How My Son And Nephew Taught Me To Curb My Competitive Spirit
By Yasmine Abbasakoor
PHOTO © @crystalmariesing/Twenty20
Feb 26, 2018
I am naturally competitive. I like to win. I like to win so much that when I was younger I’d have to pull myself out of friendly games so that I didn’t get too stressed out. Being competitive can be fun. It gives pointless things a point. Trash-talking is a great way to work on vocabulary skills.
I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but: it took me longer to connect to my sweet, wonderful nephew because of my own sense of competition
Unfortunately, since having kids, I’ve realized even a little bit of competition can be dangerous. In fact, when my sister-in-law and I had kids close together, I decided I needed to be done with competition altogether.
My SIL and I had boys three weeks apart. Seems ideal, unless you’re the one with the — I don’t want to say bad baby, so I’ll say… demogorgon.
When they were six months old, my nephew would fall asleep in his mother’s arms and then she would lay him on the floor wherever we were. Even in the middle of a baby play group. My darling terror only slept while being vigorously bounced up and down (a terrible way to lose the baby weight). This disparity made me feel awful about my parenting, and at times, about my extended family.
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I was barely holding on to my sanity and felt like a complete failure every time I yelled at my husband, woke up sleepless (seems like an oxymoron, it’s not) or saw other giggling babies. Insert a cousin who is a month younger, never cried and was born snoozing like a teen and I was stewing in my own rotten soup for the soul.
In fact, when my sister-in-law and I had kids close together, I decided I needed to be done with competition altogether.
Honestly, recalling these memories makes me incredibly ashamed. I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but: it took me longer to connect to my sweet, wonderful nephew because of my own sense of competition — and it wasn’t his fault that he was winning!
As the boys grew, I saw their innate love. I saw their pride in each other’s accomplishments, and from those darling toddlers, I learned how to be a grown-up. When my nephew became a playwright at the age of three, my son loved being told which role to play and what to say. And you should’ve seen my nephew cheer when my son hit a baseball to the end of the yard! Thank goodness, because believe it or not a few years later my sister-in-law and I had baby girls four days apart. And of course, her second didn’t sleep and mine was an improvement on the night demon. The old me might’ve felt smug, but I am so proud to say that all I felt was empathy. Nobody wins when babies don’t sleep! This whole experience made me treat competition within our family a little differently.
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There’s research to back up my change of attitude as well. Finland, now the baseline for excellence in education, has a standard no competition rule within and between schools. It’s antithetical to how our own school systems tend to work, but since most people are innately competitive (like me), Finland has chosen not to encourage the behaviour. The lack of competition in school hasn’t affected Finland’s national hockey teams and their students are excelling. With this in mind, I plow forward with my attempt at a competition-less life.
Now that the boys are a bit older, and my girl a little less generous than her older brother, I see their competitive sides flash with their cousins. They’re not quite as proud when one gets all the attention as when they were three. And I’m ready to handle it. I’m ready to brag openly about my niece and nephew — she has perfect comic timing and he has Hamilton memorized — especially in front of my kids. It’s hard to learn that someone else’s accomplishments in no way affect your own. What better place to practice than in your own family?