My kid will never be the best.
I almost did not use that phrase as my title, because something about it just sounds wrong, or negative, or unsupportive, or…realistic.
If I am to be completely honest, I do have a bias for my own daughter. Of course I think she is the most beautiful, intelligent, amazing person I have ever seen, but that is because I grew her in my own body and she is quite literally a part of me. No other person on the planet has that connection with her, and I consider myself immensely blessed for that reason. But I know that despite my undying and unconditional love for her, the world does not think of her in the same way. In the world, she is merely another human, another child with only potential, another consumer of resources. She will be another face in a classroom, just one in a crowd.
With the onset of toddlerhood, I find myself needing to re-evaluate my thoughts and attitudes about parenting. In other words, I have learned that parenting your child as a newborn and an infant is piece of cake compared to parenting the wrathful, strong-willed force of nature that is a toddler. The other day my toddler cried because I tried to give her strawberries, one of her favorite foods; then she cried because I put them away. This time is a constant test of a parent’s resolve- this is the time when a child learns that he or she is not the center of the world. They learn that all their needs will be met, but not all of their desires will be fulfilled. They learn that screaming and crying will or will not make people give them what they want.
As a parent, it is my job to make sure that Coco learns the truth that she is not the best. In fact, no one is. There will always be people who are more talented, more intelligent, and more beautiful than her. I have such a strong dislike for participation trophies and certificates- some sports for young children don’t even keep score during games anymore. What does this teach our children? I understand that the goal is to teach children how to cooperate on a team and cultivate love of physical activity, but even good intentions can have damaging side-effects. When no one wins and no one loses, and everyone receives a prize and a cookie after the game, we miss out on a critical life lesson: you will lose. And when you lose, you will be sad, but you will be okay, and you will try again and keep improving. If I never allow my child to acknowledge that she has failed, or lost, or fallen short, I will only be cultivating a person with a delusional perception of herself as superior to others, as more deserving than the next person.
Instead of being the smartest person in her class, I want her to be inquisitive and driven by a love of learning. Instead of being the best in sports or music I want her to always be looking for areas where she can improve. Instead of being the most accomplished of her peers, I want her to be loving, inclusive, kind and respectful to everyone. I want her to have a genuine heart, and an authentic spirit. I want her to know her flaws, and be humbled by them. I do not want her to win every time because she needs to know how to deal with failure. She needs to realize that, despite her failures and shortcomings, she is still worthy of love and respect. She needs to learn that rewards come from hard work, but also that my love (and ideally the love of everyone else) does not depend on recognition and accomplishments. She is not perfect, but she is good enough.
While I cannot do much about the fact that Coco will constantly be bombarded with messages from school and activities that “Everyone wins!” I do know that it all starts with my parenting. How she deals with failure and disappointment depends on me not making her think my love is based on her accomplishments, or on the condition that she is “the best”. I will love her always, even though she is not the best and does not always deserve a reward or prize. In the throes of a recent tantrum in the middle of a parking lot, I finally realized the meaning behind the phrase “Parenting is not for the faint of heart.” It takes a particular kind of strength to handle a full on toddler-tantrum with patience, grace, and a firm will; however, this kind of strength and tough love can be developed. It can be learned and grown with practice and with reflection and through forgiving yourself when you make mistakes, and through trying again when you think you have reached your limit. Because, let’s be real, you aren’t the best parent, and you never will be- and if we want to teach them, what better way than to lead by example?
Okay, discussion time, go! Do all kids deserve a trophy for showing up? Is it damaging when “everyone wins”?