Let Them Lose

I don’t like losing. I mean, no one likes losing, but I find it a particularly hard pill to swallow. I always have.

Do you know how every person has that one story about themselves that is told so frequently that it becomes a part of the family myth? You know the one. The story that is told to your close friends, to the first real boyfriend you bring home, even retold to your children. Mine is about losing at Candy Land. One infamous night in the late eighties my family gathered around our kitchen table for a spirited game night. Most likely I chose the red gingerbread and set my sights firmly on Candy Castle by way of Gumdrop pass. But that fateful night I did not emerge victorious. I lost, and then I proceeded to throw that board game across the room, launching Lord Licorice and Princess Lolly through the air, and landing myself in timeout with a very stern talk about “gracious losers” on the horizon.

I remember that night pretty distinctly, not only because I have heard the retelling more times than I wish to count, but also because I truly remember the pain (and embarrassment) I felt when I realized I was not going to win.

As a parent I have a newfound perspective and appreciation for the situation. First of all, it is not easy to see your children lose. It’s not really ease to see anyone lose. Have you seen the closeups of professional athletes when they don’t win, on their knees, hands covering their faces for all the world to see? It’s brutal. There’s something about grown men in uniforms crying that makes me weep. Want to add more emotion? Turn those grown men into sweet, hopeful, and vulnerable children who really, really want to win the big game, and just keep the Kleenex coming.

But guess what? The losing doesn’t stop. We lose games, contests, friendships, family members. It’s a lesson we need to learn because life is going to be full of losing, even for those lucky few who seem to catch all the breaks. Chances are, we will lose more than we will win in this game of life. It sounds harsh, I know, but it’s true. So, let’s lose around people we love who won’t disown us when we throw board games and who will know just what to say when being a runner up feels like just about the worst thing ever.

My Dad didn’t let me win. Not that night in Candy Land when an impending meltdown was probably very apparent to him, not ever. My Mom thought he should. Sometimes I wish he had. But now, I am so glad he didn’t. To be completely candid, I’m pretty sure I inherited my competitive streak from my Dad, so I’m not sure if he was motivated by good parenting or simply didn’t want to lose himself, but nevertheless I am glad he gave me lots of practice losing. He let me sulk (momentarily), and then he challenged me to a rematch.

In another life I was a teacher and coach, and I saw many parents try very hard to shield their children from disappointment, to try to avoid losing. At the time, childless myself, I underestimated the primal instinct to protect and certainly didn’t understand the secondhand pain of watching a person you created suffer disappointment, but I also witnessed the entitlement and the complete unpreparedness for life that comes with not learning how to lose and lose graciously.

My daughter, a spirited and dare I say competitive four-year-old, played in her first soccer league this past summer. I was taken aback by how hard it was for me to watch her falter and sometimes fall. For now, I think it’s still harder for me when she “loses” because she didn’t seem to care much about the eight unanswered points scored against her team as long as she had some “good snacks” for which to look forward at halftime. But I have a feeling she will have her own Candy Land moment at some point, and I can only hope when that day arrives that I will have the grace and patience to let her lose and then help her pick up the pieces.

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