The Dangers of Parenting as a Competitive Sport

The Dangers of Parenting as a Competitive Sport

“Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment, and especially on their children, than the unlived lives of the parents. “

–Carl Jung

Competitive Moms Parental Styles

Kyoiku mama is a Japanese term used to describe the maternal parenting styles of mothers who drive their children to succeed academically, often at the expense of a their social and emotional development. Literally translated, it means “education mother”. These mothers compete with one another to get their children into the most prestigious pre-schools, grade schools, and universities. In Japanese culture, education was viewed as the most important factor in the ability to obtain a high-paying and prestigious position in society. Traditionally, Japanese society has placed a great deal of pressure on mothers to maintain a maternal parenting style that would result in academic success by holding them accountable for their children’s grades. Unfortunately, by conforming to this pressure, those mothers have also received a great deal of social criticism for often being feared by their children.

This phenomenon is not limited to Japanese culture. In American culture, two maternal parenting styles similar to that of the Kyoiku mama are the soccer mom and the stage mother. Socccer moms are characterized as mothers who schedule every moment of their children’s spare time with sports and other activities. In American society, sports are strongly associated with politics and being part of a team. Politics is considered as important as education in getting a high-paying job after college. Many social activities are designed to make valuable social connections with children of other families with enough disposable income to pay for these activities.

The maternal parenting styles of both the Kyoiku mama and the soccer mom are almost exclusively related to the middle class. Strict monitoring of a child’s academic performance and social activities usually requires a mother who is able to stay at home, with child care being one of her primary responsibilities. As the economic situation in much of the world has resulted in a shrinking middle class, fewer mothers are able to stay at home with their children rather than having to work outside the home.

However, examples of a similar maternal parenting style, that of the stage mother, can be found in all classes of people. Stage mothers, like Kyoiku mamas and soccer moms, get their sense of social value through their children. The once-popular American television series Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo was often criticized as an example of adult exploitation of children for financial gain. Not only does the stage mother gain social recognition through her children, but often makes her own living from their success.

Effects of Narcissistic Maternal Parenting Styles

One article describes the psychology of maternal parenting styles of many stage mothers as narcissistic. Masha Godkin, an adult child of a stage mother and former child actress, contends that “the desire to act must come from the child. Otherwise, his main goal is pleasing his parents.” In this dynamic, rather than the parent attending to the needs of the child, it is the child which fulfills the needs of the parent. Women who themselves have longed for fame, but were frustrated in their own attempts to achieve it, are more at risk for becoming stage mothers.

According to psychologists, these three maternal parenting styles can undermine children’s psychological health. When children’s sense of acceptance is based on their performance, whether academic, athletic, or artistic, it can lead to a fragile sense of self-esteem. Being rewarded only when they are performing satisfactorily can result in children being unable to accept themselves unless they are performing. One of the most important roles of a parent is that of providing unconditional acceptance. Children of parents who are unable to provide that often spend their lives seeking that approval, sometimes in self-destructive ways.

Psychologists offer some suggestions for mothers who want to encourage their children to succeed, but not at the expense of their mental and emotional health. One of those suggestions is to try not to view children’s performances as personal investments. Another suggestion is to consider the effects of any parental action on the family as a whole. For example, the desire to elevate one child’s performance level may result in another child not receiving sufficient time and attention. Finally, they advise parents to measure their levels of parental pride by asking whether their own self-esteem depends on their children’s performance.

One feature that all these maternal parenting styles share is an over-emphasis on competition and public opinion. It is important for mothers to demonstrate that they value the unique characteristics of their children’s personalities such as kindness, generosity and a sense of humor. It is even more important in cultures in which corporate media stresses the value of performance for social acceptance. One of the best tools for survival a parent can give a child is a strong sense of self-esteem that is independent of the opinions of others.

moms parental styles

January 9,2017  |

maternal energy

Strong women and Maternal Energy: Leaders of the Pack

Female social archetypes and maternal energy

Although it was published in 1991, the best-selling “Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of The Wild Woman Archetype” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes is still selling today. She does for womankind what Carl Jung did for mankind by expanding female social archetypes and discussing creatively maternal energy. An archetype, or manifestation of a part of the collective unconscious, is defined by the culture and personal context in which it emerges in the form of images and motifs. In Estes’ view

“what we call masculine development is the ability to take ideas from one’s inner life and implement them in the outer world.”

