Parenting, as it were, is a remarkably simple task that is very, very hard to accomplish correctly.
All you really have to do is make sure they have enough food to not starve, and are safe enough that they survive childhood without getting run over by the UPS truck, and you’ve successfully raised an adult. The trick is that in doing so, you probably haven’t raised a very well-adjusted, happy, or productive adult. This is the part that people make out to be trickier than it needs to be.
There is one thing that I would suggest that all new parents get through their thick skulls in whatever way possible, and it is this:
Kids absolutely, positively need boundaries. Their little minds crave them. They have to know what is right and what is wrong. They are hard-wired to NEED a black and white world. In everything that they do, and every act that they partake in, they need to know that in doing right, there will be reward, and in doing wrong, there will be consequence. Their little brains crave this.
Proof of this is easy to find – locate a child whose parents have not set boundaries, and look at what that child invariably does:
Increasingly bad things, to be exact; things with no benefit to the child at all, other than to just be bad. This is not because children are jerks; it is because that kid is craving boundaries, and will continue to do increasingly bad things until he finally gets an adult to tell him “NO! This far, and no further!”
He isn’t being a jerk because kids are wired to be that way – he’s begging for someone to give him the black and white world that he craves, even if subconsciously. Yeah, he’ll be all pissy when you tell him “no,” but at the end of the day, he’ll be a happier, more fulfilled child to know that his world has boundaries and is black and white.
This is why giving your child a say in the way he or she is raised is horribly damaging to them, psychologically. They don’t want a say. They want rules and boundaries, and even punishment when they go outside those boundaries. They want their parents to be infallible gods, not fallible humans who need to ask them advice before they make a decision; who collaborate with children before they choose. The kid will appear to rebel against rules on the surface. They’ll whine about bedtime, and get mad when they don’t get their way, but in the end, they will be happier children than they will be if you give them the run of the roost and let them “express” themselves. They don’t want to “express” themselves in that way, nor will society allow them to “express” themselves when they grow up, resulting in a shock to their system when they learn that everything that they know and learned as a kid is untrue. They want to be safe and secure, and KNOW, not just hope, that the people in charge of them, taking care of them, and setting rules for them have it under control. There is nothing worse for a child to suspect that their parent doesn’t have it under control. Asking your kid if it is okay to do this or that is like telling them that they are in control, not you, and that scares the shit out of them.
Look at what happens when kids get old enough to learn that their infallible parents aren’t really infallible; when they become teenagers, and they become defiant and sassy and insubordinate. But then, they are adult enough, and have enough life behind them to deal with that. Parents that don’t do these things for their young children get the same defiance and sass and insubordination of a teen that’s discovered that their parents aren’t god, but from a much younger child. In essence, those parents have forced their toddler or pre-teen into becoming teenagers much sooner than they are wired to be, and this isn’t good because they AREN’T adult enough, and they DON’T have enough life behind them to be able to deal with that.
So all of that, coupled with one more thing:
Teach your kid not to be an asshole.
My friend has a daughter that doesn’t really have very stout boundaries set, and who has been given a controlling vote in decisions made in her life since day one. She is eight years old. Her controlling vote comes in the form of throwing temper tantrums or whining. Once she does either, she generally gets her way. Oh, sure, her parents express their discomfort at her actions and scold her, but in the end, she usually wins, and they usually lose.
So they’ve trained her that the way to get what she wants in life is to whine until she gets her way, and then throw a crying tantrum if that doesn’t work. They express frustration that their daughter seems to be incapable of communicating outside of whining and throwing fits, yet they continue to reward that behavior and reinforce in her mind that it is the best way to get what she wants. She can be kind of hard to be around.
As a result, they tiptoe around her as much as possible, trying to not to set her off. In a sense, they appease her so that they don’t have to deal with the tantrums. This girl, predictably, acts horribly as a result. There are no consequences to acting horribly, and since she craves those boundaries I talked about before, she continues to do increasingly bad things trying to get someone to tell her “no.”
Yesterday, she was on a “correcting” binge, where everything someone else said, no matter how mundane and inconsequential, was incorrect on some point of minutia in her opinion, and she would rush to correct what was said in the most snooty, self-gratifying way possible. Remember, she’s 8 years old, so this is, at least to me, rude and unacceptable behavior beyond anything that I’ve ever dealt with from a child before. An example: Mrs. Goober found a pretty rock and showed it to Mini-Goober, and said “look at the pretty purple rock!” and Little Gal snootily chimed in “That rock isn’t purple! It is bluish-brown!”
We were on my boat, fishing. Bird Dog was on the back deck, trying to jump in the water to retrieve the bait I’d just thrown (as an aside, taking bird dogs fishing is a pain in the ass – they aren’t designed with a “hold still and chill out in the boat” setting). Bird Dog understands a few commands, one of which is “get in the truck.” It means “get into whatever thing it is that I’m telling you to get into.” I use this command to tell her to get into the camper, get onto the 4-wheeler, get into the truck, and in this case, I used it to tell her to get back in the boat. (As it were, the idea behind this is that “truck” is a unique word with a unique sounds, so it is an easy identifier word for a dog to remember).
