How much do you love your children? With prom season approaching, it’s time for more competitive parenting | Zoe Williams

When our kids are small, parents flex at each other over things such as food (crisps or not?), toys (wooden or plastic?), screens (none or loads?) – we’ll compete over anything. The toddlers don’t notice; they’re too busy squabbling over every resource that isn’t infinite. That’s why everyone in this bracket always looks so tired. Then they all pretend it’s because they didn’t get enough sleep.

There’s a really long mid-childhood period where the hierarchy of parental excellence can be measured using only one metric: does your kid have nits? No way, does your kid still have nits?

Once kids are teens, most of us have long since stopped pretending any control, but it’s become custom, now, to have strong parental views, and they land in weird places. No views for ages, tumbleweed in the WhatsApp; then, wham: prom.

A lot of dads will get in early and disapprove, because the school prom is American. They’re reprising their anti-Halloween stance of six to eight years prior, and they already know they’re fighting a losing battle. Who, faced with the choice between ethnocultural purity and infinite Haribos with the odd oaty energy ball, even has to think about it? The thing about these dads, though, is that they love righteously losing. So there’s a chorus of them waiting for someone to say, “Does anyone know if the kids will have time to go to Subway between graduation and prom?”, so they can come in with “Tsk! Graduation! What does it even mean?”, and, “In my day, you went to the park and drank cider, and the only people who went to prom were Sandra Dee and Danny Zuko.”

The hyper parents have too much on their minds to engage with the churls, to whom many of them are probably married. They’re a bit like Olympic velodrome cyclists, starting off extremely stealthily – “Anyone seen any good prom dresses? My older daughter found a good shop in Tooting but it’s closed down” – before one of them breaks for the finish. After that, the velocity of humble-bragging spins your head: “I bought a bolt of yellow taffeta in January, but I’m still drawing a blank on shoes”; “I have grown my own peonies, if anyone needs a buttonhole/spray.”

The kids themselves, well, they’re like God: if you want to make them laugh, tell them your plans.

Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist

The Guardian

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