03/04/2013 12:22 EST | Updated 05/04/2013 05:12 EDT

My Kid's a Sore Loser, and I Blame Myself


It's the middle of the third period. On the bench, the coach is waving his fist at the refs; his mouth a giant "O" of indignation. As the ref motions to the door of the arena, the coach marches away, his shoulders up to his ears; his head shaking back and forth as though the mere act of disagreeing visually will make his point better heard. Of course, always one to hone in on the whiff of hockey drama, I keep my eyes peeled on this coach as he sets foot in the stands with the parents, and says, "How can the refs let the other team get away with that?"

I'm not sure how much the other team was getting away with since they were nine-year-olds and the refs were barely past the stage of growing armpit hair so I doubt their objective was to plot the outcome of these minor hockey playoffs. But as the coach stormed out of the building to cool off in the parking lot, I looked over at the bench from whence he had come, and noticed the little faces of his players looking sadly at the door where he had left. I quickly hissed in my husband's ear, "Way to teach those kids accountability!"

When my son came out of the dressing room, his first words were, "We lost because the refs weren't calling any penalties on the other team." My husband stopped in his tracks, turned to face our little forlorn, sore loser, and said, "No. You lost because you guys stopped skating in the second period."

Despite what I had been hypocritically quick to point out about the coach, had it not been for my husband's enlightening words, I can't say that I would have taken the same approach. In a world where we give kids trophies and medals just for being a part of a sport, but not because they actually won the championship; in a time when schools make up awards such as "Most willing to hold the door open for the other students after recess" so that no student is left empty handed at the school's yearly ceremonies -- kids are not taught to lose graciously or to take accountability.

I know parents who let their children win when playing board games because, in their words, "They have plenty of time to learn in life that you don't always win." Really? Because there isn't that much time. Admittedly it was cute to see my little nine-year-old with a postgame lip-on, but it's not so cute when the child is taller than a bar stool. And although I was never one to let my kids win at tic-tac-toe, I have been known to appease the sight of a sad face from a bad grade on an English essay by blaming "the stupid assignment," not the lack of effort my child put into his/her work.

I take full accountability for the fact that my kids are hardly ever...nay...are NEVER able to take accountability for their failures, because I've cajoled them into believing that said failures were not their fault. And yet, I will happily take accountability for my actions in doing so, in an effort, to yet again, shield them from life: it's not their fault they don't take accountability. It's mine.

It's a vicious cycle that I have perpetuated in an effort to protect them from hurt feelings, and yet, there is so much power in owning your mistakes. As adults, apologizing for bad behaviour, admitting to an error made in the workplace, and overall honesty in all aspects of life has others describing us as authentic, real, dependable, and trustworthy. Making mistakes is OK when we admit to them.

So why are we so afraid to allow our children to fail? Why can't there be just one kid who wrote the best story in the class? Why do they all have to be rewarded in a competition where there is only one winner? Why do the schools invent titles to type into glossy, white certificates which will be handed out to every single student so that the parents can hang them onto their walls, and repeat over and over with pride, "You had the cleanest locker!"

Not every parent is this way. On the way home from the arena, while my boy pouted, my husband, clowning around for the sake of our distraught little hockey player, sang along to the tune of a song on the radio, "You did not lose because of the refs...You lost because you didn't work hard enough!" And our son may still have been sad, but beneath his frown was the glimmer of a smile...Because God forbid, we not do all that we could to ensure that his sadness was short lived.