When you have a kid that’s good at pretty much everything, you sometimes want him to lose. I want to share the valuable lessons on losing and what it teaches our kids. This story reflects just that.
A few years ago, my son was in an annual JiuJitsu tournament. He competed with kids in his age group from several different schools, and for the first two rounds of grappling, he won his matches with ease. I took a picture of him after one of the wins, and posted it on FB with the hashtags: #Fierce #Strong #Winner. This is all true.
But there is so much more to this story.
As the day unfolded things changed, and my heart continued to twist into regret that I used one particular hashtag: #Winner. There is a profound hypocritical piece to this, of which I am still struggling to resolve.
You see, after those two wins, while we waited during the halftime break, my son came to stand by me as he said: “It’s so easy, mom.”
Here is where it gets real.
My boy is good at pretty much everything he does. It all comes easily to him. He’s incredibly gifted in athletics and academics, and can pretty much do anything he wants to do and do it quite well. He is used to winning, familiar with success, and rarely fails or falls.
I don’t like that one bit.
This has fed his perfectionism and created this innate prideful programming in his mind through his formative years. He fears being lesser than or imperfect, and he anticipates and expects to be the best at everything he pursues. He works hard at times to assure he stays on the top- but he has rarely felt the weight of being submerged on the bottom.
He talks about the angst he feels to make sure he holds the “class record” for all the P.E. tests. He shares with excitement about winning races, or his ongoing scores while playing soccer or football or basketball at recess. He gloats about his high reading levels and how he can solve a math problem before his peers.
He lives on top. And he loves it there.
Now, don’t get me wrong- there is a fierce force within him to be kind, compassionate, and thoughtful despite this hidden arrogance. There is another drive to work hard and be fair and invest in his gifts with a sense of integrity and duty. There is also an innocence to his confidence that is naturally birthed without blame but rather motivated by his abilities and the sheer determination and a natural drive to be the best he can be. I’m all for that.
We all need that motivation, that determination, and that confidence in who we are and what we can offer this world and ourselves, and sometimes a little pressure is a good thing.
But the problem I see isn’t in his skills or gifts or strong instincts…
It’s the missing element in his life that will grow him in new ways.
I want to enrich his world with opportunities that provide a bit of a pile-up…
Instead of always being on top-
I want my kid to be on the bottom.
So after he said how easy the past two matches have been, I immediately challenged him. I told him he needed to go to the next age group where there are much bigger kids. My ten-year-old is fairly small, and these kids were big. On that particular mat, there were kids who were 11 and 12 years old and some looked even older. They used additional submissive techniques like choke holds and arm bars, where there was evident danger and risk.
I pushed for that mat because although it feels un-easy and conflicting, I know when my kids are in need of the nudge. What’s worse than staying safe and not daring to go another step? The deep longing of regret after the opportunity has passed.
I sensed his fear, his resistance, and his need for staying in his safe world of success.
He eyed the big kids and the fierce grappling on that mat, and claimed it was too much.
I kept pushing. I told him, he isn’t challenged and he isn’t growing or learning in the comfort zone he is in. I charged him to take brave steps into the new ring and dare to fail. I told him with utter honesty that he was bailing out for the sake of his pride. I call it like I see it. That’s how I parent.
I pushed more. He pulled back and we did a dance of pushing and pulling for a while until I pulled rank as his mom.
We walked over to his coach and I asserted the need for him to be challenged, while my kid continued to tiptoe on that fine line between wanting to go for it and needing to not budge one bit. He kept saying “Maybe after one more match”, and I kept repeating “NOW or never.”
I’m sure his coach thought I was a horrible pushy aggressive hardcore monster of a mom, as he watched me battle with my boy with that “LOOK AT ME!” lecture, while my boy grew increasingly antsy with darting eyes- agitated and unsettled with it all. I was startlingly aggressive in my stance, and it felt ugly and mean and conflicting.
I don’t know why this beast within me was birthed, but as I process it all now- I realize it was that one word: “Easy” that got me.
