Growing up I was only exposed to a single parenting style – that of my parents – but now that I’m a parent who talks to and observes other parents I’ve come to realize that there is no singular correct child-rearing philosophy. Every parent I’ve ever met essentially wants their children to be successful, but what is success? I guess at its basest level a successful adult is someone who can exist independently, in other words someone who isn’t a drain on his/her parents. But can simply existing without constantly having to ask your mom and dad for an allowance be considered success. For some yes, for others no.
Folks of my generation freely throw about the work loser: he’s a loser, she’s a loser, they’re losers. Perhaps this is an offshoot of our capitalist society; capitalism is definitely all about winning and losing. But is it really that cut and dried? Do sayings like “second place is the first loser,” or “if you don’t win you’ve lost,” speak any kind of truth? When I look back on my own life, though I’ve entered I’m sure over one hundred competitions, I’ve never won anything (I did win the cub scout pinewood derby once, but my dad built that car), does that make me a loser. Eighteen years after saying my vows I still have a happy marriage, my kids are nearly perfect, I’ve climbed an eight thousand meter peak – no oxygen – completed two Ironman races, ran five marathons, posses a graduate degree (I think that piece of paper is around here somewhere) have a loving extended family and have a circle of friends that would be the envy of any man, so I really don’t feel like a loser. But still I’ve never taken home that gold medal.
The reason that I’m pondering this is because I’m continually pondering whether or not I’m doing a passable job as a parent. Over the years my kids have been involved in a number of sports and during that time I’ve observed a number of boys and girls who are obsessed with winning. The sport/event is fun and worthwhile if and only if they can win. It would be easy to say “well look at the parents,” but that isn’t the case: some of the most laid back parents have the most driven kids – at least that’s how it appears to the outside observer. It’s a kind of chicken/egg thing: is the fastest kid in the class naturally talented and therefore pushes himself because he knows he can win, or does he possess only average talent but is willing to push harder because he hates to lose. Do these kids love winning or hate losing? Personally I think it’s less of the former and more of the later.
I’ve never entered any competition with the expectation of winning and therefore have never been all that disappointed when I didn’t stand atop the podium. This isn’t to say that I don’t try hard: in the triathlon world I’m a fifty percenter, but I still train incredibly hard and race as though I’m being chased by the devil. I know a lot of people hold the philosophy “if you can’t win don’t enter,” I also know that a lot of parents think they are doing their children a favor by demanding that they win – that they crush the opposition – it’s a dog eat dog world out there, you’d better have the sharpest teeth. That’s a tough philosophy for me to swallow. I suppose I’ll just keep going with what feels right, and I suppose I don’t regret telling my son “who cares if he won today, in ten years he’ll be selling you shoes.”