Teaching kids that it’s not all about the awards

Published 9:06 am Saturday, November 22, 2008

QUESTION:  How do we balance our children’s motivation to win with a willingness to participate enthusiastically when others will receive the awards?

ANSWER: You might put competition in perspective by asking your children to place themselves in the following scenario:

While walking by a park, Shay, who was seriously learning-disabled, asked his father if he thought the boys playing baseball might let him play.  The father decided to actually ask one of the boys on the field.  The boy asked made his own decision, and said, because his team was already losing badly, that Shay could be on his team and they’d try to let him bat in the ninth inning.

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At the top of the ninth inning, Shay put on a glove and played in the outfield.  No balls came his way, but he was obviously ecstatic.

Unpredictably, in the bottom of the ninth inning, with two outs and bases loaded, it was Shay’s turn to bat. Surprisingly, one of the boys handed Shay the bat.  Because of Shay’s disabilities, it was unlikely that he would even connect with the ball.

The pitcher chose to move a few steps closer to lob the ball over the plate.  Shay swung clumsily and missed. The pitcher chose, again, to move a few steps even closer before pitching. Shay managed to hit a slow ground ball to the pitcher, who could have easily thrown Shay out at first base.  Instead, the pitcher threw the ball in a high arc to right field.  Everyone started yelling, “Shay, run to first!  Run to first!”  Wide-eyed, Shay ran.  Everyone yelled, “Run to second!” The right fielder could have easily thrown Shay out at second, but he chose to throw the ball high and far over the third baseman’s head.  Shay ran toward second base as the runners ahead of him circled the bases toward home.

As Shay reached second base, the opposing shortstop ran to him, turned him in the direction of third base and shouted, “Run to third!”  As Shay rounded third, the boys from both teams were screaming, “Shay!  Run home!”  Shay ran home, stepped on home plate and was cheered as the hero, for hitting a grand slam and winning the game for his team.

There are two questions for every reader of this story: Who do you identify with in the story and who wins?

QUESTION: If “mother” was a position in the corporate world, what title would be listed in the annual report?

ANSWER: I have always thought that “domestic engineer” would be appropriate.  I recently heard the following story of a mother at a County Clerk’s office faced, once again, with the challenge of describing her work role in life to complete a government form. According to the mom, the story goes like this: “What’s your occupation?” the town registrar asked me. What made me say it, I do not know.  The words simply popped out.  “I’m a research associate in the field of child development and human relations.” The registrar paused, ball-point pen in mid-air, and looked up as though she had not heard right.  I repeated the title slowly, emphasizing the most significant words.  Then I stared with wonder as my pronouncement was written in bold, black ink on the official questionnaire. “Might I ask,” said the registrar, with new interest, “just what you do in your field?”

Coolly, without any trace of fluster in my voice, I heard myself reply, “I have a continuing program of research, (what mother doesn’t have this going on daily), in the laboratory, as well as in the field (normally, I would have said indoors and out). I’m working for my master’s (the whole darn family), and already have four credits (all daughters).  Of course, the job is one of the most demanding in the humanities (any mother care to disagree?) and I often work 14 hours a day (24 is more like it).  But the job is more challenging than most run-of-the mill careers and the rewards provide more satisfaction than just money.” There was an increasing note of respect in the registrar’s voice as she completed the form, stood up, and personally walked me to the door. 

As I drove into our driveway, buoyed up by my respected new career, I was greeted by my lab assistants (ages 13, 7 and 3).  Upstairs I could hear our new experimental model in the child development program (a 6-month-old baby) testing out a new vocal pattern. Motherhood is indeed a creditable career! 

As the friend with whom this mom shared the story commented, “Just think about it! Grandmothers become senior research associates in the field of child development and human relations, great grandmothers are executive senior research associates and aunts are associate research assistants, of course!

 If you would like to talk with a parenting specialist about the challenges in child raising, call the toll-free Parent WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204/Lnea de Apoyo at 1-877-434-9528.  For free emergency child care call Crisis Nursery at 1-877-434-9599.  Check out www.familiesandcommunities.org

Maryanne Law is the executive director of the Parenting Resource Center in Austin.