Michelle Martin

Learning to lose

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Teresa joined her father and I for an after-dinner game of Parcheesi the other evening.

For anyone not familiar, it’s kind of the forerunner of Trouble or Sorry. Players race to get their pieces out onto the board and around the course. The first one to get all four pieces safely home wins.

It relies both on luck, in the form of rolls of the dice, and some strategy, in deciding which pieces to move and whether to block or send other players back to the start.

Both my husband and I took it pretty easy on Teresa, given that she’s 8. We generally didn’t send her back if there was any other option, and tried not to block her path, at least not for too long. We did not extend the same courtesy to one another.

So, of course, she was way ahead of us, three of her pieces already home and the fourth nearly there when she rolled doubles three times in a row. Doubles in Parcheesi are very lucky — you get to move based on the number of pips on the top and bottom of the dice — and roll again. Two sets doubles in a row is doubly lucky. 

Three sets of doubles is not lucky at all. You have to send your closest piece to home all the way back to the beginning.

That threw Teresa into a tailspin. She complained, she walked away from the table, she came back and complained some more about how unfair it was. We explained that much of the game is based on the luck of the dice, and it would be unfair for one person to not have to follow the rules. We also told her that she was so far ahead she would still likely win.

She was having none of it, so we put the game away without a winner. No one was having fun anymore.

And that’s OK. Losing with grace — or accepting reversals that make you think you are going to lose — is something you have to learn. Only children, or children whose siblings are all significantly older than they are, might have a harder time with that lesson, especially within their own families.

Teresa doesn’t seem to feel entitled to win when she plays with other children, or competes against them in swimming or other sports. At home, years of shuffling the cards so they’d fall in her favor in Candy Land came home to roost.

I hope we can play Parcheesi again soon, and I hope she has more fun with it. There’s no shame in playing and losing. Sometimes things don’t go your way. Sometimes they do, and you win on sheer luck.

But having time to play together as a family? To me, that’s winning.


  • family life