I don’t want him to think life is easy. Because it’s not. I don’t want his perspective to be a landscape of easy. Easy doesn’t grow you. Easy doesn’t challenge you. Easy doesn’t take you to new places where you have to muddle through the messy hard parts of life, scavenging the bottom looking for signs of strength.
I believe I wanted my boy to grow from the bottom more than I wanted him to triumph on the top. It became this passionate pivotal moment for me- to persuade and push my boy-
To ultimately lose.
I wanted so desperately to take away the easy… And lead him into the hard.
I knew he would end up on the bottom. The bottom of some big older kid who would have him in a chokehold. I was aware that this was a daring move, but at that moment I felt this desperate disgust against anything easy for my kid. I wanted to throw him under the pile.
It turns out they found the strongest fighter in the same grappling age group as my kid- and paired them up for the next round.
My kid lost that match. I think he may have tasted the matt more than once while he fought hard from the bottom.
It was difficult to watch. I wanted to cry and rescue him. I wanted to take back everything I did and said. Because as much I knew this needed to happen, I also am well aware that watching my kid remain on top is always enjoyable for me to witness. Turns out, we both battled on the bottom.
And it’s exactly where we needed to be.
My precious #fierce #strong son lost that battle.
And I couldn’t be more proud.
We left that tournament a little worn, a little raw and a little unresolved.
But what I’m most proud of is how my kid lost.
He didn’t fall apart, question his worth, or get angry at me or at himself. He was able to recognize how brutally strong and skilled that kid was who defeated him. He seemed to accept his limitations and quietly celebrate his efforts- both with a sense of integrity and a ripened taste of reality. I believe he got a bit rattled, but I also witnessed new forming character traits- the ones I want so desperately for him to grow.
The bottom doesn’t have to be that bad. We can actually learn a lot more from down there than from up top. Challenges and tests and trials are not easy– but we will come out a little bit stronger, a whole lot wiser, and interestingly enough…
We can even feel like a winner, having fought the fight hard. My boy felt pretty good about how hard he fought against that guy, despite not winning the match.
I’d add the hashtag #Winner to that loss any day because he proved to be more of a winner on the bottom than he was on the top.
This post was first published over at Her View From Home.
I couldn’t agree more…you’re never going to be on top all the time, and the sooner we all understand that, the better off we are. My kids are runners and while they certainly have their share of successes, they see those that are faster as an opportunity to be challenged. It’s a chance for them to improve, and get pushed harder. Best of both worlds, in my opinion.
Michelle! What a wonderful surprise to see you here! I hope you are doing great, friend. 🙂 I know you would totally agree with this. It’s a critical part of “growing up” and if our kids can’t handle adversity and challenges and loss- we have failed them. Those are survival skills needed in LIFE.
Janine Huldie says
Chris, I am with you too not his. Recently, my oldest didn’t win at a school sponsored after school Bingo event. She was not very happy about it as up until then she pretty easily won at most that she tried, including the years past with the annual Bingo event. But in 3rd grade they make a bit harder and challenging for the kids to win. Well, my kid was one of those kids who didn’t win. Again, she came out a bit defeated and deflated. But it made the perfect opportunity to discuss and she learned that she won’t always be a winner. But that still is OK and she needs to pick herself up and try again at the very least. So again, truly agree with you messaging here.
YES, exactly that, Janine. I’m glad you were able to use that loss as an opportunity to discuss how to handle losing with your sweet girl!
My Inner Chick says
It’s our society, which talks about WINNING, Staying on top, Being a Boss.
Have you seen that horrible commercial yet? ( about Winning )
I don’t like it either, Chris.
Sometimes it’s the striving, the struggle, the climbing that makes us who we are!
NO- what commercial? I rarely watch commercials now that I can DVR everything. LOL. But yes, our society has gone WAY off the path when it comes to empowering them too much and protecting our kids from the REALITY they will most certainly face in life- they won’t always win.
I am with you on this. Things seem to go so easily for Scarlet and I was never that kid. Although it varied. I could be a fierce winner, or not, but things didn’t always go well. I like the idea of my kids being challenged. Scarlet did get her butt handed to her in soccer, though!
