Growing up, my dad never let me win at any games. A game of H.O.R.S.E. in the driveway? He usually triumphed. Scrabble? He beat me at that, too. And Gin Rummy? He was the reigning champ. But despite my less than stellar track record at winning, I always came back for more. I liked the challenge. I like pushing myself a little bit more each time to see what I was capable of. And I liked knowing that if and when I did win, it was because I truly earned it.
"Let's play again, dad," I'd say after a defeat, usually at Gin Rummy. "OK," he'd always respond. And we'd go again.
Winning because they earned it and fought their way to the top is a feeling I want them to have, even if it doesn't happen every single time.
Losing that game over and over again never got old. I never realized in the moment that he was teaching me a valuable lesson, but now that I'm older, I'm so grateful for it. By not letting me win, my dad taught me how to lose — with grace, conviction, and with more perseverance than when the game started. And it's become a vital lesson I carry with me in life. No one wins all the time. We deal with disappointments, heartache, and hurdles that we must catapult ourselves over. My dad not letting me win all the time really helped prepare me for that.
When I played soccer in high school, losing games stung a little, but I could easily look forward to the next match, determined to do better. When I got denied from a couple of colleges, I worked harder at applying to others. And now as a writer, if someone rejects something I've written, I find someone who will listen. Yes, rejection will always suck, but the fact that my father never coddled me allows me to pick my head up and move on.
But now that I'm a mother, I'll admit that it's a lot harder than I thought to not always let my children win. As parents, we don't want to watch our kids suffer through anything. I want to see them smiling and happy, feeling accomplished and invincible. But I know that if I let them win, I'm not really helping them at all. I know that if I can't teach my kids how to lose at age 6, then losing at age 16 will be that much harder. Winning because they earned it and fought their way to the top is a feeling I want them to have, even if it doesn't happen every single time.
My job as a mom is not to try and shelter my kids from life's disappointments, but instead give them the tools to overcome obstacles. Without these tools, how will they grow into independent, persevering adults? Yes, my dad and I were simply playing a friendly game of cards, but it was so much more than that. I didn't beat him in Gin Rummy until my 30s, but damn, did it feel good when I finally did.