Why I never let my kid win games. By Alyssa Giacobbe for's "Bad Parent" column.


Bad Parent: Tough Luck, Kid

Why I never let my four-year-old win at games. by Alyssa Giacobbe

April 16, 2009


We’ve just wrapped up a riveting game of Memory, in which all the cards feature toddler versions of superheroes like Spiderman, Captain America, and the one Noah, my four-year-old opponent, calls the Hunk when Noah stands and turns to his dad, busy reading the newspaper, and announces “Daddy, I won!”

“Er, no you didn’t,” I protest from my spot on the floor. Over on the couch, Bob shakes his head without looking up. I ignore this.

“Yes!” Noah repeats. “I did. I won!”

I call him back and point to my stack of cards. “You know how to count,” I say. “Though, actually, you don’t even need to. Look at how much bigger my pile is than yours.” He collapses down onto all fours and fingers the cardboard squares before mashing the lot together so that mine become his, and vice versa. “You’re getting closer, though,” I say. “I bet when we play again, you’ll beat me for sure.” Except he won’t. I win every time. As Bob is sure to tell me, it’s not hard to win at a mind game when your competition, on occasion, still pees next to, rather than into, the toilet.

To be clear, I’m not exactly the parent. Noah is my boyfriend’s son. But because Bob and I have been dating for nearly three years and live together – and I spend as much time with Noah as he does, which is nearly half the month – I am more than just “Daddy’s special friend.” When Noah relieves himself on his father’s bathroom cabinet, he relieves himself on my bathroom cabinet, too.

As Noah and I have discussed, I am not his mother. I don’t try to be. I don’t discipline him unless he’s harassing my cat or acting particularly mean (like the various times he’s cheered after learning I was not, in fact, coming sledding, or to the movies, or for a drive. This never seems to get old). And while I will let Noah take the prize in what I know he must view as the contest for his father’s attention, I will not forfeit, for forfeit’s sake, first place in Candyland, Wii Ski, or Memory.

My firm stance on winning and losing is the closest I come to imposing values of any sort on this child who is not my own. Bob hasn’t yet bought in, skeptical of what he calls my shameless competitive nature and minimal innate parental wisdom. (“Look who’s acting like a four-year-old now,” he says, whenever I deprive his son of the belief that, at last, he’s emerged victorious from a game of Mario Cart. “No,” I tell him. “You actually came in twelfth.”) For his part, Bob practices a moderate halfsies approach to game-playing: Noah is guaranteed a win at least half the time.