Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Trophy is not to Blame

I have seen several articles making participation trophies the scapegoat to basically all that is wrong with our generation, and it irks me every single time.  

Don't get me wrong, the practice of handing out participation trophies should end. It is wasteful, for one thing. I had a lot of softball and basketball trophies. Most of them were participation trophies, but there were a few good ones in there: a couple of second places, a first place, and even a first place all-stars trophy. Guess what? They were all ugly, all useless, and all got in the way of toy storage. I felt obligated to keep them, until one day I didn't. I have no clue whether they are still in my parents' basement. My t-shirts from the team got far more use.  I do still remember end-of-season pizza and swim parties, and those were good times. I don't know a kid who, if asked, would choose a (really ugly) trophy over a party, but I am sure they might be out there, and I am sure they might have more reasons to choose that than that they think they are entitled to a trophy.

So, you say that there are no participation trophies in the real world of adult life. Really? Are you sure you've never, ever received an adult participation trophy? Let's look at this real world.  Did you ever have an off day at work? Did you blow a presentation, make a mistake, or spend time chatting with a coworker while on the clock? Did you still get paid for that day? You probably even aren't at 100% for 100% of the hours you work per week. In that case, you may not have actually worked enough hours to qualify for benefits. Bet you got them anyway.  Maybe you give your best, but maybe you're not the best in the field. You may be passed over for a promotion, but you get paid because you work and you do a pretty good job. Not a great job, but you work hard. 

That doesn't apply to you? I bet you work 60 hour weeks, right? Lots of people do. Has your family ever suffered because you weren't with them?  I bet you still get to claim tax benefits, either from being married, even though you may sometimes not be the best spouse or from having kids, even if you barely see them. Not to mention the true benefits of having them.  You know, love, and stuff. 

I could go on with other examples, but let's just get to the heart of why this tendency to blame the supposed faults of a generation on participation trophies bothers me.  Who decided that our generation would receive participation trophies? Maybe it was inspired by children who threw fits when other children got trophies for winning, and maybe not. In any case, an adult, who would not him or herself receive the trophy, started this practice. 

So, it's not our fault. We were victim to a misguided set of beliefs. Poor us.  But we shall overcome, and we certainly will not inflict this horrendous practice upon our children.  That would teach them that if they are not particularly good at something, they can still expect to be rewarded with cheap pieces of plastic, and that would in turn symbolize to them (not us, mind you; it's children who care about the outcomes of t-ball games) that mediocrity is to be celebrated. 
But we certainly did not learn that ourselves.  No, just our peers with less critical thinking abilities than us, says Matt Walsh. 

It's all about something that we had no control over at the time it was happening and that we can easily discontinue. 
Except that it's not. 

I used to see adult participation trophies on a daily basis. Did you get dressed this morning and do you own a mirror and/or do you ride in a car? Do you have a latte with pretty swirls? Oh, did you cook dinner today, or can you afford to go out for a treat?  Do you have an opinion about something, founded or unfounded? Do you agree with something someone has said that may be controversial? Do you have legs and feet?  Well, you deserve to be on the front page of a newspaper with a circulation including your friends and their friends. A circulation you more or less choose, and can shape to reinforce you for performing everyday acts of mediocrity, beginning with being self-obsessed. And you deserve to know that people like what you're putting out there. You're entitled to that attention, at whatever cost. It's adult interaction. 

I am a parent. I was a stay at home mom to two toddlers for a year, and I wasn't very good at it. (Luckily, they still love me.) You know what I observed about my attachment to my smartphone?  

It did not relieve stress. It did not help me stay connected with grown-ups. The real connections I have know where to find me outside of the Facebook. 
That is just me and if you tell me that your smartphone use does help you de-stress or stay connected, it is possible that you may be using yours better than I used mine.  I still completely and wholly believe that if you are worried about participation trophies and you are actively participating in social media, you might be looking for an easy way out. You may have accepted a scapegoat because it is far easier than examining your need for constant reinforcement. The trophies are already gone and you had no part in it. The boomers did that to us, the buncha dumbasses. 

Is it a problem? That's for you to decide. I think at this point, some of us might agree that participation trophies may not be the issue. It may not be Facebook, either. It could be some need you as a parent feel to break the bank at Christmas. Or something. There are just a lot more likely causes than rewarding kids for trying. 

Let's go back to the fact that our families still love us. This makes me think about the parable of the prodigal son. So, the responsible son worked every day of his life for his father. His brother, on the other hand, took his inheritance and left to enjoy everything he could find to enjoy. So, dude comes back, and now their dad is throwing the irresponsible son a party.  Not the one who works hard every day of his life. Not the one who has stood by his father thick and thin. Nope.  

So forgive the colloquialism, but I just can't see this conversation playing out any other way. The responsible son says, "WTF, dad?"

And does his father say, "you know, son, you're right.  I shouldn't be celebrating this failure of a son, this person who abandoned us?"  

You know, he didn't. 

He said, "come on and enjoy this party. Have a glass of wine. Here's some fatted calf.  You're going to get your reward. But come celebrate your brother's return with us."

Mom-bloggers like to tell me that we all feel like failures as parents sometimes. I guess it may be true. But I still feel like I may be a pretty mediocre mom. I don't craft. I tried to home preschool my son, and failed so miserably that I couldn't even get up and try again. I gave up on being a stay at home mom. I said I wouldn't spank; I do. I said I wouldn't scream; I do. I try my best, but that is so, so often not enough. I break my own heart almost daily. 

Love is not a trophy. But damn if I'm not thankful for the grace that means that I don't have to be the best to be worthwhile. The rewards I get for doing my best, even when it's not the best, inspire me to try harder. If I could use that, how much more could a child?


  1. I agree with this so much! Sure, adults get participation trophies. Lots of businesses have quarterly or annual dinners, and everyone is invited. And the idea that Social Media lets each of us be headline news to our own friends is spot on.