Competitive parenting;part two

July 11, 2012

I couldn’t enter the competition for ‘fastest child to walk’ as all of ours took their time. And I didn’t give a stuff. It was easier for me if they stayed where I plonked them so I had the luxury of simply not caring. It does amuse me when people say they are not competitive, because I simply don’t believe it.  It’s a misinterpretation of what competitive means.  Being competitive doesn’t necessarily mean you are competitive about everything. Just things you think you have a chance of winning or that you think should be done well. If you don’t give a shit about them, them (because you are crap at it or see it as unimportant), then you can patronisingly say you are not competitive.

People who say they are not competitive often are – it’s just they don’t call it that. I think you  can be competitive without being in a direct competition with others. Making that wonderful dinner party meal for everyone can be just as competitive as running the 100m. It’s just not the way you choose to interpret your striving for excellence. But I do. And I applaud you for it.

Which is why in general I see competitiveness useful, healthy and collaborative.  It only becomes bad if it is all encompassing and the winning is more important than absolutely anything else. No matter what. No matter who you trample on in the way to the top. And even then I can forgive many people many things in the pursuit of excellence. The element of competition can mean people try harder and do better than they would have done without that further push from others. Isn’t that good all round?

However, the son who insists on getting to the front door first and will never ever let his sisters win, even though they are younger and he could afford to be generous, did my bloody head in. And ended up in gloating on one side  and tears on the other.

Competitive parenting verges more on the latter than the healthy former I fear. It is an unneccessary pressure felt by those not strong enough to resist.  It can be too easy to get sucked in as one is vulnerable as a newish parent.

I loved making cakes when they were little. Here are the cannons for his 4th birthday

And I saw it in action in children’s birthday parties. The first one I went to with our son was across the road. An odd couple  (we saw the nazi memorabilia being loaded in to the removal van when they left) with a daughter who was older than our boy , but kindly they invited us to her party. We brought a small present and went along. At the end we were handed a goody bag. I’d never seen one before. It contained items of greater value than the present we had given. It was ludicrous. And our son was not even one year old so appreciated none of it. It was all to impress me and other parents.  I couldn’t believe I’d made a profit on another child’s party. But that was when I was naive about the money people will spend on a child’s party rather than actually put any effort in themselves.

There was the McDonalds parties, the parties with enteratiners, with bouncy castles, in limousines, in hired halls.. There were goody bags filled with treasures. Not just a slice of cake and a balloon. Oh no. All kinds of things. I was appalled when a child arrived at a party and asked if she could have her goody bag now in case she left early.

In contrast, (and cussedness)  we doggedly had our children’s parties at home, with no outside help (except wine), no bought cakes (I loved making the birthday cakes when they were little) and no goodie bags.  Until they were about 9 I suppose. We would organise them with military precision. No parents allowed to stay. We wanted complete control….

Listing the activities for when they arrive, the games they would play and making sure we had all the necessary props – basically a duvet cover for sleeping lions, a parcel for pass the parcel and the ever important tape player for the music for all the games and musical chairs, statues, hats etc.  Sweets for prizes for everyone during the games and a cheery Joyce Grenfell tone to corral them all. “But I don’t want to play” was met with a short sharp “Dont’ come to parties if you’re not going to play the games” as otherwise allowing one to sit it out could start a revolution of inertia. And the kids seemed to love the games once they started playing them. It was hard the first year as most kids hadn’t ever played party games and teaching them from scratch is harder than simply yelling “Farmer’s in his den next”. But luckily one of our closest friends also did traditional parties and their son was a couple of months older than ours so had laid the foundations for lots of them.

The teddy bear relays in the garden meant they were all in teams and yelling at the tops of their voices for their team mates to run as fast as they could. Hubby always fixed it so everybody was on a winning team. At the time their school was in to non-competitive sports days and the like so no one was ever a winner, it was all about taking part (don’t get me started), so the kids LOVED the overt competition. And i loved being in direct defiance of the politically correct school rules.

And the piece de resistance was the stealing the treasure from the sleeping pirate on their way out. The sleeping pirate was of course hubby. He would have a load of 50p plastic swords and fake Barbies hidden around him as he snored on the floor under a blanket.They would creep up one by one and were allowed to steal one item as long as they didn’t wake the pirate. The screaming hilarity and fear as the pirate would groan and  stir and grab at a foot. They loved it. Mostly. There was an occasional girlie girl who had to be accompanied. But stealing the treasure was their equivalent of a goodie bag.

At the end of the party -( two hours start to finish) – hubby and I were exhausted and would collapse with a bottle of wine vowing that the next one we’ll get professionals in. But we never did. We would have seen it as giving up. And we’re both far too competitive for that.


4 Responses to “Competitive parenting;part two”

  1. Jess Says:

    Your parties sound marvellous! I like all your reflections, Sarah, because I’ve reflected on many of the same ones and hitherto thought it was pretty much me. I LOVE your stuff! Here’s where I came out on this one.. There are certainly a lot of parenting styles around. Perhaps some spent a lot of money on parties, others incentivised their children with money to get certain exam results, and so on. A variety of things that were different from what I would choose, but this was the point – just different, not for me to say whether better or worse. I did come across a fair number of parents who justified their choices by criticising the actions of others, or validated their excellent parenting skills by their apparent results – first toddler to be potty-trained, earliest reader and so on. Wow – what a blind alley and a sure way to eventually feel bad as a parent not good. In the end I concluded that most parents I knew wanted to do the absolutely best job they could based on their life experience, values and judgment. And they would do everything differently So – I actively avoided comparing. Until one day I saw a woman in BHS drag her cowering child out from under a clothes rail and hit him on the ear; “Come ‘ere you f’ing little git!”. I was holding each of my two children by the hand at the time and they were stung to the spot. Time to say something. “IS that necessary?!” I said. “Mind yer own f’ing business you f’ing busybody!” she returned. “Good!”, I said, “I’d much rather you yelled at me than him.” My nine-year old piped up, “Go, mummy!”. Good enough for me!

    • Thanks Jess . You are a rarity in that you involved yourself – most people avoid it I think.Too scared of what the other person might do rather than thinking of the child. I think there would be more people in this country who would step in if they saw a dog being beaten rather than a child.

  2. michael Says:

    Did Oaklands do non-competitive sports days?

    It does explain my lack of medals I suppose.

    • they did indeed. Crap like filling up buckets of water using beakers. No prizes. No racing. Oooh no. For every one winner there would be 20 losers -they couldn’t have that! Until they got a new head who thought it was a good idea to have classic sports, but I think you’d left by then.

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