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Why I'm Super Competitive With My Son

Photograph by Twenty20

My son, now age 9, has become super-competitive in the last few months. What was once fun and games for him has seemingly turned into the end of the world. His skill level develop by leaps and bounds, and I no longer need to let him win in many of the games we play.

I also never imagined I'd care about winning. I haven't looked twice at a video game since Pac-Man was popular (I know this means that I'm way out of touch, but it's true). I considered video games a waste of time and they'd just fallen off my radar—that is, until my son and his father starting playing.

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I've never cared much for bowling, and when my son got a Wii for Christmas I thought it would be a great way for him to pass time while I cooked dinner or read a book. But somehow I've gone from being completely dismissive to full-competition mode after realizing that my son is a challenging opponent in many games.

Once when we bowled on Wii, he scored 191 points to my 87 points. I tried focusing, perfecting my aim and timing, but none of it mattered. I still couldn't compete with him. At one point I did throw a strike and my son blurted out, "You're cheating!" I was stunned by his aggression, but even more taken aback by my fiery response, "No, I'm not!" I think we went back and forth for several seconds before I remembered I'm an adult engaging with a 9-year-old.

Now, as a parent without any experience to draw from, I'm not sure if it's healthy to compete with my child.

I was raised by my grandmother. When I was young, she was too old for games, and my much younger parents weren't the game-playing kind. My father once broke his leg attempting to show me how to hurdle over the gate around our yard. He wasn't competing with me, but he surely was trying to prove a point and teach me a thing or two about track and field, which I loved growing up. He was very embarrassed as he was being placed in the ambulance. He couldn't look me in my eyes that day. We never spoke of it again.

Now, as a parent without any experience to draw from, I'm not sure if it's healthy to compete with my child, or if I should just leave the competition to him and his peers. I have to admit that my son beating me so badly in bowling has made me want to do better. (I mean, I'd like to at least lose with my dignity intact.) It's sad. I'm competitive. I don't lose well and this is a huge ego crusher for me.

But this would require me to spend energy on something I've always been happy to find just a little beneath me (even before I became a parent). I've always preferred to engage with the outdoors than be inside with my head glued to a screen. But my ex loves video games, and now my son has the best of both worlds. He plays outdoors sports and can whip some butt (particularly mine) in many video games as well.

So I either change my opinion about video games or admit they have some value. Or I continue to stand against them. But I'll find myself standing in a pool of lonely defeat while everyone in my family is having fun gathered around the television competing, laughing and cheering without me.

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I have always been an athlete, but I never imagined I'd be asking myself if I should compete with my son. It had never crossed my mind that he'd be better than I am at any kind of game.

But even with my competitive side, the best part really is that my son is excelling in many areas of his life, especially when people usually expect otherwise. I want this for him. I want him to beat me in nearly everything because he is genuinely good at it and has pushed for it, because we've competed fairly and I deserve it. And after every game, I want to walk away angry that I've lost yet happy that I've been authentically beaten by my son, who has surprised and surpassed me one more time.

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