Lucy crowed when her six-week-old, Sammy, swatted at the plastic ladybug that dangled from his crib. True, the ladybug had been attached to his crib for the express purpose of getting him to swat at it. But the baby books said he wasn’t scheduled to start thwacking for another month or so. Lucy announced this miracle to all of the women in her new mothers group. Then, at 4 1/2 months Sammy exhibited another sign of wondrous precocity: He sat up. Another announcement to her mother’s group. Fast forward to twenty months. “When I grow up I’m going to be a firefighter,” Sammy proclaimed. “What amazing verbal skills!” his mother proclaimed to the group.
If you have a friend like Lucy who is constantly, annoyingly bragging about her kids and leaves you wondering whether yours are suffering from serious developmental delays, realize a few things: First, she’s probably exaggerating. Hyperbole is the world’s most underreported epidemic and proud parents are particularly susceptible. Second, she may be bragging to compensate for feeling really bad about something in her life-or about her kid. Ellen worries that her older son is still engaging in parallel play when many of the other boys his age are running around exchanging secret handshakes and pretending to be pirates. So she starts bragging about what a computer whiz he is-already adding and subtracting computer-generated bunnies like a first grader! She doesn’t mean to be insufferable to her friends. She’s just worried about her child, and probably needlessly. Over time she’ll calm down.
But there are some mothers who keep careful score because they are incorrigibly competitive people. A person who tends to see the world as divided into winners and losers is going to work very hard to make sure that her child is perceived as a winner, even at your child’s expense. The best course of action is to avoid her, and when that’s not possible, ignore her braying. She hasn’t yet learned that it is not worth keeping score because you can never win. There will always be someone who can one-up you. Your child walked at nine months? Your neighbor has a nephew who walked at seven. Your child could read “See the cat” on his fourth birthday? Someone else’s could read the Hollywood Reporter. Your daughter just got into Harvard Law School? Congratulations, your neighbor’s kid is going to Harvard Law and getting an MBA at the same time. Your child is probably never going to be President of the United States. Or win a Nobel prize. Or an Oscar. But somebody else’s will. So do yourself a favor and come to terms with it now.