Little Gal corrected me in her typical snooty manner: “We aren’t IN a truck, Uncle Goober, this is a BOAT!”. This came after four hours of being in the boat with her where literally every time she opened her mouth it was to whine about something that she wanted her parents to do for her, or for me or my wife to do for her, or to correct something someone had said. It was wearing thin. I muttered “Jesus Christ” under my breath after she corrected me, mainly because neither her father or mother made any attempt to do anything about it. I know when I was a kid, if I’d been stupid enough to correct something an adult said, I’d get an ass-chewing the first time I did it, and an ass-blistering if I was moronic enough to try it again.
What her Dad did do was to step in to her defense and explain to me that I needed to be patient with her, and that she was only 8.
I love this guy like a brother. He is my best friend on Earth, and I would never, ever do anything that could possibly ever come between us (I’m a little nervous about writing this, even anonymously, since the series of events is unique enough that he’ll know who this is writing this, and it will hurt his feelings. But it needs to be said, because I need an outlet for my frustrations on this issue, so I’m taking the risk. If he does read this, I hope he’ll understand and give me the benefit of the doubt here. I love him and his daughter and his family with all my heart. Nobody’s perfect. Especially not me). As a result, I bit my tongue and agreed with him, and let it drop without saying anything more.
But here’s the thing I WANTED to say to him:
“I would not accept her treating me like this if she was 40 freaking years old, man! Why in the hell would it be MORE acceptable when she’s eight?”
And therein lies the trick. Our society has a set of baseline standards to which a person must fall within, or risk being considered an asshole. The most important thing to keep in mind is that once a person reaches 3 years old (or thereabouts) these standards apply uniformly, across the board. If a 40 year old can’t do something without being an asshole, then an 8 year old can’t either. Once you’re three years old (or thereabouts), crying tantrums in public directly equates to assholery. Once you’re three, not applying the uniform rules of polite conversation (ie, saying “please”, “thank you”, and just generally being polite) equates directly to assholery. Whining to get your way equates directly to assholery. It doesn’t matter if you are 8 or 40. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that society had MORE STRINGENT rules for not being an asshole for kids than they did adults, and kids all over the country were adhering to the more strict kid’s rules of not being an asshole, then. So don’t tell me that your daughter is incapable of not being an asshole because she’s only 8. It is BECAUSE she’s 8 that a higher standard of non-assholery applies to her.
When I was 8, I got it. I would never have dreamed of keeping my seat in a room where the seats were filled once an adult came into the room. I’d get up and give my seat to the adult. I don’t do that now because I am an adult; thus, proving my point that kids are capable of adhering to higher standards. Little Gal, on the other hand, would purposely wait until I left my seat to go and take it, and then refuse to get up when I came back to reclaim my seat.
As a kid, I would have never dreamed of correcting an adult, even if I KNEW they were wrong, because I was a kid and that wasn’t something I was allowed to do. I don’t even know what my Dad would have done if I’d ever whined about something, because by the time I grew old enough to have memory, he had already taught me that whining was fruitless, and so I never, ever did it.
My two year old does not do any of these things anymore, except for very rarely when she’s over-tired and not thinking straight. She doesn’t do them because she’s learned that they are fruitless things to do which, instead of leading to the desired outcome, will lead to consequences. Whine about wanting something? Get told to stop, and made to stand in front of me and ask nicely, saying “please” and “thank you.” Throw a fit? Get told to stop immediately, and if you don’t stop, get told LOUDLY to stop immediately, and if that doesn’t work, you go to your room (time-out) for a bit until you calm down, at which point you can only come out if you apologize for your behavior to every person who witnessed it. This is my TWO YEAR OLD, folks. She is the happiest, most well-adjusted kid I know. My other friends who discipline their kids similar to me also have the sweetest, most well-adjusted and happy kids in my group of friends. My baby loves her Daddy so much that she wants nothing more than to be around me, and it is in no small part because she knows that I am infallible, and that I will tell her what is black and what is white without her having to find out on her own, and that I will provide for her the things she needs to become a good person, and not be an asshole. I am, in a way, her everything. And she loves that and appreciates it. She is good because she wants to please me, and also because she knows that being bad will have consequences. She isn’t forced to bad behavior in an attempt to learn her boundaries; I set them from day one without her asking, and this is a GOOD THING, folks. I am not squashing my child’s ability to be happy and learn and play. I am enhancing it by teaching her to be a good functional member of society that people want to be around.
Training your kid to be an asshole will lead to them living the life of an asshole – lonely, unhappy, and unfulfilled. You aren’t harming them by disciplining them and giving them boundaries. You are harming them by NOT doing those things.