Why Competitive Parenting is a Futile Exercise


Nov 24, 2014


I often find myself wondering whether my patience and open-minded attitude to my child can be attributed to my working in the education space. Perhaps seeing 2,500 children studying under the JBCN flagship schools gives me the perspective to see that each child is unique and comparisons are pointless?

I’m like any other mother whose child is the center of her universe, who strives hard to provide the best for her child, and who hopes her child shines. I’ve watched mothers discuss how their son is gifted because at two and a half years, the child can sing twenty nursery rhymes and recite the alphabet. While I admire the child’s language capability, I am often tempted to say: if a child is unable to narrate these rhymes or say his A-Z’s, does that really make a child unintelligent? Of course not! Sixty percent of children will not be able to master these skills at this age, but they demonstrate other skills that are unique, so which group deserves to be labeled gifted?

We have a child in one of our schools who is unable to make eye contact, he is quiet, he detests loud noises, is not excited about physical activity, and rarely gets excited about basic things like field trips or picnics. This child got labeled by other parents as being special.

However, this child, at age five, has the reading level of a grade 3 child and math skills of a grade 4 child. Teachers realised his potential, but parents of other children wanted to call him “different.”

In this instance, being different is a good thing!

Often, parents’ need to see their children excel is deeply rooted in their desire to fulfill parts of their dreams and desires that remain incomplete. The key challenge for us as parents is to accept our child for who she is or what she wants to be, regardless of our own hopes for her, and to accept that being an average child is great!

When I worked with a large global executive search firm, I saw the kinds of people that get placed as top leaders in national or international companies. In fact, very few of the people that define the way the market moves with their innovation and leadership were super-achievers as children – they were almost all average kids. I believe that because their childhoods were filled with unconditional support, they were able to channel their efforts most constructively in the years that mattered.

I’m happy my nine year-old is a regular kid. Just like any three year-old, he cried about going to school on the first day. He took forever to settle when his parents went away. He was potty-trained at two. He’s a fussy eater.

I wasn’t paranoid when his friends were enrolled in IQ classes at five, and creative writing at six, and my son still couldn’t read. (When he did finally learn to read, he excelled at it.)

I don’t worry when my son exhibits a dislike for drama and stage performances. I marvel when he manages to say two lines on stage. Perhaps he looks down when he says them, but how many adults don’t get stage fright when speaking to a 900-person audience?

As parents, staying away from comparisons gives our children the strength and confidence they need to excel at whatever path they choose.

I’m leaving you with a thought: Children are not an asset that you can make a series of investments in, expecting the value of their opportunities to appreciate with the level of investment you make.  If they don’t become a Steve Jobs or a Sachin Tendulkar, that doesn’t make them ordinary.

And even if they are, who’s to say ordinary isn’t the next best thing?


Written By Fatema Agarkar

Fatema Agarkar is an educationist and the co-founder of JBCN Education. After graduating from the University of Birmingham (Central England), she worked in a variety of roles as a banker, with the Times of India, and a Swiss executive search firm. She has received awards for her outstanding contribution to education, and has plans to set up foster care centres across India for less fortunate and physically disabled children.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields *.

The latest in health, gender & culture in India -- and why it matters. Delivered to your inbox weekly.