I Talked My Son Out Of Running For Student Council Because I Didn’t Think He’d Win

My oldest son recently started fourth grade. That means he’s old enough to take part in that great democracy we call student council (seems kind of young for politics, if you ask me). My child’s foray into the world of politics started innocently enough. A close friend of his announced he’d be running for class rep, boisterously telling us what he’d accomplish in his potential new role as politician; I was thrilled for this boy and gave him lots of positive reinforcement (what a great life lesson for him to put himself out there and see where it all could go!).

My enthusiasm turned out to be a big mistake. In fact, it’s precisely what led my son –who previously had zero interest in student council – to announce that he, too, was going to run for class rep. I was shocked and dismayed. Truth be told, I wasn’t ready to deal with my boy’s potential heartbreak should he lose. And his friend certainly wasn’t looking for more competition (a whopping eight out of 17 kids were already after the job).

I still felt that running for class rep was a great life lesson – just not for my child. According a recent article in The New York Times Magazine, failure is really important for children’s development and it’s actually the key to success in the long run. One interesting finding shows that kids who succeed in university are not the ones who have done well in school all their lives; rather they are people who can handle failures and disappointments, get back up and try again.

It all sounds great – in theory. In actuality, I’m not yet ready to let my kids fail. I am still swooping in and saving them every chance I get. I can’t help it. I’m the kind of person who cries at sad and even happy movies. I cry during sporting events like the Olympics as I’m imagining how many hurdles an athlete must have overcome to get to that prized position. And how much their mother must have endured along the way. I am really not strong enough to be a mother, I often think to myself, and definitely not thick-skinned enough to be the kind of mother that puts her kid out there to fail.

This explains why a student council race was not something I was prepared for at this juncture. So I kiboshed it. Obviously I couldn’t just tell my kid that he wasn’t allowed to run for class rep – that would just be really bad parenting and the stuff of long-term therapy for him. I needed to be more subtly manipulative. Recognizing my son’s friend as a partner-in-crime, I thought fast announced with great certainty that a wonderful idea would be for the two of them to work together.

“You can be his campaign manager,” I told my son excitedly. It took a bit of the sell job but once my little compadre jumped in with full enthusiasm, we were away to the races. I talked marketing and strategy (my real skills in life) about the power of the two of them against all the individual candidates, and both boys seemed very happy with this new turn of events.

Am I evil? Not really. I am just in no way ready to deal with the possible heartbreak of my kid not achieving something he wants so badly. Especially something that’s essentially a popularity contest. It’s not that I don’t think he could win; it’s just that right now he’s still too sweet and innocent to be part of the cutthroat world of politics. But, get ready, because it’s going to be a big sweep in 2012/13.

(Photo: karen roach/Shutterstock)

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  • Mallory

    Great piece Allison! Its so brutal watching them deal with disappointment and pain — i totally don’t blame you putting it off for a while. politics is an ugly game. :)

  • Pix

    Working with and supporting others to achieve mutual goals is often a good alternative to competing against them.

    Now, I’m not saying competition is bad. I’m just saying this lesson is a good one too. :)

  • Mel

    Student council in 4th grade? I thought that was a late middle school-high school thing?

  • Victoria

    Hmm. Because winning is everything? The experience of losing doesn’t have to be traumatizing… Just smile, shrug it off, congratulate him on a good campaign, and go have pizza. A couple years down the road, he can try again, this time with experience.

    Though, it’s a GREAT idea to be campaign manager for the other kid, too. New friends! Yay!

    Just, I don’t know, it seems sad that he wanted to something to make you proud, and you directed him somewhere else, because you can’t be proud of him if he loses? Don’t try and protect him from losing, because it’s just life. And good grief, what if he wins? It wasn’t an option at all? Harsh.

  • Cassie

    you have to let him fly on his own. you can’t protect him from every possible disappointment. why next year and not this year? what are you waiting for?

  • VoicingItOut

    I think you’re really just trying to shield yoursel from getting hurt, not your son. You are right though, failure leads to success. Countless times I have failed and countless times I’ve jumped right back up into the game. I personally think failure is something everyone has to go through, especially at a younger age. Don’t try to shield your son too much- I know you’re trying to help him- but really, you’re hurting him. What if he does want to run in the future? So then what? I thought his best friend was his partner in crime. If what you said is true then at one point both these boys will be going against each other. Not good. Also, may I ask why you said that you didn’t want your son to run because you thought he would lose, but later went on to say that it’s not if he lost its because he’s sweet and innocent. I think that was a wrong move on your part (in no way am I trying to offend you, it seems that you’re a very loving mother) to turn him down. As a mom you should be telling him that he can accomplish ANYTHING if he puts his mind to it. I was taught that growing up and am now very successful.

  • Tammy

    I understand where you are coming from and have trouble letting go but my son is entering sixth grade this year and I wish that I had been less controlling in the fourth and fifth grades. Having said that, allowing them to “try” at winning student council rep or for a part in a play is critically important to our children’s development. They learn either way. I am currently fighting the urge to help my son socially but I know doing to will delay his growth rather than help him. So I ask God for strength to let go and let him learn from trying, from his mistakes, and from his successes. It is my role to love, support and guide him, not to orchestrate his life in such a way that he never experiences failure.

    Thank you for your honesty and we’d love to hear how things have progressed with you and your child!