Research For 'Rents

An Open Letter to an Overly Competitive Mom

overly competitive mom at the play place

Hey, you. Yes, you. The Overly Competitive Mom I saw at the children’s play place the other day.

Remember me? I’m That Other Mom who was there all by herself, watching her kids. Well, technically I wasn’t so much “watching” as I was “frantically chasing” my 12-month-old daughter, trying to make sure she didn’t fall flat on her face or stumble directly into the path of some other gleefully reckless child.

Remember my daughter? You noticed her because she was so tiny, yet already running and climbing all over the place. She apparently made a big impression on you, because as we were playing right next to you, you started comparing my daughter’s motor skills to those of your own child. Specifically, you and your friend discussed how small my daughter was to already be walking, and how you considered your own children to be late walkers.

At first the conversation was nothing more than pointless milestone comparing, until you dropped this bomb: “It’s okay, because I read somewhere that children who walk later have better executive functioning.”


Come on. You and I both know that what you just said basically equates to: “This baby may have walked sooner, but mine will be smarter.”

Are you serious? Even if you did read that somewhere, to bust it out as I’m standing right next to you, quietly watching my adorable early walker, is just plain rude.

Did you think I wouldn’t understand what executive function was? Because I do.

Did you think I couldn’t hear you? Because that would be impossible, since I was approximately one foot away from you.

Did you just not care that you were being so obviously rude? Your friend did, as she awkwardly avoided responding to your comment due to her basic sense of decency. I’m guessing you forgot yours at home along with your baby wipes or whatever other of the umpteen children’s supplies we parents have to somehow keep track of.

But this wasn’t just some mindless, meaningless mistake. It was a conscious show of competitive parenting. It was comparing our kids’ milestones like they’re scores on a test and then assigning value to our kids and each other based on the grades you think we’ve earned.

But this wasn’t just some mindless, meaningless mistake. It was a conscious show of competitive parenting.

And honestly, it hurt my feelings. It got in my head. I thought about it for far too long afterward, and it didn’t feel good.

But after all that ruminating, Overly Competitive Mom, I think I now have some idea where you were coming from. I think you were watching your kid play, wanting the absolute best for her, and couldn’t help feeling insecure when you perceived a possible disadvantage.

I get it. We all feel that way sometimes.

You know what though? There are two major reasons that neither one of us really needs to worry about it:

  1. Since I’m a developmental psychologist, I couldn’t help but do a search of the child development literature on this topic. I found no strong connections between the relatively small differences in motor milestone attainment that we’re talking about and major differences in intelligence. (If anything, there’s a modest association between earlier attainment of motor milestones and later cognition and language benefits. But it’s hardly overwhelming evidence.)
  2. The above facts should make absolutely no difference to either one of us. Even if there were studies to suggest that the timing of walking was somehow related to smarts, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything specific for either of our kids. When researchers conduct studies, they test lots and lots of kids and then report their average performance. That means that in every study there were some kids that performed much higher or lower than the average. This concept of individual differences is one of the most important things I strive to teach my undergraduate psychology students. I also emphasize it in the parenting book I wrote with my husband. Because it’s immensely important to remember that kids are kids – and they are far too special and unique to define in terms of averages.

Because it’s immensely important to remember that kids are kids – and they are far too special and unique to define in terms of averages.

The exact moment that our kids meet milestones doesn’t really mean much. It doesn’t matter for our kids, since most children eventually get to the same place regardless of whether they do so a little earlier or later than average. And it certainly doesn’t say anything about our parenting skills. The fact that my daughter walked early doesn’t mean that I’m totally killing it as a mom (maybe just that I’m having to kill myself trying to keep up with her sooner). And your kid walking a little later doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything wrong.

We are all just parents, trying to do our best.

So let’s please stop throwing our children’s differences in each other’s faces, Overly Competitive Mom. Let’s quit with all the silly competition, and simply try to do a better job supporting each other during this adorable, elating and totally exhausting time in our lives.

Like next time you need some baby wipes, just let me know. I’ve got you covered.


That Other Mom
(a.k.a. The Doctor)
(a.k.a. Amber)

3 replies on “An Open Letter to an Overly Competitive Mom”

At a Halloween party for my then two year old son, I heard his little friend say to his mom, “He beat me”, implying that the costume was better than his so he had lost. At two years old the child had picked up on his mother’s competitiveness, so he was not able to enjoy the moment, but rather he was judging the moment. As the years went on, their relationship became very strained.

Aw, such a sad story. Thanks for the reminder about how unnecessary competition can be hard on our kids, too!

You go Amber! Love your response. In a little different area, I have encountered similar experiences with ‘assumptions’ with my “Vertically-challenged, Polish, Certified Financial Planner husband with 6 joint replacements and ‘strange-looking’ very capable fingers.” As in your case I think “Lord, forgive them, for they know NOT what they do/think/say!” Besides you don’t want to mess with a man who is mostly Titanium! Thanks for sharing and Keep Rocking to both You and Andy!! (I STILL wonder when you sleep!) (P.S. I enjoy your stories/information via FB so you can delete me from getting emails. Thanks!)

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