Why I Refuse To Compete As A Parent

If parenting is judged on personal aesthetics, you know I am losing the battle.  You can tell by my outfit I am not competing.  If you look closer, you can tell by my behind I am completely out of the competition.  But it isn’t just about who looks the best in their mom jeans anymore.  “OMG Becky look at that…” Yeah, that’s right.  I just quoted Sir Mix-A-Lot.  And?

No, competition covers every single angle.  Parenting today seems to be a full-on sport.  You better have the right uniform. It better fit just right, Becky.  You better know the rules or you are going to eat dirt.  It is a psychological game gone guerilla-style. And I know before even stepping foot on the field that just ain’t my kinda thang.

If you are reading this right now, you know what I am talking writing about.  Parents jockey for position like it’s the Kentucky Derby only we aren’t racing horses; we are racing children.  Who is the fastest? Who is the prettiest or the smartest pony?  We saddle children up like show horses waiting for them to reflect our social standing, financial investment and the grace of good training.  But enough with the horse analogies.

Our children aren’t pets.  At least I don’t think so.  Although they can be sweet, warm little creatures prone to episodes of cuddling like a lap dog.  I do have to admit I love the cuddling sessions.  Back to topic, Becky.  Parents know its rough out there.  You don’t need me to spell it out for you.  Everyone wants to stay ahead of the game.

So we do what good trainers do: We enlist our recruits in football, soccer, gymnastics.  When we are done with that we add on piano, dance, acting and cello.  And we don’t want to forget language acquisition skills so we try to dissect Mandarin Chinese on late Thursday afternoons before preparatory classes for preschool.  No one wants to be the parent that doesn’t award little Donny every opportunity.  No one wants to be the parent who doesn’t tap into Marie’s undiscovered genius.  For goodness sakes, we redshirt toddlers in hopes it will impact their athletic prowess in high school.  To say we aren’t competing is a lie.

Competition is a core value in America.  We strive to be numero uno at everything.  Not such a bad thing, right?  But then I went and married a European man and he rattled my American perspective.  Now that marriage certificate awards me the ability to make vast generalizations about an entire group of people:  The Europeans.  Lucky me! What I will say about the Europeans is this: They seem to be much more comfortable in being rather than doing.  

No competition here!

They linger for hours over dinner.  Letting the time slip through their fingers as they slowly laugh and conversate.  They break bread and drink wine and enjoy every morsel of their delicious and real food.  They seem to really savor their life.  They don’t appear pressured to push through with X, Y, and Z.  Children are not the epicenter of every subject discussed between adults.  And they don’t measure their parenting according to what Becky does down the street.  Again, I can make vast generalizations.  I have that certificate, people.

I have something else for you, delighted reader.  Come closer.  Read nice and slow.  I. refuse. to. compete.  Like oppositional defiant refuse.  Remember my comments earlier?  Other parents feel no threat from me.  My kids are the ones who remain nearly unscheduled after school.  Nightly dinner is our primary commitment.  My children are confined to one activity and one activity only that takes no more than one hour of their week.  One and a half hours if I am being generous.  I don’t complain about running from practice to practice because I don’t.  Although I do complain about various other enlightening topics like school snacks, politics (who isn’t discussing this right now?) and the most recent episode of The Real Housewives of Who Knows Where.  Location does not matter.  I am ready to take on some trash television.  I told you I was appalling.

Or here!

But before you stop reading all together let me tell you the madness behind my method of redshirting myself in perpetuity from parental competition.  I really do have something I am trying to instill in my children.

  1. I do not want my children to define their success by how busy their life is.  Busy is not a life goal.
  2. I want to teach them that they compete with no one but themselves.  I don’t want them to be better than Michael or Janet.  I want them to be better than who they are that day.
  3. I want my children to learn they are not human pinball machines.  Life isn’t about darting from one place to another with no time for thought or reflection.
  4. My children should learn their self-worth does not lie in perfection nor in someone else’s opinion. Not all of the time but most of the time with the subject of competition, we are working towards perfection.  Perfection according to someone else’s standards.  Are my children living their life or the idea of what is valuable to someone else in his/her life?  And that someone else could very well be me.  I have to keep that in check.
  5. I want my children to use their 18 years as a child to be a child.  I do not want to add organized pressure to childhood.  They have all the time in the world to instill their own system of pressure once they become adults.  I am here to preserve childhood.
  6. I want them to understand constant productivity is not the impetus for self-worth.
  7. I want them to be experts at being and if they are experts at being then they will naturally be experts at doing what it is that gives them feelings of joy.
  8. Last time I checked Mother Theresa, Bill Gates, Oprah, Mindy Kaling, and Van Jones (we aren’t friends so I may be wrong) was not competing in organized activities 6 nights a week as small children and, in my estimate only, they seem to have evolved into fairly amazing adults.  Although I don’t know about Oprah.  She’s questionable.

See it isn’t a judgment, my friend.  It is simply encouragement to listen to your own instincts.  If you feel the calling, I invite you to do the same.  Parenting is not a competition.  So if you feel the urge to pull the plug on your fast-paced life; I dare you to follow your own inner knowing.  Allow yourself to simply be as a person and as a family and smile at the peace that awaits you.  Because you are enough as you are, Becky.  And your children are enough too.  On a side note, if you see me walk by and you are concerned.  Please know I am well aware of the game.  I just refuse to compete.

*Originally posted on The Today Parenting Team.