"Oh my gosh, he's sleeping through the night now. He's just such an easy baby!"
"I know she's only in kindergarten, but she's reading Harry Potter all by herself."
"There never seems to be any time on the weekends anymore, not since little Johnny made travel soccer. He's terribly integral to the team."
"Congratulations, Hailey! Yale said 'yes!'"
Clearly most parents – and grandparents – can think of no more fascinating topic of conversation than the exploits and achievements of their precious children. Hopefully, their stories are well received. But sometimes the difference between a proud parent's interesting anecdote and a puffed up bore regaling a reluctant ear with their progeny's overblown and unappealing antics is a matter of degree, audience selection, timing and, some say, motive.
Not surprisingly, the majority of parents and grandparents – or at least the ones (201)Family spoke with – believe they are merely proud when they are talking about their children's achievements. It's the other people who are bragging.
Jessica Justin, of Wayne, says that while "some people can be annoying" while talking about their children, she doesn't think she goes too far "bragging" about her 7-year-old daughter. For instance, "the other day she was very nice to her little cousins. She was taking care of them and sharing with them, and I wanted to tell everybody."
It's probably hard to know how you're truly coming off, though. Here, then, are some bragging guidelines to consider the next time you're dying to tell Stan and Carol about little Mary's recent acceptance into the elementary school gifted-and-talented program.
"A story is bragging if the teller's motives are less than pure; that is, if he or she is trying to upstage someone else's child or grandchild," notes Dr. Susan Newman, a New Jersey-based social psychologist who has written numerous articles and books on family interactions, including The Case for the Only Child.
Of course, nothing is ever clear-cut. Sometimes it's difficult to decide what our motives are, and often people have multiple motives, which are not always self-evident. For example, you may truly be so amazed and thrilled that Little Billy made the cut for a super selective town baseball team, especially since he's recently recovered from a rotator cuff injury, that it's difficult not to share your joy with others. You certainly would never say directly that you think your child is more disciplined and athletic than the kids who didn't make it. But it's hard for you to not think that. And the story will undoubtedly signal that idea to some folks, especially to the parents whose kids didn't make the team.
Furthermore, it may be fine to tell the story about little Billy once, because you really are beside yourself with pride. But try not to overdo it.
"What's annoying is if they're always bragging," says Toni Foster, a mother of two from Teaneck. "It's the constant, every-little-thing bragging" that makes her want to run for the hills.
Similarly, Marcia Coningswood, a grandmother of two preschoolers from Oakland, says she enjoys talking about her grandchildren, who live in Florida and are not around very often. But she says she is careful not to overdo the grandchild talk. "I have one friend who just goes on from one end of the conversation to the other . And then she has to talk in the baby talk that they talk in too!"
The most gracious way to deal with this, of course, is to ignore it. Then maybe fill your social calendar with less annoying friends. Ellen Fionda, a mother of four mostly grown children from Ridgewood, says she's gone through the college brag scene three times already and is gearing up for a final round next year when her youngest is a high school senior. "I just go: Oh, that's nice. And switch to a different subject."
Why might parents overdo the storytelling? Obviously telling a story like this can stroke your own ego, especially if you take personal responsibility for your children's achievements. If that's the case, telling the story can be so rewarding that it's difficult to stop yourself.
Audience selection, too, is key. "It's fine to 'brag' to friends and family who know you and your child well and care about his or her triumphs," says Newman, who adds that you should still make sure that the content is not undercutting to siblings or other children in the family. But it's probably best to avoid bragging to those who don't know the child well.
Which means, of course, that posting your child's achievements on a social network, like Facebook, where it will be read by a wide number of folks who are not always exactly friends, is generally a no-no.
A caveat is that it can actually be OK to brag to other parents whose children have achieved similar milestones or accomplishments. In fact, a mutual brag session can serve the purpose of giving both you and other proud parents a sympathetic and supportive audience, without danger of annoying others. But be careful that your coffee klatch is comprised of parents who are equally eager to regale.
Talking about a baby reaching milestones earlier than expected is probably not going to go over well with infertile couples, and talking ad nauseum about a child's educational achievements might not be a great topic with parents of a learning-disabled child.
Overall, though, it's important to share your excitement about your child's accomplishments with your child himself. While it's occasionally nice for them to hear you sharing their accomplishments with grandma, make sure you don't embarrass them. The best way to let your child know how proud you are of them is to talk with your child about their achievement directly. "Ask what tools he used, why he was successful, how he would do it next time," says Newman. "That will reflect your interest, yet have him realize that the accomplishment was his."
The best – and probably only viable – way to handle unpleasant bragging by other parents is to take the high road and ignore it. "There is no gain in trying to one-up a bragger," says social psychologist and family interaction expert Susan Newman, Ph.D.
The very gracious Ellen Fionda, a mother of four from Ridgewood, agrees. She's gone through the college acceptance process three times already.
"With the first one I felt really awful. Then I got over it, and it was like, OK, I think they'll all end up where they should be."
Of course, ignoring braggart parents is easier said than done, especially if you feel insecure about your parenting skills or about your children in general. "The bigger problem is not feeling badly or competitive when someone is bragging about their child," notes Newman.
Accepting and loving your child, warts and all, can be a lifelong process. But here are a couple of "internal talking points" from Dr. Newman to remember when you're listening to the neighbors tell you about their son, the musical prodigy.
1) Children excel at different ages and stages. Indeed, one child may excel and outshine all others in elementary school but then plateau for a while when they get older, while another may take a while to get going but then soar once they reach a certain level of maturity.
2) Competitive parenting isn't about the children, it's about the parents. If you are tempted to add your own brag to a conversation, remind yourself how old you are and then ask yourself why you want to chime in.
3) Condition yourself to think "I am not going there; I am not getting involved in this competition," once the braggy party talk starts up.
4) Remember that no one cares very much about how your child is doing, other than family and others who really love your child.
5) Ask yourself if you would be interested in hearing the exact same brag about your child that you're busting to tell Sally, if Sally was talking to you about her child.