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Am I Cheating My Son When I Let Him Win?

I've recently begun playing cards with my almost-6-year-old, and nothing could be more fun. There's something so grown-up-looking about the way he holds the cards in his hands, tight to his chest. The way he tries not to smile, his adorable little poker face. I'm not a great card player myself, but I have the benefit of being an adult and thus have played a million rounds apiece of Go Fish, Old Maid and Crazy Eights.

So, I may not be entering the World Championship of Poker, but I can hold my own against a Kindergartener.

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My dad first introduced him to cards. He and my mom love to play, and one day when they were babysitting, he suggested it as a fun way to pass the time. My son was instantly hooked. My parents then found a set of cards specifically designed for each game, so now breaking out the cards has special meaning. And the whole family's been recruited to play.

One of my best memories of childhood was playing cards with my mother. She taught me all the games, all the rules and the best thing of all? She always let me win.

So, like any good mom, when I play with my son, I want him to win. But letting your kid win isn't as easy as it sounds. It can sometimes take a bit of finesse. I've been cheating a bit to make sure that he wins most hands. (Not every hand, mind you, because then he might figure out my devious plan.)

Playing cards with my son has been a blast. But he's gotten very competitive. I'm no slacker, but he's competitive in a way that I never was as a child. Last week, I caught him taking a card from the wrong side of the deck, so I had to caution him about the perils of cheating: the old cheaters never win and winners never cheat thing.

Later that night, I called my mom to ask her if I ever cheated when we played cards. I certainly don't want to encourage my son to be so competitive that he resorts to cheating. I would hate for what we're doing in card games to find itself onto the playground or soccer field. I don't want to raise a cheater.

"He's just a kid," my mother says. "I think you're being a bit too hard on him."

"I want him to understand that in this family, we don't cheat," I say.

"You do cheat," my mother tells me.

"I cheated when I was little?" I ask.

"No," my mother laughs. "You're cheating right now. By letting him win, you're manipulating the cards and the game so that he can come out on top!"

I couldn't help but laugh. As it turned out, my mother was right. I was a cheater, too. (Albeit for the right reasons, as they say on "The Bachelor.")

"So," I ask my mom, "how do I teach him not to cheat when I'm cheating, too?"

"Well," my mother says, "I cheated all the time when you were little, and you seem to have turned out OK."

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And she's right. I might have enjoyed beating my mom at cards all the time, but I turned out to be a law-abiding adult who doesn't cheat. Least of all at cards.

But I'm taking my first mah jongg lesson next week, so I make no promises for that.

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Image via Twenty20/chibelek

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