She then goes on to ascribe that very ability to feminine archetypes, most notably, that of the mother and  maternal energy.

Degrees of strength and power

Nobody recognizes the degree of strength, and power, necessary to be a mother more than she does. She describes her experience as a mother like this:

“When I was raising my children I had the feeling that I was in a dugout canoe going down a river filled with filth and on fire with snipers on both shores. And I had these three precious bundles who were my daughters. It was my job to get all the way down this river with them alive. Not drawn into the murk of the water, not killed off the drugs or alcohol or bad relationships or phantasmagoric ideas that would lead them to their destruction.”

Power comes in many forms. It is often defined by success in business or politics, as the top ten on the Forbes 2014 list of the 100 most powerful women in the world clearly shows. However, knowledge is also a form of power, as evidenced by the inclusion of Lila Tretikov, the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, who oversees one of the most popular and informative websites in the world. The ability to influence others is also a form of power. One article lists Burmese social activist Aung San Suu Kyi as among the 25 most influential women in the world, despite the fact that she was imprisoned at the time it was written. Energy can be power, like maternal energy.

Mothers and influence

However, societies too often view mothers as less powerful women, and believe that by becoming mothers, women must sacrifice their power to care for their children. A good illustration of that belief was the intense scrutiny Marissa Mayer, then pregnant, was subjected to when she was appointed as CEO of Yahoo.

Despite the fact that most psychologists regard mothers as the most powerful influence on a human being’s development, big business and the media continue to downplay the importance of the power of motherhood and the force of maternal energy. The good news is that despite economic devaluation, another form of imprisonment, the power and influence of motherhood remains undiminished.

In fact, many mothers are channeling that increase in power into social activism. The International Museum of Women launched a project called “Mama Power” that features many strong mothers. For example, in 2011, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to three women, including Tawakkul Karman, a Yemeni woman who is also an activist, journalist, and mother of three. Recognising the potential of powerful women to change the world for the better the Nobel committee was quoted as saying

“We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women acquire the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.”

The trap of unrealistic ideals

More than twenty years ago, Estes wisely observed that

“Only the archetype itself can withstand such projections such as ever-able, all giving, eternally energetic. We may try to emulate these, but they are ideals, not achievable by humans, and not meant to be. Yet the trap requires that women exhaust themselves trying to achieve these unrealistic levels.”

We as mothers would do well to remember that the true value of power and influence cannot be determined by employers or the media. It is determined, rather, by the amount of progress their often heroic efforts in the face of adversity have made towards constructing a world in which the lives of all children matter.

maternal energy
Queen Mother, Pendant Mask Iyoba, 16th century, Nigeria, Benin, Culture Edo peoples. Metropolitan Museum of Art

June 17,2015  |

child development stages

Parenting Through the Cognitive Child Development Stages of Jean Piaget

Piaget said,

“Intelligence organizes the world by organizing itself.”

He would prove this methodically throughout his life. There are many parenting guides and techniques for new mothers and fathers to choose from to help them raise their child. One of the best sources and psychologists that have the most influential theories on child development stages  is Jean Piaget. He is seen as one of the major figures in developmental psychology. Jean Piaget’s child development stages are based on a child’s learning techniques due to the child’s hands on experience. A new parent can benefit from Piaget’s child development stages and help grasp the thought process of their child as they develop.

From Zoology to Psychology

Jean Piaget was a Swiss biologist who was a lifelong learner who earned his doctorate by the age of 21 and had published more than two dozen papers. After completing his doctorate, he changed his field of interest from biology to psychology, focusing on child development theories. He first studied in Zürich, under Carl Jung and Eugen Bleuler, and he then studied two more years at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1919. The school was run by Alfred Binet, the developer of the Binet intelligence Test, and Piaget helped creating these intelligence tests.