Go, Scarlet! 🙂 Yeah, our kids NEED to face challenges and learn to work through them. My gosh, life is about 90% of that, and 10% easy. If we don’t prepare them for this, we are missing out on much-needed skills they must acquire!
Julie Severson says
Yes to all of this. Such an important message, here Christine. My son has always been good at sports and academics, too. Straight A’s and usually always one of the top players on any team. But this year he started high school, a BIG school, and didn’t make the freshmen basketball team. We all assumed he would make it. And so did all the other players from his previous teams. He works hard and has an amazing work ethic and natural ability. But he didn’t make it. We heard later that it was because he is too quiet. It was complete devastation in his world. And, well, it was in mine, too, because he was so so crushed. But a few days later I found a little notebook on his nightstand with a list that had a title “Ways I can improve in basketball.” I didn’t let him know I saw it, but it filled up my mama heart to see that kernel of perseverance. That list is still there now months later, full of dates and checkmarks next to his daily accomplished goals. He joined a rec team, instead, and had fun and made new friends as a result. But is planning to try out for the school team again next fall. Part of me doesn’t want him to because the chances are slim and I don’t want to go through the heartbreak again, but he’s determined. I just have to love and support him through it.
Oh, Julie! Bless his heart! Your son sounds so much like mine… but a few years ahead of the game. (See what I did there? lol) But seriously, he is TOO QUIET? Since when was being ‘too quiet’ a problem in Basketball? I can’t imagine the gut punch he (and you!) felt when he didn’t make the team. But my gosh, just look at how he’s handling it! What an incredible young man you are raising, friend. You need to write about that- because your son, even at such a fragile age- gets what relentless determination means in the throes of discouragement. You must be so proud of him! Just wow. What a guy.
It is interesting to be on the other side of this–that my kids have had plenty of losses. In fact, both had hockey seasons where they did not win as single game. Not one. It should me a lot more about my crappy self than them–they were kids who loved to play and love their teammates. I was the one getting agitated about not winning! And I’m not proud of that. But there are lessons, however hard, to be learned from losing. For sure!
Katy, I absolutely understand that agitation when it’s an ongoing pattern of loss for our kids! You just want them to get SOME kind of reward for all their efforts! That is how I feel about my girl and her swimming, wanting so badly for her to get her times and she falls short- OFTEN. My gosh, it’s so hard to watch our kids under the weight of constant defeat. I get it. I get you.
It’s going to be okay–YOU are going to be okay no matter if at the bottom or the top of the pile. Yes, it is character building to go beyond ‘easy’ and that no matter the outcome you are still a #winner for showing up. Great lesson Chris! I’m still learning this, not just my kids!
Girl, I hear ya. It’s an ongoing life lesson for us ALL. I think it’s even harder for those who so naturally end up on top, ya know? I’m not one of those people, but my son? He is.
Alison Hector says
What a great lesson, Chris! Both you and your son are brave for going into less than comfortable territory, knowing the possibility of loss was very real. That’s courage, both as a mom and as a son.
Thanks so much, Alison. I appreciate your encouragement so much. <3
Gary Sidley says
I agree with you. We learn more about ourselves (and others) when the going get’s tough and it’s healthy to experience both winning and losing. Similarly, I get annoyed at the increasing – politically correct – tendency in schools to try and ensure that everybody wins (e.g by having non-competitive sports days).
Yes, Gary- exactly that! I appreciate your input and your visit to my post!
Kelly L McKenzie says
Can you hear my applause all the way from Vancouver? Nicely done, Mom. Suggesting that he step up and join the bigger chaps was brilliant in my books. And the fact that you persevered even though the coaches were surely looking at you as the horrid fierce tiger mom made it even better. So good. My son always had it easy too. Then he hit college. He told me just recently that he’s never had to work so hard in his life. Ever. For him growing up was a case of a big fish in a small pond. I suspect your lad won’t have this wake up call. Keep doing what you’re doing, Mom!