On Winning and Losing

I think I won the break up, kids. Sixteen years later. Without even trying. And after a totally amicable separation. But I won it. I’m the winner. And all I had to do was try to have a pleasant exchange.

Don’t worry about my ego expansion just yet though because I definitely lost the youngest baby battle to my husband’s cousin who’s due this winter, ’round about my son’s birthday so I will henceforth also be losing the child birthday supremacy battle.

Right this very moment, I’m winning the child nap battle but I’m losing the weaning battle since that’s how I got him to fall asleep.

And that’s what I’ve been thinking about lately: winning and losing and how it all comes down to control, social constructs of success, and an utter lack of compassion.

What’s brought this on is a coworker of mine at my afterschool kid’s program job who was brought up under the parenting philosophy of TOTAL CONTROL and raised her own son the same way. Lady D, as we will call her, still sees exchanges with children as winning or losing. She does not see shades of gray and she certainly doesn’t see the “special snowflakes” for what they are: children with actual special needs.

We have a child with a sensory issue who is working with a therapist and his parents to learn how to cope with … well, wearing clothes. Part of the uniform for our activity really bothers him to the point where he cannot concentrate on anything but the discomfort he feels wearing it. So we let him take it off. We told his mom it wasn’t a big deal if he didn’t wear it all the time and she said she’d work with the therapist on it and see what could be done, and all everyone was satisfied with that result… except Lady D.

Lady D told us we’re coddling him. She said that as a mother, she knows what kids try to get away with and if we keep letting him get away with it, we’d lose. The best thing to do was make him wear it because that’s the only way he’d get used to it and to keep yelling at him to stop fidgeting because that’s the only way he’d stop the disruptive behavior.

sigh.

I am ALSO a mother, I reminded her, and HER SUPERVISOR b-t-dubs, and what I say is to back the hell off this kid. Our goal as an organization is to help build confidence and self-control, to give these kids the tools and strategies to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals, NOT to whip them into one conforming shape. We run our program the way we do specifically for the children who have difficulties to overcome: ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, physical handicaps, even just introversion and incoordination. We’re all about inclusion and individual character building and Lady D has often congratulated us (and herself whether deserved or not) for fostering such a welcoming environment. And yet… as a mother, she knows a little something about coddling and she’s right and we’re wrong and winning is the most important thing.

I read this article somewhere the other day about raising teens and how sometimes you need to just give in and help out. You need to recognize that being a teen is stressful and that showing your love and support is more important to their mental health and the child/parent relationship than winning an argument or getting the kid to clean his room. It’s the same thing we’re talking about here, but in terms of maintaining customer relationships. I asked Lady D what was more important in running our program: making sure everyone did everything perfectly or making sure we served our customers in the best way possible, thereby keeping them (and yes, their money, because that’s how businesses run) and maintaining our good reputation. She said the latter, of course, but she still thinks the kid should do what he’s told.

As far as winning the battle of Lady D v. compassion, I clearly lost. She thinks what she thinks and she’s not gonna stop thinking it. But what did she actually win? What do we actually win when we manage to control others or beat them at some arbitrary social game? What does that kid learn in being made to wear the uniform piece? What do I get out of being married and having a child before my ex? What does my husband’s cousin win by having the youngest baby in the family or spending the most on birthday parties?

Winning doesn’t make you the better person, I mean, obviously because Lady D is being a total ruler-slapping bad nun, my husband’s cousin is being a sactimommious Kardashian (with whom I’m supposed to keep up), and although unintentionally, I ended up being an obnoxious braggart. Those aren’t worthy goals.

I don’t want to win anymore. I don’t want to feel pressured into thinking that I have to. I just want to be a good person, raise my son to be a good person, and help the kids I work with to feel good about themselves. Compassion is harder than control but isn’t it more important?

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