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Jen Waller McDevitt

© 2005

Blue Ribbon Parenting

Annoying parents beware! I’ve become quite bothered by the mommies who have children around the same age as my twins. Up until recently I marveled in their company. It was wonderful to bounce exciting ideas off each other: how to make nutritious food efficiently, great learning devices we each have, how to find the most effective sleep schedule for our children. Whether we like it or not, these parenting basics are what we all come to know as the new club we’ve been initiated into. Great advice from other parents is wonderful, but once in a while comes something more than just advice, something that lurks behind judging eyes. This pageant of parenting has started to upset me, but not for all the reasons you might imagine. To my shame and humiliation I admit my name is Jen, and I’m a BRP, a Blue Ribbon Parent. My deep frustration with this constant comparison game called Blue Ribbon Parenting has become too much to handle, as both a victim and a perpetrator.

While David , my husband, changed a diaper of foul-odor, I finally opened up to him hoping that I would figure out why I was so aggravated by these women: some friends, others just nosey bystanders. 

“I can’t have another play date. I feel like a failure as a parent,” I told him. “Why don’t the twins know the ABC’s like Stella did at their age?” He gave me a look of complete disgust. He didn’t have to use his voice to tell me how ridiculous I was being.

David and I are both high-school teachers. We see these crazy parents all the time: parents who try their best to control their children’s every move and word, parents who live vicariously through their children. I’ve always vowed to not be “one of them,” and here I am out of control! Luckily I have David to keep me in check since he isn’t wrapped up in this game; he has no intentions of entering the Diaper Olympics anytime soon. I handled the comparison game very well in the beginning, but now I know why. We lucked out early when our kids set a fabulous sleep schedule at only ten weeks of age, so I felt as though David and I were super-parents and had all the answers to children and sleep. I never felt irritated with other mommies, but that’s because I had all the advice in the world to offer them and I could play ‘teacher.’ 

“We found the greatest book,” I’d gloat as Jill and I walked like most other stroller moms around the lake. “Dave and I did what we needed to do and followed the guidelines in the book. Suddenly our kids slept for twelve hours.” We so rocked at this parenting thing; we had all the answers. On top of that, I was double nursing, which always seems to amaze mothers of singletons. David and I bought a zoo membership and our children started to mimic animals at a very young age. We had a great system for each other too: we were both still making time for our friends, for each other, and for taking care of our bodies at the health club. It doesn’t get more picture-perfect than this; the embossed ‘S’ was basically printed on our foreheads. Maybe I’ll go a step further with an embossed ‘SP’ for Super Parents.

Suddenly I started to realize my worst nightmare as a parent: my children were simply average. I can’t be that mom who competes in the game of Blue Ribbon Parenting if we’re always falling average. They sat up just before they were six months – according to all of the books, average. My daughter began to crawl at eight months and my son at nine and a half months – again, average, maybe even a smidgen late. Walking stirred up the house days before their first birthday – right on the mark, remarkably average. My friend Laura’s Betty Crocker 1950’s homemaker voice still annoyingly rings in my ear, “Don’t worry; I’m sure they’ll walk soon. It’s been such a difficult time since Owen’s been walking. Count your blessings that their not walking yet.” 

Seriously, why do we, as parents, do this to each other? Was that supposed to make me feel better? And please don’t think that I’m not all right with my children’s wonderful milestones, because I genuinely am. Every time they succeed in a miraculous milestone, David and I call our parents and can’t stop talking for weeks about our babies growing up and how proud we are of them; I’m sure the grandparents get sick of hearing me call them to say, “Listen to the twins,” followed my a moo, meow, or funny-version woof. Milestones such as these help make me thankful for how wonderfully intelligent they are, even though they are right on the mark.

Why is it that every time I’m with a parent that I fall into the trap? “Are the twins really not speaking yet?” asks Patti with an ‘i’ in her Calvin Klein ensemble, Zsa Zsa makeup, and unreasonable stilettos. 

“I’m so proud of them!” I brag. “They say ‘mama,’ ‘dada,’ and ‘ball,’” I say back in order to defend the loves of my life. Ugghhh! Of course we must visit the fact that Patti’s gifted daughter, who is a few weeks younger than the twins, has been singing her ABC’s for weeks. I’m happy for Patti and her gifted daughter; I am, seriously, but that voice in my head eats at the meat of my control issue like a starving rodent.

I’ve let my own insecurities get in the way. I’m hammered down with the thought of my persecuted children. I imagine the glimmer in the fine mothers’ eyes when they square up my children next to their own: the pride of their DNA. I desperately hope that I can get past this parenting pageant, and I crave to do so by not adding to it. I’ve been asking myself how not to overanalyze it all when truly it is in my nature to do so. My competitive edge needs a rest. And I do believe that parents shouldn’t live vicariously through their children, but there’s a voice pressuring me to show the world that my children are the most magnificent and brilliant specimens of humanity.

The intermittent voice stems from my inner gut. Can I help it that I have a control issue? I’ve never grasped how parents could become so outlandish, so full of their children. This rang true for me until the big milestones started to strike; I felt the disease of constant comparisons envelope itself around me, more suffocating than a cavernous hole.

My dilemma now is how to solve this keeping-up-with-the-mommy’s problem I’ve created for myself; the sippy cups are brighter and the apple-cranberry juice tastes better at Patti’s perfect house. No parent wants or needs this pressure, and I’m willing to bet many parents don’t see themselves contributing to the epidemic. 

We, as parents, are supposed to let out children be who they are and guide them in the right direction in terms of principles and morals. We are instructed to support our children as they develop their individuality. Our children may have come from us, but they are not us; I’m told to let go. We aren’t fond of comparing ourselves in terms of success, beauty, and intelligence because ultimately we all fall short somewhere. So why would we want to feel the short coming with our children?

“My son is a monster! He climbs on everything, throws heavy toys at us, bites me, and pulls his sister’s hair. Jill, tell me what to do! I’m clueless,” I say desperately reaching out one awful day. Dave pointed out that Jill went through the same thing with her son; we knew she’d be able to help.

“Oh,” she pauses speechlessly. “Owen was never that…ambitious, so I don’t know what to tell you.” More pause, as if she’s pulling out her Dr. Phil file to give me a textbook answer when really she thinks to herself how lucky she had it. “Owen was more into books than his other toys at that age. I’m so sorry because I just don’t know. Maybe you should call Kris because her son was just terrible. I bet she might have an answer even though he’s still a menace.” 

The keeping-up-with-the-mommies craze doesn’t deserve a title of Blue Ribbon Parenting; Annoying Adults seems more fitting. Every parent out there who loves, supports, and appreciates the little things our children do are all Blue Ribbon Parents. It shouldn’t be a competition. The self-pressured parenting I caught myself applying is absurd, but I am not the only one. So I’ve identified this ridiculous nature we find ourselves in and now I’m in check, but I certainly haven’t figured it out.

“I can’t believe you don’t have the Jump-Toad Interacting Play Bench. I believe that is why Owen is so advanced for his age; do you think it would help out your kids?” Jill asked me. I did my best to leave it alone, yet here I am writhing in pain as I write it here. Gee, look how far I’ve come.