From Psychology to Child Learning

His interests grew more about how the child learned and observed while they worked on different exercises he set out for them. He was not interested in whether or not the children got the answers correct as in how they came up with the answers and how their answers changed as they grew older. He observed, talked, and listened to the children and became amazed at how different each one was based on their learning experiences. Piaget believed that children learned through hands on experience and through their successes and failures. In more than 50 books and monographs over his long career, he continued developing his theory, where the mind of the child evolves through set stages.

Piaget’s child development stages

Jean Piaget believed that children learned through different child development stages. Piaget called this theory the Theory of Cognitive Development. The Cognitive Development theory describes how children represent and reason about the world.The four stages of Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development are
  • Sensori-motor, which takes place from birth to 2 years of age,
  • Pre-operational. which is from 2 years to 7 years of age
  • Concrete operational, which begins at 7 years and continues to 11 years of age, and
  • Formal operational, which starts at 11 years of age and continues on up.

In each stage the child develops and learns new skills.

Sensori-motor stage

In the sensori-motor stage which is the very first stage, the child learns to differentiate between themselves and objects. A child at this child development stage learns to use their senses to discover the world. The child at this stage is able to react to touch, taste, smell, and sound of their mother and another human or object.The sensorimotor stage is divided into six substages:

  1. Simple reflexes; birth-1month. Reflexes like rooting and sucking.
    First habits and primary circular reactions; 1-4 months. The child learns to coordinate sensation with two forms of reactions: habit and primary circular reaction where the infant tries to reproduce an event that happened by accident (ex.: sucking thumb).
  2. Secondary circular reactions; 4-8 months. Awarenes of things beyond their body arises. Object-oriented.
  3. Coordination of secondary circular reactions; 8-12 months. Intentional action. They can now combine and recombine schemata to reach an objective. They now understand object permanence (objects continue to exist when unseen)
  4. Tertiary circular reactions, novelty, and curiosity;12-18months. Trying different schemata
  5. Internalization of schemata.

Pre-operational stage

In the second stage, the pre-operational stage, a child learns to use language and symbols to represent words and images. At this stage, the child still thinks of themselves as the center of the universe, very egocentric stage.
Symbolic Function Substag. 2-4 years. Use of symbols to represent physical models of the world. Observable in drawings.
Intuitive Thought Substage 4-7 years. Increase of curiosity and start of primitive reasoning.  Centration, conservation, irreversibility, class inclusion, and transitive inference. Piaget named it the “intuitive substage” because children realize they have a vast amount of knowledge, but they are unaware of how they acquired it.  (Santrock, John W. (2004). Life-Span Development (9th Ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill College – Chapter 8)

Concrete operational stage

The third stage, the concrete operational stage that begins at the age of 7 and lasts until the age of 11, is the stage where a child begins concrete thinking and can be very literal. The child is no longer egocentric and starts to understand and see things in the eyes of others. A child in this stage can think logically about objects and events.

Formal operational stage

Finally, the last stage, the formal operational stage is when a child becomes a young adult and can think in abstract ways, understanding and interacting on a more adult level. The adolescence becomes concerned and aware of hypothetical, future, and ideological problems.

The child development stages help parents understand their children better. At schools and in homes.

Piaget said

“The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.”

Being a parent is an amazing gift, yet can be incredibly challenging at times. Remembering that every child learns differently based on what they are taught can help parents understand that not all children learn and grow at the same speed. Using Piaget’s theory of Cognitive Development will help a parent be more patient and understanding toward their child.

Among Piaget’s major works available in English are Le Langage et la pensée chez l’enfant (1923; The Language and Thought of the Child), La Naissance de l’intelligence chez l’enfant (1948; The Origins of Intelligence in Children), The Psychology of the Child, and Le Jugement et la raisonnement chez l’enfant (1924; Judgment and Reasoning in the Child). A great book that can help parents follow Piaget’s child development stages is called Your Baby’s Mind and How It Grows, Piaget’s Theory for Parents.

Following one of the many theories on child development  stages that psychologists created is a great way for parents to understand what their child is learning and developing in and at what rate is normal.

child development stages
Jean Piaget in Ann Arbor, Wikimedia CC2.0

April 1,2015  |