I love my daughter but there is a certain aspect of her beautifully determined and bright personality that utterly torments me as her parent: her fierce competitive spirit.
“Being competitive is a great quality!” Some say. That’s true of most any personality trait, but the problem is me. A drive to compete with others is a mindset that clashes with so much of my own perspective that I’m constantly stumbling when determining how best to parent my daughter as an individual. How do you parent a child who has tendencies that oppose so mightily with your own? How do you support, and guide that child without attempting to change her?
I am a “gardener” parent. Meaning, I don’t impose my life goals on my children. I don’t try to change my children to suit my dreams for them. I don’t insist they participate in certain extracurriculars or feign specific interests. I don’t insist they fit a certain mold. Instead, I revel in their unique goals, skills, struggles, and hobbies while endeavoring to guide them towards a positive, healthy, responsible, kind, resilient life that leads to good decisions and a relatively clear conscience (I say, “relatively” because they’re human and we all make mistakes and make regrettable choices, but hopefully we learn from these pitfalls.) However, I struggle being a “gardener” when it comes to competition.
I am not competitive with others, though I am fiercely competitive with myself. My daughter is competitive with everyone including herself. Whereas I rarely perceive competition between myself and others, and if there is a competition I likely bow out, she views life as a competition and endeavors to win. Always. This means that to her everyone is a possible competitor for some unspoken victory (or defeat) and every situation has a competitive component, of which I am entirely unaware and incapable of truly grasping.
I can’t fathom finding joy in winning so that another may suffer a loss, especially since that individual would — in all likelihood — cherish the win more than I ever would. Conversely, my daughter craves the thrill of winning and laments even the smallest of losses. She comes to me for solace after losing a real or perceived competition and I struggle — I truly struggle — to empathize. I feel guilty for not knowing how to muster deep comfort for her in her competition-based upset. But I can’t. All I can think is, “STOP ALREADY WITH THE COMPETITION!” And then, in hearing my inner voice, I feel guilty.
Competition can certainly bring about good, but it can foster the opposite too. Kind, loving people can become selfish and brutish, trampling those they strive to overtake. Secure, happy people become self-conscious or judgmental towards others in some perceived ongoing worldwide competition. However competition can also drive people to do great things and accomplish astonishing goals. It can inspire and fuel. It can lead to discoveries and growth, in addition to turmoil and callousness. As with most anything, it is simultaneously positive and negative. A true gray area.
And so I can’t in good conscience dismantle or parent away my daughter’s competitive nature, just as I wouldn’t strive to erase my middle son’s sparkly flair for the creative or my youngest son’s fearless athleticism. I can try to help my daughter navigate the world healthfully given her competitive worldview. I can try to give her coping techniques for inevitable losses and graciousness for wins. I can encourage competition with self to balance competition with others and encourage a thoughtful awareness of others to stave off self-centeredness. I can build her self-esteem and self-worth so that the outcomes of her perpetual perceived competitions do not dictate her self-worth. But I cannot make her into what and who she is not. Nor should I.
So I’ll keep struggling and trying and failing and trying again. Because I’m a human parenting humans.
Wish me luck!