We enjoy a bit of quizzing in our house. Monday evenings are a favourite, with University Challenge on BBC2 followed by Only Connect. It remains unspoken, but my husband and I enjoy some friendly rivalry during these shows, privately noting which one of us has faired the best after each episode.
My husband tends to dominate when it comes to straightforward general knowledge test, University Challenge, whereas I inch ahead with my contributions during lateral thinking and wordy puzzler, Only Connect. Recognising this little battle we take part in each week made me consider the way we approach competition in our household. I don’t believe we are hugely competitive as a family, largely because we aren’t particularly interested in competitive sport. But when it comes to brain games, it’s a different matter.
Which made me consider my own childhood. I am a younger child, the second of two daughters. My older sister was very gifted at Maths and Science from a young age. I was more of a dreamer, happy to be out on my bike than indoors reading a book. So when it came to family board games and quizzing, I simply got used to losing. I would lose at Monopoly, Whist and Scrabble on a regular basis.
I don’t recall it bothering me much. I learnt to enjoy the process of the game rather than the outcome. I suppose as we got older and the age gap becomes less of an issue, I must have started to win more, but I don’t recall it. By then, I wouldn’t much have cared. I’d lost my urge to be competitive.
I can see the same scenario emerging with my own children. My son is nearly three years younger than my daughter and I have witnessed his frustration on many occasions when he struggles to compete at Upwords or Pictionary. There are times when it’s quite heartbreaking to witness your second or third born struggle to achieve the same standard as their sibling – consigned to catch-up simply because of their position on the development scale. But does this natural pecking order have to continue into later life?
Of course not. I would tentatively say now that my sister and I are pretty evenly matched in the general knowledge stakes. Even my son is starting to creep up on his big sister in terms of drawing and word skills. But a certain legacy remains. My husband expects to win. He is an older sibling with a three and a half year gap between him and his younger brother. According to my mother-in-law, he was a terrible loser as a child.
By contrast, I’m still quite happy to lose. If we are playing a family game (usually bowling, at which I’m patchy at best), I’m comfortable to let the kids win, giving them extra goes if necessary. But my husband won’t drop his standard to let the kids get ahead. I think this is good. Children have to learn to lose and not have everything rigged in their favour, otherwise life will come as a terrible shock to them.
But I’m fascinated by the legacy created by a childhood of coming last and whether it is simply inevitable for a younger sibling during a large part of their youth. I think this inevitable inequality is a very good reason for siblings to adopt different interests and specialisms. For my sister it was Maths and tech and for me it has been History and English. This helps reduce comparison. But when it comes down to pure competitive spirit, I believe mine is muted and that this may very well be a younger child syndrome.
Whether this holds us back in life, I’m really not sure. Sometimes slow and steady wins the race. Those sitting back and waiting to catch up with their siblings/peers may well develop other crucial skills in the meantime, such as greater patience and humility. Although, no one likes to keep losing so it’s worth finding an area you can excel at, given time and practice. For now, we will keep on quizzing and soon enough our children will be beating us hands down. So let’s just hope we can take it with good grace.