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4 Things Poker Has Taught Me About Parenting

August 1st, 2011by admin

I’m not a poker player by the stretch of anyone’s imagination, least of all my husband who is a genuine enthusiast.  But ever since I officially became a parent two years ago, I’ve become quite a student of the game.  And, for anyone who is a parent or seriously thinking of becoming one the old fashioned way or through “acquisition” like I did, I highly recommend it!


Because to put it simply KIDS LIE. Yes, even yours (and mine)!  I mean, I realize you and I NEVER lied to our parents who had the luxury of raising perfect children…but, blame it on the Internet and video games or on a lack of celebrity role models (Charles Barkley tried to warn us!) or on your least favorite politician (even better!) but these kids today are different (yeah that’s it!).

Even that perfect cherub-faced little angel who never does anything wrong except for when it’s not his/her fault will lie. They may not be good at it but they do it and they learn to do it early…and often!

And as parents, we need all the help we can get if we’re not “human lie detectors” like Judge Judy.

As a game built on strategy, deception, nerve, guts, and glory poker holds several lessons for parents looking to improve their chances for success against these odds.

In fact, here are 4 things I’ve learned about parenting as my husband has attempted to teach me how to play poker…

Lesson #1 — Bluffing is key to one’s success.

Not only do you need to know how to recognize it so you can counteract it, you also need to know how and when to do it yourself.  Poker players know their opponents and themselves inside and out. They know the other player’s nervous ticks, habits and tells and use them to their own advantage.

My husband is a master at calling our teenage daughter’s bluff and bluffing her into telling us all kinds of things she had every intention of keeping to herself. I once saw him hold up his smart-phone to her and tell her she’d better come clean about using our computer without permission because he has an app that sends us alerts tracking her activity.  When he said it, I thought, “Wow, there’s an app for that? What a great idea and how come he didn’t tell me?”  It was only after her confession that I realized he had skillfully out bluffed our opponent!  It was then that I knew there was something about this poker thing that suddenly made A LOT of sense even though I can’t play it for beans.

So while you don’t have to have the bluffing prowess of Phil Ivey, learning how to out posture your opponent (especially the teen-aged ones!) can make life much easier.

Lesson #2 — Know when to fold ‘em, hold ‘em and walk away.

Kenny Rogers told us we had to know when to hold, fold and walk away from the table. This is great advice in poker and in parenting.  There will be many times in your life as a parent when you need to “fold” — that is take a time out instead of giving one.  Sometimes the best thing to do is to walk away and sit one out before you do something rash, especially when your little angel whose nose you wipe when it’s runny takes you there!  This is especially helpful when they do something that amounts to going all in with pocket deuces and nothing but face cards showing on the flop.

Other times you’ll need to know when to check, or as Kenny Rogers said “hold ‘em”, a strategy involving a little luck, a lot of faith and nerves of steel.

Learning when to hold ‘em will serve you well any time your kids leave the protection and supervision afforded to them in your own home and go out into the world faced with having to make choices on their own.  As parents, the best we can do IS the best we can do.  As such, we must take comfort in the fact that our best will be good enough to guide our kids when we’re not around.

But learning to hold ‘em after we’ve held them so closely their entire lives is especially difficult to do on prom night, when they miss curfew and even when we send them off to summer camp or to college.

Even then, there’s no such thing as a sure thing. We can’t predict what the future has in store for our kids any more than Phil Helmuth can predict when that fourth ace will turn up on the river. At best, all we can do as parents is keep checking, pray for the best and see where the chips fall.

Lesson #3 — Learn to do the most you can with the hand you were dealt. 

Remember, in life, parenting and poker, you have no control over the had you’re dealt just how you play it.  So you want to play it as smartly, bravely and confidently as you possibly can.

If you ever catch the World Series of Poker on TV, you’ll see many of the world’s best players wear sunglasses.  In addition to serving as good luck charms (my unsubstantiated theory!), the glasses help to hide their weaknesses from the other players and give them a stealth shield of sorts for keeping their next move under wraps until they’re ready to make their next move. Whatever the reason for them, the shades give the world’s best players that extra degree of confidence they need to play their hands confidently with the odds.

As a parent, you must equip yourself with the tools that enable you to do the same when dealing with your children. This might include good advice, a good book or, in some cases, a good partner with whom you ensure you’re on the same page when it comes to dealing with the kids.

Lesson #4— Find your Doyle Brunson. 

Chances are the best poker players in the world today go to battle armed with lessons learned directly or indirectly from Doyle Brunson, we as parents must arm ourselves with wisdom gleaned from our own experiences and the experiences of others.  Of course a lot of luck, some patience, and a reliable entourage of wonderfully supportive, dedicated fans who cheer us on come win, lose or draw also helps!  But the point is you must open yourself up to learn from those who have been where you are and the best lessons can’t be taught from a book (apologies to Dr. Spock).

Families today are as different as the individuals who comprise them. But, if you share your journey with others, you’ll be amazed at how many people you know have walked your walk in some way and the insight they are willing to freely share to help you become a successful parent. Since becoming a parent myself, I’ve met SO many “bio-moms” (also known as biological moms) and “MTAs” (that’s short for ‘moms through acquisition’!) who have shared nuggets of wisdom and words of encouragement with me, my support system has practically formed itself!  But, I had to give myself permission to ask for help and learn to be open to the guidance as it’s given to really by Blessed by these amazing women.  So go on and find yourself a Doyle Brunson or two or more…trust me, you’ll be SO happy you did!

In closing, I think it’s only fair to let you know that, thankfully, my parenting game continues to improve which is more than I can say about my talent for poker!  But, if you have any poker related parenting tips to share, please do and visit often…who knows what I’ll be thinking of next!?!

This article was written by Liz Nolley Tillman.  Liz also owns and operates “On The Hook”, her own blog site at where she frequently reflects on the lessons she’s learned from her transition from a Single-No-Dependents-40-Something to ‘Married With Children’.



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