Why it’s Unfair to be ‘Fair’ to your Kids
My friend is clutching a hot cup of coffee and gazing forlornly into its inky depths.
‘And then she didn’t get a medal. It was terrible. She cried all evening and she couldn’t understand why some of the others got a prize and she didn’t!’ There’s no consoling my friend, she’s been talking about her daughter’s gymnastic show for two hours already. ‘I’m going to speak to the teacher, and if it can’t be rectified I’m not letting her continue the classes.’
‘Where did she come in the competition?’ I ask. I’d seen her daughter’s attempts at a somersault so I’d already guessed the answer.
‘She came last,’ my friend replies. ‘But that’s not the point.’
Except it is. That’s exactly the point. Not everyone can be a winner and the sooner kids understand that the sooner they will get a more realistic grasp on life.
At some point not that long ago, somebody somewhere decided that in order to be fair and inclusive, all kids would be treated the same. In some Orwellian egalitarian idyll, an invisible law was created where from that day forth there would be no losers in the land of the child. That every Sports Day race run would never more have just the one winner, that parents could no longer beat their child at a board game and that every pupil in school had to be invited to every event held by their fellow classmates. That way no child was sad, that way every child felt like a winner and that way there would be no problems. Except there would be. Because life isn’t like that.
Not everyone’s a winner.
A wise friend (not the coffee clutching nervous wreck above) once said to me, ‘our children are not ours, they are on loan. Our only job is to turn them into amazing adults.’ So how exactly do we do that if we never let them lose?
Every Thursday evening for a year or two I played a game of chess with my father. He would sip his Real Ale and I would be allowed to stay up late (on the rare occasions I wasn’t beaten within ten minutes) while my mother hovered in the background looking worried.
‘Just let her win!’ she would shout from the kitchen.
‘No!!’ we would both shout back.
And he didn’t. Not once. Every Thursday we had a fair battle, and in those couple of years I beat him twice. In over one hundred games I beat my father just twice, and they were the most glorious defeats in the history of my childhood. Because I really did beat him. Me, the eager twelve year old, beat my wise and clever dad who always looked thoroughly pissed off to be outsmarted by a pre-teen. And rightly so.
Because, you see, life is full of losers and losses.
When you become an adult you quickly realise that actually life ISN’T fair. The nice guys don’t always get the girl, the greedy girls don’t always get fat, the good die young and you can’t always find the ideal job, get that perfect kiss or buy the winning scratchcard. And what are you going to do about it? Sulk? Get angry? Cry because you took part and really wanted it, Godammmit, you deserve a medal for your efforts? Or do what you did back in the day when not every kid was a winner – shrug, move on and try harder next time?
And this doesn’t only apply to life’s competitions. I was organising my childrens’ party the other day. They celebrate their birthdays in the same week, so of course (being the mean but smart mother that I am) they share a party. But I make it a big one, complete with Pinterest boards and fancy dress themes and a huge cake and enough sugar to have every mother at the school gates hating me the next day. The problem is that when you combine all the kids in their classes, their friends at their after-school clubs and the children of my friends (who, let’s face it, I need there to enjoy a drink with) it comes to over 100 kids. Would you invite 100 children to your home? No, I didn’t think so. So some children can’t come, right? Right.
Well not according to some of the pissed off mums at the school.
‘You should invite the whole class or none at all.’
‘It’s not fair, my daughter is going to be so upset she can’t go.’
‘Well don’t put the party on Facebook next week if people aren’t going to be there.’
‘But everyone should be included.’
‘You can’t leave some of the children out!’
Yes I can. And yes I will. Because:
A. I’m not a millionaire
B. I don’t have the space or the patience for that many kids
C. I don’t like all your snotty brats
D. It’s my kids’ party and my Facebook, so I can do what I want, thanks.
And E-Z. This is what happens in REAL LIFE.
You can’t be invited to everything. It doesn’t mean you are hated or being bullied, it just means the bride and groom don’t have the budget, your friend doesn’t have the space or (gasp!) some friends like their other friends more than they like you. Don’t embarrass yourself by complaining about it and looking like it’s that important to you, have you no self respect? Sometimes it’s not personal, sometimes you don’t win.
Deal with it.
If your children learn this hard lesson from the onset, it will hurt a lot less when they grow up and they will become stronger, more self assured, confident and less of an arsehole adults. So don’t go running every time the baby whimpers, don’t buy the toddler sweeties every time you go to the supermarket, explain to your child that he can’t win every game, don’t buy your daughter a gift on her brother’s birthday to make her feel less left out and don’t give prizes out to everyone on Sport’s Day.
In real life, if you excel you get rewarded… but otherwise you try harder, take your turn and be gracious in defeat.
As for my friend and her uncoordinated child?
Well that child never did perfect the somersault. In fact she went on to do at least six further after-school activities and gave up on every single one of them, encouraged by her perpetually offended mother. She’s now a petulant teen who blames everyone but herself for all her failings. Overly sensitive, she has few friends and often flies into rages – her catchphrase being ‘it’s not fair’. Her mother often asks me where she went wrong. I tend to be polite and shrug, when all I really want to say is, ‘maybe if you had let her lose more often she would be less of a loser now.’