Deborah Ross: Competitive Parenting thrives on deception from all sides

If you ask me...

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The Independent Online

As the deadline for secondary school applications approaches, this is the time of year when Competitive Parenting reaches its absolute, deadliest peak, and you'd best be prepared or you are going to be blown out of the water.

First, you must limber up. You can limber up anywhere, although most parents choose to do it in bed between, roughly, 2am and 5am on the grounds "I'm having sleepless nights over this." This limbering up is an important part of the process as insomnia-induced nerviness plus excessive fretting is the key driving force, and without it you may not, for example, feel sufficiently motivated to tour schools your child hasn't a chance of getting into and are 27 bus rides away. You may also do something recklessly ill-considered, like consider sending your child to the local state school while hoping for the best. If you feel yourself going down this route, you should ask yourself this: what is 27 bus rides, in the big scheme of things?

Once limbered up, you must face The Conversation. You know The Conversation is going to happen the moment you spot a parent from your child's year in the street and you know The Conversation will start with: "And where is your son/daughter going next year?"

If you suspect this parent has the edge in some way, it may be tempting to respond with: "And where would you like this punch to land?" but, just as easily, you could look at your child and mutter "Westminster" and "scholarship" and "so proud" in the same breath. Or you could say: "All he wants to do these days is practise entrance exam papers. I've had to tell him: what do you think we bought the Xbox for? To gather dust?"

Do not worry if this is a deception, as Competitive Parenting thrives on deception from all sides. You can be sure that the mother who most talks up the local school for its diversity and proximity is the one working hardest on somewhere entirely homogenous 72 train trips and 98 bus rides away. Also, you must never share the names or numbers of any tutors, as this is non-Competitive Parenting on a major scale, and quite disgraceful.

So get ready, and good luck, although do always remember this: once a child has settled into his or her secondary school, any secondary school, they are generally "fine". Indeed, in a recent poll of teenagers who were asked how school was today, 92 per cent replied "Fine", while the other eight per cent also came back with "Fine". So it'll be fine. It always is.