Parenting as Competition
Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash
Most parents, at some point, have probably compared themselves to other parents. All of us probably have friends who throw their children birthday parties that look like a cross between Pinterest's greatest hits and a Martha Stewart highlight reel. Everything is laid out perfectly, there is a THEME! The party is organized and activities are scheduled. There are healthy treats for both children and adults. There is one cake for pictures and one cake for eating.
Contrast that with my children's parties. There is one cake, and it's for eating. Also, we'll probably destroy it when we try and cut it, so you better get a good look at it before we start that. And our kids may get into it before they are supposed to, by swiping their fingers along those little puffy ridges at the bottom of the cake, so, there's that too.
The pinata will not be hung before the guests arrive, and once it is hung, I may just have to hold the rope in place myself, while the kids hit it. Also, speaking of guests, we don't have anything for the parents, so feel free to just drop your kids off. We'd actually prefer it. Our "plan", is to just let the kids play in the backyard.
Also, the "theme" is Happy Birthday.
Much respect to those of you who can handle the themes, and special treats, and organized games. But I would venture to guess that most people, even the party planning parents, have felt the twinge of comparison at some point when they attend a party other than their own child's, and see it done "better".
We compare/compete with other parents with our kids too. We want to know how their kids are doing in sports, with their grades, on their dance teams, and with their college admissions. We want to know how our kids "measure up" to theirs, because that will tell us how we measure up as parents. Presumably.
I don't believe that, but some people do. Regardless of where you might fall here, it's still easy to get caught up in this competition.
Reflecting on the title of the article, Parenting as Competition, I am not referring to the nonsense mentioned above that we often fall victim to. This competition, the party planning comparisons and the academic, athletic, achievement comparison is something we should work to avoid. It only make us, and our children, feel bad, and it causes us to use a measuring stick on our parenting that just won't work, no matter how we hold it or what we hold it against. We can talk about that later.
The type of competition I'm talking about is one that is healthy, and helpful to be aware of, and maybe one that you haven't quite thought of before. It's one that exists, I think, with all of us. It's a part of the game, whether we like it or not, and we would be well advised to start understanding that, and playing along. Better yet, we should start competing within this particular set of rules.
Whether we like it or not, we are competing with a load of outside influences when it comes to our children. I don't enjoy writing about social media, because I feel like that drum has been banged way too loudly, and it's easy to make excuses or live into complaints about "kids these days" on social media. The truth is, adults are just as bad when it comes to that. Adults compare their lives to the Instagram lives of others. Adults spend too much time scrolling Facebook. Adults take selfies. And we can't blame social media for the connection or disconnection that we have with our kids.
But social media is a factor when it comes to competing FOR our kids. There are plenty of others. In one way or another, we are competing against their friends, we are competing against the internet, we are competing against television, we are competing against knucklheaded boys and temptress girls.
(I don't really know if there are temptress girls, but I do know that once boys hit a certain age, that most things girls do, even just naturally, or by accident, fall into the "temptress" category. I do know, unquestionably, that there are plenty of knuckleheaded boys.)
There are also other parents that we are competing with. This is not the same as the Pinterest birthday party parent, or the, "Where are you summering this year?" parent, that we may force ourselves into competition with, in which no one can win. No, the important competition with parents is with those that are turning a blind eye to their own kids. The parents who are allowing children to drink or get high at their homes. Now your kid is hanging out there, and forced to make a decision. Your kid is curious about these things too, and wonders if those parents are just cooler than hers. Your kid gets caught doing something they are supposed to, along with the other kids, and your kid is the only one who gets any real consequence, which makes her question you, your parenting, and your relationship.
This is the competition with other parents that we have to win. Not against them, but FOR our children.
I don't want to drone on and on about all of the things that we are competing against for our children. You know. You have some of your own that are coming to mind right now. You get it.
But, the distinction is important here. We are not competing against the other parents, or against the school, or against the coach, or against social media, as much as we are competing FOR our kids. Sometimes, we are battling these things. Sometimes we are these things are not something we are battling, and they are good for our kids, but we still must compete in order to make sure our kids are getting the lessons, hearing the truth, and growing in the way that is healthy for them.
Have you ever competed against someone, who wasn't really competing back? You start playing a game, and you are really into it, or at least, you are doing your very best, and they are just messing around, "having fun". It's kind of annoying. And almost always, you beat them, because they are just having a good time, not taking it seriously. But it's not that fun for you either, because they aren't engaging in the competition.
Or, they start off competing, and then when you start winning, they quit. They start joking around after it becomes clear that you are going to win. Or they start whining after the rules have been agreed upon, but also after you start dominating within said rules. Then it's not fun for you, because they are just whining, and complaining, and making excuses.
This may be more relevant for guys than for ladies... but here's the point:
If we aren't careful, as parents, we can end up as the "I'm just having fun, so I'm not really trying" guy or the "I can't win, so I'm just going to whine, complain, and quit" guy.
Neither one of those guys is winning his kids.
We are competing for their hearts. We are competing for their attention. We are competing for their love. We are competing for their relationships and connectivity. We are competing for their trust. We are competing for their buy in. We are competing for their time.
In all of these things, it might be easy for you to twist my words and challenge that, "I'm not going to grovel for their attention. That's what those helicopter parents do, who bend to every whim of their child."
That's not the point. But if you don't think you are competing for their attention, I think, maybe, you haven't been paying attention. And when was the last time you saw a competitor grovel. This is not a grovel, it's a dadgum fight, a battle. It's a competition, for sure, and maybe the most important one we can take on.
Consider the perspective, and then you decide:
What if part of parenting is competing for the hearts, minds, time, affection, trust, and love of our kids. What if we saw the factors of other kids, other parents, knuckleheads, social media, television, and worldly lies as things to combat against and overcome, rather than necessary evils, or simply, "do what we can and hope for the best" influences. What if we saw them as challenges to take on, with the understanding that these other things are taking perhaps the most precious things we have away from us, little by little. And if we don't fight for them, we will lose them.
To be fair, I do think if we are doing the best we can (actually doing the best, not just saying it) then things will probably be okay.
But I want to help Hope hang on to as much of herself as she can. I want her to believe that her quirks and her stubbornness can be strengths and figure out how to make them so. I want her to understand what it means to be kind, and not learn that from someone else. I want her to know what it means to love, and what it means to be loved. And she dang sure doesn't need to learn that from some hormonal, knuckleheaded high school boy before she's learned it from me. But if I let him, he'll beat me to it.
And I want Harp to hold on to as much of his joy as he possibly can. I want him to lead (himself first) and not follow the pull of others. I want him to to enjoy life, the way I think God designed him to. I want him to learn how to advocate for himself, and tell the truth even when it's hard. I want him to learn what it means to be loved, and I want him to understand what it means to love. I want him to learn that in our house, or under the influence of the people that love him. Because I think my family, and my friends, can do that better than anybody else. But we'll have to get to work proving it.
If I want these things to be true, I believe I'll have to compete against a myriad of outside forces. I'll have to compete FOR my children, and I'll have to do so with great courage, conviction, and love.
Where are you willing to compete for your children?
I'm pulling for you,