Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Problem With April Fools' Day that you don't know if something like this is legit.

Look, I'm pretty lax in a lot of ways. In fact, one of my very first posts--back when I thought I wasn't going to be writing about parenting much--was about how parents do need to evolve into friends to their children over time.

I give my kids a lot of responsibility, even to the point of too much. I'm eager to have them try to manage portions of their life, and if that means failure, well, no big deal, we'll try again later.

But equality?

Children aren't equal. They have many wonderful attributes and they are the most important work most of the population will ever do, but they're not our equals. Hell, they're not even equal to each other. You can't give your 17, 12, 6 and 1 year old equality with each other, even! The one-year-old isn't going to be driving the car. You can't have the one-year-old watch the 17-year-old.

"Equality" is not meaningful in this context.

Democracy is almost fetishized these days, it seems. It has a limited usefulness; in a small group of adults it can work pretty well. When your kids are grown, for example, and you're figuring out where to eat. (But notice in cultures with extended families, there often is a matriarch or patriarch whose word if final.)

A bigger group does better with a Republic-type format: Representation for matters the rest of the group doesn't or can't get involved with. On a family level, this is pretty good for older kids to young teens. You have to figure out what they want and fight for that.

But when you're dealing with toddlers? Dictatorship. Iron fist. You can't win a battle of wills with a two-year-old because a two-year-old is entirely will. The only thing you have is trickery and brute force. Really. (You're not smarter than a two-year-old, either, you have to rely on cunning.)

Now, I'm all for soliciting agreement. Things are much better when everyone agrees to stuff. (Sometimes I think I'm raising lawyers, mind you.) I'm particularly adamant about extending respect and dignity to children. But sometimes this means, "Yes, I know that's what you want and how important it is to you--and we're still going to do it my way."

I don't use "because I said so" because it's an unnecessary addition. You're either the authority or you're not. And in practice, my children will happily cripple any and all activity while appearing to cooperate, if they're given room to maneuver. (And I was the same way.)

I think this is because all healthy kids try to control their environment--which for a younger kid is their parents--and a smart parent lets them do that from time-to-time, even if it's something as silly as letting them move your hands around or "scaring" you. The parents I've seen who won't give an inch there and are determined to micromanage usually do end up victims of a child who figures out exactly how to punch their buttons.

But the game of control-the-parents is the best game most really young chldren have. And you play it willingly or not, but play it you will. But your kids aren't really interested in being equals. Even the most lackadaisical ones want to be running the show.

Somebody told me once that the problem with parents abnegating all the perks they might enjoy in favor of their children is that it robs the child of motivation to grow up. I don't know if that's true, but it's an interesting point: Why would you want to grow up if you can have all the fun and none of the grief? (And I wonder if we don't have that in a lot of adults today.)

But I thought it was "settled science" that children needed boundaries.


  1. So sensible, Blake. I enjoyed this.

    And to further your thought, I think children like boundaries on some level. It makes them feel safe.

  2. Blake, great post, and spot on from my perspective of having raised two from birth into successful adulthood.

    Living a good example, honesty even when it isn't easy, and clear boundaries are a good formula for success in raising children.

    The "I am my child's best friend" crowd turned out a woeful crop of underachievers, slackers and spoiled kids, at least in my neighborhood. Too many acted out, because, you know, best friends are supposed to go along with everything you do, and a few, sadly, got drawn into the drug culture.

    I didn't have children because I needed more friends. I did so because I wanted to be a parent and was willing to work damn hard at getting the job right.

    It was worth it, for all parties.


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