Telling My Daughter ‘You Can’t Always Be No. 1’ & Other Parenting Fails (Or Wins!)

I've come to realise that parenting is pretty much always simply winging it. And I often wonder if my advice is sage or just a fail!

I’ve come to realise that parenting is pretty much always simply winging it. And I often wonder if my advice is sage or just a fail!

“I don’t want to play with them anymore,” my daughter informed me yesterday. “I just want to stay at home and play.”

She’d recently discovered new friends in the neighbouring apartment last week. And since then she’d spent every morning counting the minutes until she could go down to play with them. Now suddenly this week, she’d changed her mind and it looked like something was up.

After a little prodding, she told me that the other two girls were more ‘best’ friends with each other than with her and that left her a little upset. Hmm. So I promptly put on my best mom hat and began explaining how it was fine as long as they still played with her and included her in their games.

But that was only the part of the story. An only child, she’d been used to being the centre of attention at home, despite our best intentions. Now she was no longer the  ‘number one’ with either of her two friends.

I gave her some advice, but…

“You don’t always have to be number one,” I told her. Among other things, I also told her that it was the experience of playing with other kids her age that counted.

She had to be herself and eventually find a best friend of her own. Until then, it was important to learn how to get along with others. Eventually, she agreed to go play with them again.

At night, as it usually does, I started to second guess myself. First of all, I wondered if it was a little too much for me to pay so much attention to whether my daughter played with other kids or not. Kids had ‘tiffs’ after all and they should get over it themselves. My own parents had paid scant thought to these kinds of things when I was her age.

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And then I wondered if it was good advice to no longer try to be ‘number one.’ We throw a lot of sage sounding advice to our kids. What if this was the one that stuck? Would she always be content being last?

Then again I have done this multiple times earlier too

Of course, by morning it all sounded silly in my head, but it isn’t the first time I’ve laid awake wondering if I’m parenting ‘right’? When she was a baby, I used to obsess on the amount of milk she’d had over the day. The number of times she’d pooped and peed was oh so important. I thought it would lessen over time, but it hasn’t.

Bigger kids, bigger problems as they say.

Please tell me I am not the only parent who has such late-night worries. I wish I was as confident a parent as my own parents. Back then, it used to be their way or the high way. No justification was offered other than ‘because I said so.’

Now even after being armed with all the advice the various parenting books and blogs have to offer, I’m often left more confused.

And the advice changes often too. Feeding kids formula was touted as the best about several years ago. Then they rapidly changed it to ‘breast is best.’ (‘Fed’ is best, they say now, in case you were wondering what’s the latest with that!)

They said ‘trust your gut’

Then came the great sleep training debate. Let them ‘cry it out.’ Some said ‘cry it out, but not too much.’ Co-sleepers were looked down upon and pitied. (Not that they were in any position to care in their sleep-deprived state.)

Sure, we as mothers, should ‘trust our gut.’ All mothers are supposed to have it – the gut instinct, that is.


After all, anything you do with kids, shows up after 20-30 years, by when it is often too late. You might think it is a bit like share trading and you’d be right. By the time they grow up the only thing they can do is blame the parents.

Because there’s no yardstick. No book that might be considered the bible. Parents themselves are winging it most times. (Isn’t that was going by the gut is all about?)

Then I realised they are their own people

The only comfort is that kids are also their own people. With any luck, after they’re done blaming you, they’d work on bettering themselves.

And that’s when you know you’ve done it right.

As for whether my daughter will be content not being number one – only time will tell. As of today though, she still loves going to play with her friends. It could be because the two besties have already had a fight…and she is suddenly back in demand.

A version of this was earlier published here

Picture credits: Colgate’s ‘Smile Karo Aur Khush Ho Jao’ campaign on YouTube

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