Parenting should never be transactional

I have been going to almost all of my youngest child’s softball games the past few weeks in July. She has been sitting on the benches and her school team is not anywhere close to being on a winning streak.

My work schedule has been really busy, which means I make up for the time away and catch up on my deliverables by clocking in time outside of work hours and sometimes, taking calls as I am driving the kids home after the game (thank goodness Microsoft has a truly flexible work-anywhere culture).

At times, I have been tempted to not go. The work is piling up, my kid isn’t likely playing anyway, and her team isn’t likely to win, so I wouldn’t miss anything, or so the thought would go… And today, as I was clearing some of my work so that I can be present at her game tomorrow morning, I wondered to myself why am I going?

On deeper introspection, I guess it is because in doing so, I am teaching her by example something about love and relationships, about being there for a person not only when they are winning and performing, but also being there for them when the chips are down.

The hugs at the end of the game even when she hasn’t played affirm her for the sportswoman she is because she showed up and she cheered her team on even when she knows she isn’t likely to play. And it also tells her in action that her impact in one aspect (in this case softball) of her person does not solely define the quality of our relationship nor her worth.

Mind you, I am not a parent who endorses giving a child a medal for coming in last. Having been in competitive sports in my schoolyears, I do belive in rewarding and celebrating sporting excellence and that needs to be set differently from recognising participation. But I do believe in recognising sportspersonship – which is resilience, determination and professionalism in participation, whatever the end outcome at the finish line. I did have a coaching conversation with her on why she has often been benched and what she would need to do to get the opportunity to play more often in the next competition season (and I do know she wants to do so).

Parents sometimes unconsciously (or sadly consciously) are transactional, especially when they are constrained by limited time to balance work and children and chores, and so reward the kid who does well in sports, academics or some other area of talent and is muted on a child who does not show similar achievements. Unfortunately, children (both rewarded or neglected) in these situations pick up unspoken rules of transactional engagement around one’s worth and around relating with others that play out in their own adult lives (often for the worse) years later.

It’s impossible to love all children truly equally but it is possible to love them fairly for who they are and will become, if we strive to be consciously non-transactional in our parenting approach.

grayscale photo of baby feet with father and mother hands in heart signs

Photo by Andreas Wohlfahrt on



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