Competitive parenting is a dangerous game. And I’m not talking about the kind of competition that involves keeping up with the family next door. I’m talking about intra family competition- parent vs. parent.
This kind of competition: I have changed the last seventeen dirty diapers. So, don’t roll your eyes at me when I ask you to take out the trash.
It should. Every parent has kept score at one time or another. If you haven't, chances are your spouse has.
Competitive parenting is hard to avoid for most couples. Why? Because when children are involved, to-do lists grow by miles and the stress of raising little people gets overwhelming. As a result, keeping score of tasks- even subconsciously- becomes a hard habit to break.
To some extent, it’s natural and necessary to keep track of tasks. It’s important to share parental duties, so that one parent doesn’t become overworked, overstressed, and feel ready to jump of a cliff. After all, parenting is - by nature - a team sport. But there’s a fine line between peacefully delegating tasks and tallying them so you can point the finger in the other direction the next time the dog needs a bath.
If you dabble in competitive parenting, you aren’t alone.
My husband and I are both variations of Type A personalities, and most days, we make a good team. His Type A personality is immediately apparent when you meet him. I’m more of a sneaky, subtle Type A. But we have our respective competitive natures in common. For each of us, it’s a best and worst quality.
In our first few years together, we learned how to push each other’s buttons. And then we spent the next several years learning why it’s always a bad idea to push those buttons. As a result of our inadvertent research, we don’t play board games, we don’t watch Jeopardy, we don’t even play Tic Tac Toe.
We can’t help but compete in life- it’s our nature. So, we have to dance around all the buttons. One thing we can't dance around? Parenting.
We parent day in/day out and most days, we win as a team. But some days we don’t. In the really hectic moments of parenting, it seems difficult to tackle bath time for the 8th night in a row. It seems silly, I know. But, when you are in the moment, the struggle is real.
It’s on those stressful days that I have to take a step back and think to another place in time. When we were planning our vows, the pastor who married us spoke about keeping score. He foretold of the times when it would be easy to see your spouse as an enemy. We talked about how the very person you love the most in the world could become your arch enemy in a matter of seconds.
It wasn’t a foreign concept; we had experienced our fair share of disagreements over our five-year courtship. But seeing the other one as an enemy? We didn’t. Even though it seemed a bit strange at the time, on the day we met each other down the aisle, we said, “I am not your enemy.”
Today, it makes sense. The stress of life becomes heavier in adulthood. Mortgages are expensive, work is taxing on the body and mind, and parenting may be the most challenging job of a person’s life.
But, I am not my husband’s enemy. We married each other so we could take on life as a team. When our child runs a fever, and I have no one else to turn to, I know I have my husband. When our future seems uncertain and I lay awake at night, I have a hand to hold. And when we celebrate successes in life, his is the first neck I hug.
As spouses, we commit to facing life’s obstacles and enjoying life’s triumphs together. It's not always easy, but I've come to learn that marriage is a team sport. If one parent keeps score, everyone loses.
So I'm kicking competitive parenting to the curb, and I'm taking the trash can with me. No it's not my turn to take the trash out, but who's keeping score? Not me.