I don’t think of myself as an especially competitive person. Although I suspect my sister might disagree, as she remembers me kicking over the Risk board in frustration many hours into a particular drawn out attempt at the war-themed board game one Christmas (My side of the story is that I knocked it over by accident, but no-one believes me). My wife might also disagree as she looks at my smug face when I get a particular good score at Scrabble. Anyone who’s ever done a pub quiz with me would probably disagree as well (the fact that I still remember a disputed Belle and Sebastian question from a pub quiz 15 years ago is not a good sign).
So, perhaps I’m a little more competitive than I realise when it comes to games, but I don’t think I’m too competitive when it comes to life. I don’t begrudge people who have become more successful than me, or earn more money, or have a better house or car, and I don’t believe that me doing well means that someone else has to do badly. Parenting, however, is one area of life where it’s really tough not to be competitive.
I know, deep down, that all children develop at different rates, and it doesn’t matter in the slightest if our daughter learns to walk a little later than our friends’ kids (to pick an example not entirely at random). But still, when someone asks “Is she walking yet” I can’t just say “No”, I have to say “No, but she’s really close” or “No, but she’s really advanced when it comes to imaginative play”, negating any imagined slight with some praise. The opposite is also true, if someone praises my daughter’s vocabulary, I’ll tend to say, “yeah, but she can’t walk yet”. I think it’s the combination of the natural competitiveness of the parent with the natural self-depreciation of the British.
I do wonder sometimes when I’m trying to encourage my daughter to take her first steps whether I’m doing it to encourage her development, or so that I can tell people she can walk. I’m pretty sure it’s at least 90% the former. Or I hope so at least.
Still, it’s already very apparent that there are many, many parents out there who are far more competitive than my wife or I. If there was a competition for most competitive dad, I would not be the winner. Not that it’s inherently wrong to be competitive of course, but the danger when it comes to being a competitive parents is that it leads to pushiness, pushing your child to do well at activities so you can show them off, or their achievements, rather than because the child is genuinely interested.
I don’t think we’ll end up being too pushy, except perhaps in one area, music. In many interviews, musicians say that they became interested in music because there was always music playing in their homes growing up. My wife and I admitted to each other that we had both been trying to play lots of music around our daughter at least partially in the hope that it would make her more likely to take an interest in music. We’d both love her to become a musician, myself because I never had the talent and my wife because she never had the opportunity as a child , but we’ll have to make sure that we don’t push into doing, for example, piano lessons if she doesn’t want to.
We recently watched a documentary on Nina Simone, who spent hours and hours every day as a child on the piano. This made for a great talent, but not a happy childhood. When it comes to our daughter I hope we’ll always choose her happiness ahead of pushing her to be ‘the best’. Many people see life as a competition, and their childrens’ supposed successes or failures as a means of judging whether they are winning. Let us never become those people.