Mommy bloggers (and their daddy counterparts, too) agree about almost nothing. Some favor co-sleeping; others do not. Some favor banning video games; others do not. Similar disputes surround breast-feeding, vaccines, cursing and whether its OK to force-feed your child broccoli.
But a rare consensus has emerged on at least one topic. What subject could possibly be so clear-cut it has elicited once-in-a-generation unanimity?
That parents should stop bragging about their children.
Thats right, apparently the civil rights issue of our age is that you have the right to remain silent and I have the right not to hear about how your daughter learned to read at 16 months, your son scored 12 goals in the soccer game and your darling got into the Ivy League school of his choice! (All these examples were taken from actual anti-bragging diatribes.)
Dont get me wrong. I get the annoyance. A friend of my wifes once boasted about her daughters high Apgar score. But Ive also heard plenty of parental brags that seemed not only justified, but downright heartwarming: the tone-deaf parent marveling at a child who can sing; the parent who never went to college proud that a child got a scholarship; the harried mother of three grateful that an older sibling is acting sweet toward a newborn.
Parenting is tough enough; cant you take a victory lap every now and then?
Here are some guidelines for acceptable chest-thumping.
1. Brag about how good a child you have, not how good a parent you are. Adriana Trigiani, the best-selling author of Big Stone Gap and The Shoemakers Wife, says shes most annoyed when parents trumpet their child-rearing skills instead of their good fortune.
Ive noticed when parents brag, its usually a reflection of their wonderful parenting skills and not their childs natural abilities, she said. When I see people like Donald Trump on TV taking full credit for how his children turned out, thats the kind of bragging that gets under peoples skin.
2. Brag about effort, not accomplishment. One of the signature parenting ideas of the last few years praise effort not achievement applies equally well to boasting. Brad Meltzer, who wrote The Fifth Assassin and two nonfiction books about children, says he doesnt mind if parents talk about their childrens passions. If you say, My kid loves reading, thats OK, he said. If you say, My kid is the best reader in his grade, I start the hate machine. He added: Its the difference between murder and manslaughter. Its all in the intent.
3. Brag in context. Meltzer says he generally doesnt mind if parents brag, as long as they dont pretend theyre Stepford parents and their children are little angels. I want to hear the bragging in the context of real, gritty, poopy life, he said. If youre trying to sell me your perfect life, the hate machine starts humming again.
4. Follow the bragging formula. Another common piece of advice each time you criticize someone, you should give multiple compliments applies equally well in reverse. Each boast about a child should come surrounded by three negatives. My son is on the honor roll (but still wets his bed).
Laura Zigman, the best-selling author of Animal Husbandry and Her, says she welcomes such a bragging formula but is concerned that for braggy parents, even the counternegative might end up being boastful.
As she wrote in an email, My son got an A+ in Sanskrit but he still cant write his name in Mandarin!! or His room is so messy hes going to discover new particles of matter in it someday!
5. Dont brag about something everyone else struggles with. Zigman says she doesnt want to hear that youve nailed some child-rearing problem she hasnt.I dont want to know what healthy eaters your kids are, she said, unless youre posting photos of your kids stuffing their faces with Cheetos and Oreos.
6. In-and-out brag. Approach bragging as your child approaches cough syrup: If you must do it, get it over quickly. Ian Frazier, the author of The Cursing Mommys Book of Days, says he usually doesnt mind when parents discuss their children. The pleasure you take in something your kid does is greater than the pleasure in something you do yourself, he said. But after a while, my eye starts to droop. Parents need to heed such warning signs, he said. Ignoring them is the same as making a loud cellphone call about your hammertoe surgery on the train.
7. Avoid double bragging. Zigman says parents are also not allowed to use their childrens lives to draw attention to their own past glories. Your childs SAT scores are not an excuse to remind us of yours. As Zigman wrote: Dont brag about taking your kids on college tours if theyre tours of Ivy League schools and if you yourself went to an Ivy League school. Thats a double brag. (Was so weird to be back in Cambridge with my teenage son this weekend! Past and present colliding!)
8. Bragging to Granny is allowed. Everyone agrees that boasting to your own parents is not just acceptable, its desirable. Meltzer says: There is, of course, the Grandparent Exception. You can brag all you want to the childs own grandparents. And grandparents can and will brag back. This isnt a choice. Its nature.
9. Bundle brag. But even such intrafamily bragging has pitfalls.
Trigiani, who has six siblings, said that when speaking to her mother, she is careful to compliment her own daughter, Lucia, only after doing the same to all of her nieces and nephews. I start with the oldest, and do it in order, she said. Oh, my gosh, Anna just read another book this week, and Matt won that swimming thing. Only then does she toss in an aside about Lucia. Trigiani calls it bundle bragging.
You bundle brag when you dont want to trump, Trigiani said. When the whole family is doing well, then a light can be shown on one unit.
As a parent, I find the unspoken reason this topic elicits such passion is that the same feeling underlies both the braggers and the anti-braggers: fear.
Most parents are quietly petrified that we dont know what were doing or, worse, that were doing something ruinously wrong. As Trigiani said: When a parent brags, part of it is pride. And part of it is relief, because this child is doing something wonderful in a world where a lot of bad things happen.
Bragging about our children is a way of relieving our anxiety that were not total losers as parents. The opposite instinct, what we might call reverse bragging My kids more screwed up than yours; Im such a bad mom, I never go to the playground without a martini comes out of the same place.
If there is to be a truce in the bragging wars, its because both sides want the same thing: reassurance that theyre doing a passable job at something thats very hard.