The Therapy Sessions
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
The Second Postulate of Parenting: order trumps justice.
(Over the years, my wife and I have been making a list of postulates for good parenting. They are very different from the child rearing ideas that many psychiatrists recommend. Psychiatrists, I am convinced, spend so much of their time thinking for parents that they have forgotten to think like parents.
A "postulate" is something that you are pretty damn sure is correct, while a "law" is an iron-clad truth. By the time these postulates are "laws," I'll probably be about 80 or so, and I won't give a shit anymore.)
I have already described the first, and here is the second, up for debate:
1) Old Fashioned, Uncompromising Discipline Works.
2) Order First, Justice Second (The Tito Policy)
Recently, I been forced to confront the limits of parenthood.
A typical scenario: Sean (age 4) bosses Timmy (age 1.5) around and tries to take his toy. Timmy reaches for his toy to get it back. Sean grabs his hand and pushes it away. Timmy hits Sean. Sean cries to me that he is in great pain (uh right...). Timmy cries for his toy.
Now, particularly when I'm driving, I don't have a clue who is wrong or who is right. And to confuse matters thoroughly, if I try to piece the sequence of events together, both children are going to lie to get the advantage.
Yes, that's what I said: My children are liars.
In fact, all children are liars.
Don't act so shocked. And if you immediately say "not my four-year-old," get out of here. If you honestly believe that your little child is an angel - incapable of lying - you are a naive fool and you should not be raising children.
All children lie. It is as natural as pooping their pants. Telling the truth is something that you learn to do. And the best way to learn this critical lesson is to learn that lying doesn't save you from trouble; it contributes to it.
How can the parent teach this lesson? I've given this some thought, and my best answer is The Tito Policy (and no, I'm not referring to one of Michael Jackson's brothers).
Tito was the former leader of the country once known as Yugoslavia, and he had the thankless task of keeping this artificial collection of spirited ethnic groups together as one nation. With such a job, he could not get involved in trying to figure out whether the Serbs or Croats were right about some historical difference; his goal was make them work together. Using his secret police and his military, he scared all of the Yugoslavian nationalities, and he kept his fractious nation whole.
Tito was not a great man. He was a lifelong socialist, for example, and if that is not stupid, I don't know what is.
But he understood a simple thing about making people work together. The same thing can work in the family.
Now I admit that my wife and I have not employed the Second Postulate. You see, Timmy is too young too understand it right now.
But in the future, it will be employed. And I believe it will be effective.
It's simple really. When confronted with a scenario like the one above, both children will be punished. In the car that might mean both children sitting on their hands for ten minutes. At home, it might mean each boy will have to sit alone in a chair with no toys or no books.
Who was right? Who was wrong? I don't care: my first directive is maintaining order.
What will both children learn from the Second Postulate?
They might learn the valuable skill of working with others to resolve differences. They might learn that lying or tattling (even with great charm) won't work with their father or mother. They might learn to compromise.
They might learn these things, but they probably won't. At least not early on.
They WILL learn that appealing to Daddy's sense of justice is waste of time (because it is), and that stomaching one's sense of resentment is superior than revealing it to Dad.
And they will learn that Daddy does not play favorites (after all, both boys are punished equally).
No, it's not perfect. But you have to work with what you have.
Trying to find out who was right and who was wrong is one of the worst things a parent can do. You have to face the fact that you will often be wrong, and the punishments you give out will be unfair. That will only make matters worse, inreasing resentment and teaching kids to lie well.
Fighting Siblings? Take a lesson from Tito.