McKinley Elementary

Paul Wellman

McKinley Elementary

Rooting Against Your Kids

Yes, Sometimes We Do Want Them to Fail

There’s tough-love parenting, and then there’s just “tough luck, kid!” Wisconsin GOP Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson got a heaping helping of the latter last week when his Democrat parents each donated $2,700 — the maximum amount allowed by law — to support his opponent’s campaign. Which is bound to make Easter dinner exceptionally awkward.

But it got me thinking about the times I’ve rooted against my own kids, and whether it was the right thing to do. Since, you know, they’re not even Republicans.

For example, I recently found myself leaping into the air on the sidelines of a flag-football game screaming “YES! OH, MY GOD, YES!” as my quarterback son got sacked. By a girl. “Wrong team!” the other parents scolded me. “Yeah, but did you see that?” I bellowed. “She got him! That was fantastic!” No one had come close to sacking my elusive boy all season and then this determined chick — one of the few in the league — had zipped in out of nowhere and shut him down. Objectively, it was a beautiful thing, like watching Chloe Kim land back-to-back 1080s on the Olympic half-pipe. And it had to be celebrated.

I can’t be the only parent who’s ever cheered for a worthy opponent out of sheer admiration. And let’s face it: We all root for the adversaries during those tortuous moments when our kids’ teams are winning 38 to 3 and we’re trapped watching a field/court/diamond half full of demoralized children who have just decided that they hate this fricking game.

Just as often, though — and here’s where some will deem me monstrous — I root against my kids because I want them to fail.

For one thing, failure imparts brilliant lessons. Pride springs from winning, but character grows out of losing, and if you don’t believe me, try playing cards with a brat whose parents always let him win. Spanx founder Sara Blakely, the self-made billionaire, often says in interviews that her dad used to ask her at the dinner table how she’d failed that week — and be disappointed if she had nothing to report. He encouraged her to try challenging new things without fear of failing, and that liberating outlook gave her the moxie to build her booming business.

Similarly, there’s a Lee Pitts essay I like called “These Things I Wish for You,” written for his grandchildren. “I hope you learn humility by being humiliated, and that you learn honesty by being cheated,” he writes. “May you skin your knee climbing a mountain, burn your hand on a stove, and stick your tongue on a frozen flagpole.” Meanest grandpa ever? Maybe. His point: Only by living the full gamut of human experience can you truly appreciate life.

There’s one final reason I root against my kids — and it occurred to me tonight in my Pilates class as I was quivering, grimacing, and silently cursing the barky, merciless instructor. “I hate her. I hate her so much,” began the conversation in my own head. Come on, you don’t hate her. She’s trying to help you. “She’s Satan in spandex and she wants me to die.” Nonsense. She only wants you to hurt temporarily so you’ll be stronger tomorrow. And your butt will look better. Would Satan do that for you? Ask me … when … this $%&ing plank … is over.”

I don’t enjoy seeing my kids laid low. But life’s going to knock ’em down plenty of times whether I like it or not. And I want them to learn how to fall while I’m watching so I can make sure they know how to stand back up. It’s practice is all.

I want them to hurt temporarily so they’ll be stronger tomorrow.

Unless they ever plan to run for office as Republicans. Then I want them to hurt tomorrow, too.


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