-competitive parent who will do ANYTHING so that their child will win. These parents are dangerous not only to their own children but to all of us around them.

Who are they?

In a baby group, it’s difficult to identify the ultra-competitive parent. Especially since questions like “when did “Johnny” begin to walk, talk, potty train,” etc,  come from the mouths of almost all parents. At this stage, it’s very normal to have developmental concerns and so the ultra-competitive parent is hard to identity.

Even among preschoolers and young elementary school aged children, it’s hard to differentiate between the well-meaning neurotic and the ultra-competitive parent. (I fall in the neurotic category.) There’s a natural tendency to obsess over tiny details of  a child’s life at this stage, as children encounter new experiences every day. However, as the new gives way to the familiar, the traits of an ultra-competitive parent begin to show.

It might take you by surprise to realize that someone you thought was being a good friend was only interested in your child as a measuring stick against her own. There’s a coldness that becomes apparent, indicative of someone approaching parenting like a science experiment. “How did ‘Susie’ do on last week’s spelling test?” is the type of question asked by ultra-competitive parents, under the guise of  friendship, as a technique used to measure their own child’s standing.

If you aren’t sure if you’re dealing with an ultra-competitive parent, wait to assess a situation in which your child is struggling. Is the other parent’s reaction one of genuine concern or cold indifference? If you feel that your child’s shortcomings are inwardly celebrated or are perceived by the other parent as somehow contagious, then you can be sure that you are dealing with an ultra-competitive parent.

Finally, it’s when competitive sports come into the picture that the ultra-competitive parent becomes completely obvious. The stereotype of the crazed Little League dad or mom is unfortunately true. But more than merely annoying, I believe such parents are hazardous to everyone around them.  This parent exemplifies terrible sportsmanship and if losing, will encourage their child to turn on their own teammates.  To such parents, the game isn’t only about beating the other team, it’s also about dominating every child around theirs - including their own teammates.

While I believe assertiveness is an asset, competition is natural and winning is a good thing… it’s not everything.  However, the ultra-competitive parent would disagree. The ends justify the means.

Here are some signs of an ultra-competitive parent:

  • If financially able, they’ll use elaborate gifts to buy the affection of the coaches, teachers and children around them.

 

  • After the wanted affection has been won, they will then publicly cut down other children whom they perceive as a “threat” to their own child.

 

  • They will secretly hire coaches, tutors or other professionals to give their child and edge BUT not share the information with others.  Often they will instruct their child to keep it a secret.

 

  • They will “size up” their child’s competition by asking personal questions about that child and his/her family. They will often use that information to spread/start rumors. They will do anything to “weaken” the competition.

 

The ultra-competitive parent is like a sociopath. A brief description from the  American Association of Psychiatry illustrates a sociopath as someone who feels entitled, manipulates and cons others. Demonstrates glibness and superficial charm. Pathologically lies and has shallow emotions. This is why ultra-competitive parents are dangerous. It’s important to know what you are dealing with to help protect yourself and your children.

I’d like to give you hope that as your child becomes a teenager, your exposure to the ultra-competitive parent lessens. However, most often it only multiplies. By this time, the child of the ultra-competitive parent has been programmed to “win at all cost.” The tragedy is revealed in its fullest as the ultra-competitive parent has likely regenerated in their offspring. The cycle become complete and all of us, including the kids… lose.

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