Tuesday, November 26, 2013

On Parents Who Brag

I have conflicted feelings about parents who brag about their kids.

On the one hand, there’s a kind of bragging I hate.  Like, when it’s happening, you’re looking at the parent who’s doing it and thinking, Do you not hear yourself?

On the other hand, my mother didn’t brag about me At All.  Even I, at the age of eight, knew she was different from the other moms.  When I asked her why, she said, I hate bragging.  I believed her (as I do to this day), but I admit to feeling a little crushed when she said it.  At the time, it felt as though my mother couldn’t think of anything nice to say about me.

Because here’s the thing.  It’s a good thing for parents to be proud of their kids.  Right?  So when does bragging cross the line?

I know three mothers whose bragging sets my teeth on edge.  Here’s why:

--There's a sort of urgency to their bragging, as though they are transmitting Information You Really Must Hear.  As though your own ordinary, skipping-impaired little girl will benefit hugely from the knowledge that their three-year-old daughter's gymnastics coach thinks she may have a shot at the 2024 Olympics.

--They brag about their kids as though no one else has ever had children who were as smart and accomplished.  It’s not enough for them to say how well their children did on their SATs; they tell you their scores AND make you read their essays.  And throw in their IQ scores for good measure (but casually, as though they think everyone's kids get this score and it's no big deal, or with feigned embarrassment, as if they told you by mistake).

--They are brazen in their willingness to take other people’s children down a peg.  Here’s a good rule to live by: if you want to brag about your children, you are, in effect, signing a contract that requires you to smile politely when other people brag about theirs.  Tit for tat, bitches.

--Even when they tell you about problems their kids are having, they find ways to let you know that doctors/teachers/rehab counselors/Relevant Professionals with Scholarly Credentials went out of their way to tell them that they are excellent parents, that they have done everything right, that none of whatever it is that is going on is their fault.  It’s quite astounding, really.

Here are a couple of additional notes about bragging:

--My mother—the one who hated bragging?—used to carry pictures of my children in her purse.  She would whip them out anywhere—at the grocery store, in the Emergency Room—and use them as an excuse to go on and on.  (This, it was pointed out to me later, was an indication that she was in the early stages of dementia.)  Once, before leaving on a cruise, she was showing me a couple of outdated photos of the kids that she was going to spring on unsuspecting fellow passengers.  “Why don’t you go to one of those meetings?  You know, the ones where grandparents show each other pictures of their grandkids?” I asked her.  Without a trace of irony, she said, “Why would I do that?  I don’t want to look at other people’s pictures.  I want them to look at mine!”

--When my ex-husband was ten, his beloved grandfather died.  As I remember the story, B was sitting next to his  hospital bed when a nurse entered the room.  “Have you met my grandson?” his grandfather said, and then went on at some length about what a great kid B was.  Much later, B realized that this was his grandfather’s way of telling him how much he loved him.  (It’s a family that doesn’t talk easily about feelings.)

I’ve come to realize that there’s bragging and then there’s bragging.  Sometimes it’s just a way of telling your friends how much you adore your children.  And that can’t be a bad thing.

Just don’t start telling me about how your damn cat can pee in the toilet.

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