Parents rely on concrete accomplishments that show off not only their kids’ triumphs, but their own parenting skills – which are valuable achievements to point to when one-upping someone else during a status pivot. “Their children’s performance becomes their own transferred success,” says Friedman.
Ross Thompson, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, who specialises in parent-child relationships and social sciences, agrees that pointing to these tangibles is extremely common. That’s because, he says, many parents lose sight of the fact the signs that you’re good at raising your children aren’t often necessarily tangible deliverables that you can show off when competing with people – for example, “children who are happy or well-adjusted; who are caring and empathic, who are good friends to others”.
Ultimately, though, “parenting is an identity that people have, want to display and get rewarded for”, US-based psychologists Jay Van Bavel and Dominic Packer tell BBC Worklife together. “In fact, it might be the absolute most salient and important identity for many people.”
This research on status pivoting may help us understand why, when parents feel insecure in other domains, they often emphasise their parenting achievements.
Still, although the draw to emphasise parental achievements may be strong in status-pivoting situations, it’s beneficial to remember “there is more than one way to feel successful, and there are alternative ways to fulfil one’s need for status”, says Keinan. “It’s not a bad idea to remind yourself of your other roles and things you care about.”
This story was updated from an earlier version to provide additional context for the study.