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The question

I have a good friend who has kids similar in age to mine. One of her kids excels academically and athletically. The problem is, whenever we see each other, she has to repeatedly mention her child's high grade average and various things that he has done to garner accolades from teachers and coaches. I've tolerated her "bragging" for years, thinking she is just doing this to make herself feel good. Some things she tells me I know aren't even true. Recently, it has made me even more uncomfortable because now I can also see that my children, and her other child, hate it too. It's not easy for a child who is struggling in school to constantly hear her speak of her "genius" child. Should I just let her keep doing it? I want to say something but have no idea how to say it without hurting her feelings.

The answer

I hear you. As a parent, I've always wrestled with the angst I've felt when others talk about their annoyingly overachieving kids.

And they take every opportunity to slip it into the conversation, don't they? You'll be walking your dog and a proud-faced parent will sidle up: "Great day to walk dogs, isn't it? Usually my son Callum walks Rufus, but he's at a special sleepover camp for gifted kids this month. Yeah, they're building a robot they will then land on Mars. It's all part of NASA's grade-school recruitment program," etc.

The bad news is: It only gets worse as your kids get older.

Because they're getting that much closer to having to make their way in the world, which of course rewards just the type of stuff your braggadocious mom-friend is shoving in your face.

I have two teens and a tween. I can't sleep these days from worry about the future that awaits them. At 4 a.m. my eyes pop open: "Will they be able to take potable water for granted? What about seafood? Will they find love?" But mainly: "Will they find work?"

Oscar Wilde once said: "It isn't easy to be anything nowadays. There's such a lot of beastly competition about." He should see the 21st century! I've always said to my boys: "If there is even such a thing as a job when you graduate, it will only go to the best of the best, so you guys have to try your butts off, excel like madmen."

And that … hasn't fully happened. Yet. But now, when other parents brag about their kids' accomplishments – "Yeah, Courtney has to take time off from senior year to attend the Junior Olympics, but luckily she already got early admission to Harvard, so it's okay" – it causes my guts to churn with anxiety.

But here's the thing. I am so very, very proud of my boys. Not for what they've done, but for who they are: decent, soulful, thoughtful, compassionate people.

And that's what you should tell yourself, and your kids, too. First, that you love your kids for who they are. Second, that people come into their own at different times of their lives.

(Certainly I – streaker, stoner, petty thief, class clown – didn't show a lot of promise as a teen.)

Reflect also that all your friend's bragging about her kid might stem from her own frustration with how things have turned out for her. You know, it's like "Well, I have never become an astronaut, but perhaps my child will one day see the moons of Jupiter through the window of his spacecraft." Pride of accomplishment by proxy, or we could just call it parental pride. In Yiddish: nachas.

Say all that to yourself. But to your friend I wouldn't say anything. Just grin and bear it. Maybe slip in something semi-subtle like: "Does it bother [name of non-genius kid] when you talk about [genius kid] like that?"

But I wouldn't even go that far, to be honest.

No, I'd apply what my friends and I call the Proctologist's Code to this one.

It's from an actual quote a proctologist once said to a friend of mine at a party: "When I come across an inflamed area, I find it doesn't pay to probe too deeply."

And a parent with one genius kid she brags about, and one non-genius kid she doesn't, sounds like a potentially inflamed area to me.

I would talk to your kids. Tell them not to pay any mind to your friend's bragging, it's just maternal pride talking. And that you're likewise as proud of them as any parent could possibly be.

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