Life Beyond Competition

Like most other mornings, today I was struggling hard to make the girls eat their breakfast. I feel like an achiever on the days they eat properly on their own. Sadly these privileged moments are far and few between. In short, how well my girls have performed on the breakfast table drives my mood during the day.

Look, when it comes to feeding my kids, I admit I am a fussy mom. As a result, I sometimes end up messing things. My husband often intervenes and advises me to keep it cool. He tells me to let the kids get away with having had only a small bite. He constantly reminds me that this is small stuff that I shouldn’t sweat over. But it’s not easy to fight the instincts of motherhood.

Today was no different. We were late for the school and the girls were yet to finish their milk. While Dhvani was relishing her milk, Avani looked uninterested. Feeling hurried I wanted Avani to finish her milk quickly. And then it happened instinctively.

Fabulous! You are gulping your milk so quickly, I told Dhvani, “You are very close to coming first. Well done. Finish it all.”

This caught Avani’s attention. She was clearly irked. Picking up her glass, she said — ”I also want to come first. It’s not Dhvani, it’s me who will come first.” And with that she emptied her glass little too quickly.

I saw my husband giving me strange looks from the corner of the room. It suddenly dawned on me that he didn’t appreciate my method and I realized my mistake. We had agreed that the last thing we want our girls to do is to turn their lives into a mindless race. Race for grades with peers, race among themselves for seeking their parent’s approval, race for conventional excellence.

We’ve defined our responsibility as parents, i.e., to expose them to a variety of choices and then let them explore the world from thereon.

This incident became our topic of conversation later that day. We spoke about how at a certain stage in our life, we’ve all been exposed to the Rat Race. There are few who totally enjoy it depending upon their individual goals and few who totally shy away from the same. And there are some others who have enjoyed this race initially (when they were much younger) but have toned down at a later stage of their lives. So willingly or unwillingly all of us have been a part of this race during some phases of our lives.

The culture that we are a part of constantly subjects you to a lot of social pressures. While growing up there was the invisible pressure of doing well in competitive exams and striving for bright career.
It was common to get compared with your cousins and friends. Once you are able to choose a career line the next in the row is finding yourself a good job, needless to say slightly better than your fellow friends and classmates. This is followed up by getting married, having kids, owning a home, a car, etc. There is no end to this list.

These social pressures are not always external. Most often they’re a creation of your own mind. The need to maintain a particular lifestyle becomes inevitable and this makes you fall prey to the Rat Race. All of us have faced this at some point and it’s maddeningly hard to resist yourself from getting webbed into this. You’re running on a treadmill — constantly upgrading your lifestyle, your short term and long term goals. All this makes it impossible to break out of this vicious cycle called the Rat Race.

That said, I am not against the idea of competitiveness. I strongly believe that being ambitious and having aspirations in life are very much required to keep oneself going. But you need to keep reminding yourself daily that living like a racing rat is another kettle of fish.

Our tribe is aware of the existence of this rat race. We have been a part of it, we have dealt with it, loved it, hated it experienced it, and I am sure everyone has decided a timeline for themselves to come out of it. In short, we are well aware of the pros and cons of it and we have the capability of handling it. This may not be a serious concern at this hour. What demands attention is refraining kids from being a part of this race at such an early stage.

Once our kids grow up each one of them will have their own individual journeys filled with unique challenges. They will be exposed to this race of excellence on their own timeframe. I feel it would be wrong on our part to handhold them during that phase. They should be left free to take their own calls, live with the consequences of their decisions and learn from them. This is not to say that you don’t want to save them from obvious blunders. But largely your interference should be limited to sharing with them your understanding of right and wrong and your rationale but beyond that, they’re on their own.

We can contribute to the future of our kids by allowing them to build the confidence that they can excel in whatever they choose to do. But we also need to tell them that they don’t have strive for everything that others are doing. Their race should always be with their own self not with someone out there. We need to tell them that Tortoise didn’t win the race because it left the rabbit behind but because it wanted to experiment with its own limitations. Doing at least this bit is in our control, hoping them to be happy in their shoes and space.

Today the world has become more competitive for kids starting at a very early age than it was at our time. There is altogether a different race of excellence being run. The various events and reality shows happening on the Television is a proof that the kids are feeling the pressure to outdo others. On the other hand, it’s heartening to see that new methodologies of teaching is being accepted wherein grades are not given importance, and the methods and practices have changed, norms are being broken. Kids of different, age, likes, and mind are part of a class together.

Coming back to the instance where I was probing Dhvani to compete for the first place, the damage had already been done. The girls picked up a fight later arguing over who would come first. Post that I started reminding them that participation is more important than coming first. Now, whenever the discussion of coming first starts they immediately correct themselves stating that “First and second kuch nahi hota hai, participate karna important hota hai”.

I see a future where the girls will never feel the examination pressure. Rather we plan to give them tiny vacation right before their exams. The only efforts they have to make is to pass the exam.