Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Today is Backwards Day--Thoughts on Parenting and Why Kids Need Fathers
The other day I was racing my five-year-old up the stairs. He won as usual, though I was carrying plenty of groceries as usual. As he shouted, "I won, I won!", I told him that actually I won because today was backwards day, so first was last and last was first. He got really mad and kept saying there's no such thing as backwards day, that I was cheating, etc. But I was relentless and he ended up in a huff.
Which was fine as far as I was concerned.
While I don't do these things as some sort of conscious parenting strategy, I do think they serve as a useful learning experience. I also think it's a learning experience that is mostly imparted by fathers upon their offspring. It's the mother's natural role to provide a rock solid base of unconditional love for their children and it's the father's natural role to teach them not to take themselves too seriously (and develop their own sense of humor), and to reason outside the box.
Of course I just enjoy messing around with my son: teasing, joking, explaining the laws of physics, etc, generally engaging in play behavior. But I enjoy it for a reason, because play is important. Just as predator species incessantly wrestle and chase each other around in their youth because it serves a useful purpose: honing skills, strategy, paw-eye coordination, etc.
Self-confidence is important, but it is difficult to teach. Actually doing things, and failing more often than not, is what builds self-confidence. Self-esteem, its more vulgar cousin, is much more easily acquired, and is vastly overrated in the West. Unfiltered praise is useless praise, and kids are going to sense that early on, even if they continue to seek it. But with enough of it, they can acquire an empty sense of self-esteem and entitlement that has little to do with their ability to apply themselves or view reality in a realistic manner.
Petulance is a very natural bargaining tactic for children since they start out by simply screaming in order to get their basic needs met. Once they get old enough to speak and reason it's important for parents to wean their children off of petulance, by not rewarding petulant behavior, of course.
Much easier said than done.
The typical feminine approach to The Petulance Problem is ideally the no-nonsense approach, I'd give examples but I think they'd be superfluous, or un-ideally the forced dominance approach, "You'll clean your room because I say so!"
The typical masculine approach to The Petulance Problem is ideally amused mockery, "You are getting pissy about backwards day? Do you think Batman is afraid of backwards day?", or un-ideally more of the forced dominance approach.
I think the two-pronged male/female approach works best for The Petulance Problem, and child-rearing in general, and that this diverse approach to raising kids has probably been the norm for much longer than we homo saps have been engaging in neolithic activities.
It should go without saying that both parenting styles have their advantages and disadvantages, and work best in combination, or that other combinations of styles also work, or that single parents can do a great job raising children, etc. But to pretend that single parents are optimal for children is just as reality-dodging as trying to pretend that that obesity is optimal for health, or is somehow more sexy.
I also doubt it's optimal for children to not have close age siblings (my kid is an only child and I was an only child for ten years, which ends up being the same thing).