Playing Fair

“Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” II Corinthians 4:2 (NIV).

Approximately a year ago I wrote a blog explaining how I tend to be competitive when I play games.  I also talked about how God convicted me my daughter’s spirit was more important to preserve than winning.  I’m pleased to say I’ve been working on that for the last twelve months and I have definitely improved.  My competitive spirit isn’t gone, but I’m more concerned about the feelings of others than winning.

That insight was brought to my attention when my daughter and I were engaged in our morning ritual of playing Golf before she headed off to school.  These times are precious to me because we have one more year before she graduates to middle school, when she will leave with her older brother and this era will be over.  I noticed while playing we could’ve approached the game two different ways;  the first would have been to “show no mercy, every man for himself” and the other was how we were playing.  Even though we’re in competition with each other, we were doing what we could to help out the other while in turn trying to win ourselves.

You see, there are two ways to win at a game.  You can play hard or you can play nice.  Either way will get you to the finish line, but only one has peace at its core. Some will argue the second way isn’t as much fun, but I beg to differ.  There’s still an ultimate winner, but instead of being pitted against each other, we were supporting one other in our individual quest to be the best.

I started thinking about how playing a game can be compared to parenting children.  There are two ways to parent:  The “cut throat, every man for himself” method or the “I’m here to guide you, and I’ll play fair.”

My husband and I make a great team when it comes to parenting effectively.  We have three children who span a nine year age gap.  While I excel teaching the basics and having endless patience for temper tantrums, potty training accidents, and stating the same direction multiple times for the little ones, my husband’s strengths are reasoning, balancing responsibility with natural consequences, and teaching necessary life skills with our older kids.

It can be hard at times to balance wanting to support your child with allowing them some degree of failure in order to help them grow.  However, I’ve found there are two ways to do that.  The first is to belittle and criticize (outright or subtly), but the second involves building their self esteem during the process.  Each approach will reach the goal of the child attaining a new life skill; however, only one will empower your child for the next time he is faced with a life challenge.

I once read a powerful message from another mother who explained a great strategy she used to help her children feel empowered and part of a team.  She reminded them often who they belonged to, where they came from, and how they were expected to behave based on the first two answers.  When we remind our children they are first and foremost God’s children and completely loved just for who they are, it relieves a lot of pressure of having to constantly achieve some measure of worth.  They are worthy and dearly loved simply because they have asked Jesus into their hearts and are part of God’s family.  Second, they are part of your family, and when your family is known for laughter, acceptance, warmth, and love, they will associate your family name with positive feelings.  Not only will they be proud to carry the family name, but they will be willing to share their positive feelings of family with their friends, etc.  By establishing the first two messages consistently, then when your children are faced with temptations, challenges, and difficult choices, the prayer is they will be less likely to make a negative choice because they know you believe in them to make the right choices.  However, when bad choices are made (and they will be from time to time), hopefully your children realize despite being disappointed in their actions, your love for them will never disappear.  They will be able to approach you and ask for help to make things right.

I will admit.  I have parented with the “cut throat” method in the past.  When I’m stressed and feel overwhelmed, it seems so much easier to bark out orders and expect complete compliance without considering the “why” behind the action.  Is my child being deliberately defiant or is her reaction based on fear or a feeling of not being heard? Are my expectations too high or not age appropriate or do I need to hold firm with this rule/boundary and teach my child the importance of follow through? 

My husband keeps bringing me back to asking myself these questions before barking orders or pulling the “cut throat” card.  By focusing more on the reason behind the behavior instead of just the surface actions, I can better come alongside our children to guide them through the process of growing up.  Another aspect of playing fair involves choosing which battles are worth fighting over and which ones should be let go in order to ultimately win the war as a team.  Having a clean room is important, but doesn’t need to be white glove clean or able to walk through it without tripping and breaking a leg?  Color of hair, style of dress, or in the case of our three-year-old, how much clothing he finds appropriate on a given day are all things I have to consider: Is this worth digging my heels in to “win” or should I wait and fight for the important stuff:  Attitude, values, and moral issues such as lying?  

Just as God curbed my competitive tendencies last year and helped me realize my daughter’s spirit was more important than me winning another game, I trust God will continue to help me regarding this aspect of parenting as well.  When we play fair, then ultimately everyone wins.  It may not work that way in a board game, but thankfully it can with a family.


Copyright 2013: Cheri Swalwell

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