Adventures in Co-Parenting: "Healthy" Competition

BW7A8382_ppby Katie Nemer and Julie Cox

With the Finest Fillies & Some Colts event just around the corner and us co-authors on competing teams, we couldn’t think of a better topic for our summer column than that sticky hot and sensitive, beautiful word- competition.  It’s an especially touchy subject in mom-land, a circumstance we will [hopefully] lighten up for you. So sit back, relax, grab an ice cream cone, and read on…

Just admit it- winning feels good. We both love winning.  One of us is an avid Trivia night player/die hard spelling bee champion, and the other will spend months training intensively for any upcoming race just to take home a cheap silly little plastic medal. So believe us when we say it’s a competitive world we live in; we totally get it.

*However* what if we sometimes take it a little too seriously… so seriously that we end up hurting each other and taking the fun out the experience in the process. In that case, is the medal at all worth it? And especially in the parenting world… is there really such a thing as “Healthy” competition? And what happens in a co-parenting situation when you’re thrown into the same ring?

Julie-

I suppose I'm not competitive in the traditional sense.  I never held any illusions during high school or college regarding my athletic prowess.  I was generally happy to ride the bench, keep the books, or cheer loudly from the sideline rather than score the game-winning shot.  In fact, I held the job of team manager for both my high school and college women's basketball teams and the only time my competitive blood started to boil was if any of my impeccable score-keeping skills were ever brought into question by a ref or someone on the other team. I may not have been a star on the court, but my fair and proper record-keeping game was strong.

Not surprisingly, my affinity for being correct as well as an obsession with trivia and obscure facts thrives into adulthood.  My husband and I have weekly intense Jeopardy competitions and when we can get out to a local tavern for trivia night, we generally place in the top three.  The night before I was to be induced with my first son, we didn't hesitate to belly up to the bar and take on all the local college-kid teams under the all too appropriate team moniker "I Think My Water Just Broke." We won a six-pack and then welcomed our son approximately twelve hours later. Both were shining moments for me.

I try my best not to subscribe to the whole mommy-competition game. But I see it. And I hear it. And I read it all over the Internet. And from time to time I've felt the pull to throw my hat in the ring where it's every mom for herself.  It does feel great when my child excels at something or if I figure out a new parenting trick that happens to work for me.  I may be able to name Shakespeare's plays in order and correctly identify any 90s hip hop song in 10 seconds or less, but I don't have even close to all the answers to figuring out how to be a great mom. Most of the time I think I'm doing pretty well, but then sometimes I think I know absolutely nothing at all.

The thing is, the reasons I've always loved the sports teams I've managed and trivia teams I've played on is because I got to be part of a team.  I'm lucky to be part of many different teams - my family, my girlfriends, my co-workers, and of course, Team Jackson. As is true in most cases, mommy-competition could have reared its ugly head and drawn a line in the sand between his mom and me many times.  Like for example, when Jackson finds himself bored at my house and calls Katie to see what they’re up to in case their day’s plans seem to be more fun.  When this situation presents itself I simply take advantage of the opportunity to jump on the phone and ask Katie what kind of circus act she’s hired for the day and if she’d mind sharing the number with me.

Katie-

I was about five years old when my Dad first put a baseball bat in my hand.  I swung and missed, night after night as Dad yelled out “What the heck Kate!  It’s easy!  Just hit the ball!” and every time I’d fall over trying and we’d both laugh hysterically, until finally one beautiful summer evening… crack! That’s when I heard my Pop’s infamous whistle followed by a “Yeah Gator!!!”  He was proud.  I was proud.  We ate ice cream.  And it was so fun.  The crack of a bat is still to this day my favorite sound of spring.

My Dad’s contagious spirit and competitive nature stayed with me as I grew older, playfully challenging friends at any given opportunity while always remembering Dad’s words- laugh a lot, try your best, but never take it too seriously.  The harsh truth Dad didn’t tell me- everyone else does.

Take motherhood for example. I still remember my first playgroup in a wealthy suburb of Syracuse.  I dressed myself thoughtfully in what I like to think of as cute comfy casual sporty chic (you know you have that outfit too) and got very excited just thinking about the games and activities I anticipated playing with the other moms and our kids.  Poor, dumb, me.

When I got there it was obvious I was very young and definitely did not fit in. I got stared at, talked about, pointed at, whispered behind and totally left out. The conversations that did come were more about what skills my baby was able to do or not do than who we were as people. The fun was gone.  The smack talk was not allowed.  And I don’t remember the menu situation exactly but I can tell you there was definitely no comforting ice cream cone afterwards.

By the time I met Julie years later, I had totally given up on the concept of ‘mom friends’.  But she was so different- nerdy (like super hero nerdy), funny, extremely smart (see through people’s b.s. smart), and would gladly show up at a race to cheer me on rather than secretly crossing her fingers I lost.  Actually I’m pretty sure she prayed I’d never invite her to do one with me.  Just like I prayed she’d never ask me to one of her English teacher quizzes-are-fun genius gatherings.

It felt less threatening in a way, us being so different. We had a mutual respect for each other. That was until the day Jackson came home and asked me for “Julie’s ribs” because they were “better”.  That’s when I had a decision to make. I figured, well, I have one of two options.  I can either take some good cooking lessons and try a little harder, or, grab a pint of ice cream and a spoon and hide in a part of the house where no one would find me for a few hours until I felt better.

Conclusion

Don’t allow our friendship to mislead you into thinking we aren’t competitive at times. It’s very difficult not to feel it when you have a charming 14 year old letting you know (nicely) that one of you makes his favorite meal better than the other, and that the other house currently has a better gaming selection.

But competition means something different to everyone and by this point in motherhood we have both found a way (thankfully) to be thrown in the same arena, pitted against each other, and to not take it too seriously. Sometimes you have to laugh it off, take off your “I win” hat, and help each other be better rather than tearing each other down with every inevitable misstep. But not to worry, win or lose there’s always light at the end of every tunnel, and neither one of us is opposed to mis-stepping our way over to the comfort of our good friends Ben & Jerry.

Katie Nemer and Julie Hahn Cox are mom and stepmom to the incredible 14 year old Jackson.  Together they write their column, “Adventures in Coparenting” for Mamatoga magazine.  Their published work can be found at www.adventuresincoparenting.com.

Watch Katie and Julie compete in the upcoming Finest Fillies & Some Colts event Wednesday July 20th at 7pm at Vapor night club.  All proceeds benefit Jake’s Help from Heaven.