Get ready to reach the dizzying heights of competitive passive aggression! Watch out for these ‘performative parenting’ warning signs…
Training to take the gold
If you’re quiet when out in public, and the breeze is just right, you’ll hear them. Floating towards you on the wind like little nuggets of star dust and pixie juice. Shiny, sparkling, lilting words spinning through the air like ninja stars in disguise – ready to strike a barb in the heart of any nearby mums or dads.
The soothing sounds of the performative parent.
Who is the performative parent?
Do you remember that kid at school?
You know the one.
They’d sigh loudly over a test result and make sure they had an audience before revealing a score of 98%. “I can’t believe I stuffed that up, I’m so bad at maths!” they’d groan, while you hid your score of 38% underneath an old Mars Bar wrapper you’d just found in your pencil case.
They were the girl in the bathroom at the school dance who spoke super loudly about how she’d put on “so much weight” and that she was an elephant who could “barely squeeze into” her size 6 dress.
The humble bragger. The look at me, look at me. The “I’m going to say this so everyone around me can hear it”-er.
And now they’re back. And they’ve had kids.
How to identify the performative parent
The performative parent will read from a very particular script which makes them easy to spot in the wild.
If they’re in a public space, they’re usually going to be loudly speaking to their not-yet-verbal baby with the intention of being heard by EVERYONE around them.
“Oh, you just love your sugar-free, gluten-free, cruelty-free preservative-free puff of air, don’t you! You’re such a good baby to not eat that poison that other parents feed their precious children!” (The PP gets extra points if they time this for when your own child is shoving that third piece of cake in their mouth.)
“It’s so nice to devote so much time to each other isn’t it, darling! I love spending my day with you so we can play like nothing else matters! It’s SO important!” (This one usually comes if you dare check your phone while your kids are on the swings at the park.)
“I love how well-behaved you are, my little pudding pop! Mummy loves taking you out shopping!” (This smug throwaway is typically timed when your older child is having the kind of meltdown that would intimidate Godzilla.)
What to do about the performative parent
It’s easy to feel the sting of being judged, particularly when you’re out with your kids. You’re vulnerable, you’re very public and the feeling of harsh eyes on you when you’re at your lowest can be incredibly painful. These words are designed to make you feel less-than – they’re not for the baby. Unless the baby is some kind of super-human Doogie Howser baby with a medical degree. In which case, ask that baby to write you a medical certificate and take the day off.
When you feel a performative parent throwing those little invisible word-knives through the air at you, you’ve got two choices.
You can internalise it and feel bad about yourself, go home, inhale a whole packet of Peanut Butter M&M’s while re-watching Season 3 of Community on Stan and crying.
You can put on your own performance.
Outperform the performer – the whole world’s a stage!
In response to the passive-aggressive coffee shop comment?
Stand up. No, up. Up on the table, up. Make a loud hooting sound designed to attract the attention of all around you. Unhinge your jaw, duck style, and stuff an entire brownie down your throat. Swallow without chewing. Bow to the applause and cheers of your own filthy children and then descend without comment.
The comment about being on the phone at the playground? Take an urgent call.
“Yes, Mr President? What?! The nuclear warhead?! It can only be stopped if I use my scientist knowledge AND have a sexy affair at the same time? While Aerosmith play in the background?! I’ll be right there! No, the kids can just stay at the park, they can roast a can of beans for dinner.”
The tut-tut at the tantrum?
Lay next to your child on the floor. Remove one shoe. Begin to break dance while yodelling. Yell “I HATE PEANUTS!” at the top of your lungs for five minutes. Stand up and keep shopping like nothing happened.
The empty life of the performative parent
Instead of internalising the mean stuff that the performative parent is saying (and don’t kid yourself – it’s mean – they know exactly what they’re doing) see it for what it is. The sad attempt of someone not feeling great about themselves trying to bring others down so they feel better.
And who knows. Your duck-eats-cake performance may just cheer up that overwhelmed new mum at the back of the café. It takes a village to raise a child, after all. And every village needs its idiot.
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