Parenthood, the Show: My Secret Shame Takes on Losing




Fine, I admit it. I like the show Parenthood. I don’t mind that in every episode there’s a moment of conflict that could be resolved with a simple chat but is instead inflated to only-on-TV proportions. I don’t mind that half the people on it seem like they don’t know what they’re doing … until the end of the episode, when they suddenly figure it all out and everyone dances. (OK, maybe the dancing was last season — they seemed to have taken the hint.)

I have friends who love the show, who totally relate. And I have friends who don’t like watching late at night a show about all the parenting conflict they just had during the day — which, I understand completely. But I’m riveted. I like it. I once even talked about the man crush I had/have on the stay-at-home dad character, which brings me to the topic of the day: Letting kids win. Or lose.

In a recent episode, the girl in the SAHD family — she’s what, 7 or so? — lost in a game of checkers or some such and completely lost it. I’m talking full-on, all-night screaming. Turns out the parents always let her win. And losing was not something she was used to. Ouch.

I let my daughter win every now and then, I admit it. Then there are days when she legitimately beats me to the corner in a foot race, because she has the start-up speed of a cheetah and my cranky muscles take a good half block to warm up. If it’s a short race, there’s a good chance she can beat me. But then there are the times it’s close and I purposefully cave at the end, slowing to let her take the lead. Then there are the times I dust her.

In board games or living room jumping matches or whatever, I try to maintain a balance: She wins some, she loses some. We shake hands at the end and say, “Good game.” She’s becoming a good sport.

This wasn’t always the case. I remember a couple rounds of Candyland when she was downright angry to lose, going off to sulk in a corner. I made her play another game and ended up beating her. She cried some more and we played some more and I beat her again. In my opinion, losing is good for the soul. You can’t possibly go through life winning everything. It’s a good lesson. But at the same time, so is winning: the feeling of accomplishment after working hard toward an end. That has to do wonders, too. And these are games, not life obstacles. So I try to strike a balance.

Now, she’s five, and there’s many a game that ends depending on my level of benevolence at the time. But there are also some games she’s learning to master and has actually beaten me fair and square. With those games, it’s an even match and I don’t worry about the win-loss balance. I just play and let the fates decide. With physical games, I imagine I’ll beat her until she’s 14 or so. So I’m sure I’ll try to strike a balance of keeping her joy of sports up while at the same time not letting victories go to her head.

How do you handle wins with the kids? How do they handle losing? And how do you strike a balance — or should you?

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