First of all, women are oppressed second-class citizens, no argument. I’m all about the equality. Having said that . . .
Ladies, get your shit together, and just like Pink Floyd told the teachers – Hey! Leave those kids alone.
I spend a lot of time criticizing parents, and I don’t mean to be sneaking it in under the radar: mothers are the main parents. In most of the world, most of the child-rearing, and therefore most of the child-rearing mistakes are made by mothers. I suppose in places where the men have proprietorship over their women (old world cultures, sub-cultures where the law doesn’t reach, among the very rich or the very poor), we can say that mothers have no choice, there certainly are places where a lot of misguided mothering is forced upon the mothers by a brutal regime of men – but not in my life! In middle-class suburban or city life in my corner of the former First World, the west coast of Canada, for the most part, it is mothers who have control, mothers who are the autonomous rulers of the family. Men here are still children to some degree, still living in the power-shadow of their own mother; the industrial revolution has removed men from the family structure. We’re like lions now, we will be called upon to fight if there’s a war or a threat, or when the children grow beyond the mother’s ability to control them herself. Other than that, we will defer to the mother, as we always have, from our earliest days.
On a personal level, I would have been one of those minimally involved men – I still am, half the time. Honestly, I still have the weak male core-belief that my contributions to running the household are optional. I cook and clean sometimes, but it’s still sort of voluntary, and sometimes I don’t. I’m sure I would have happily taken the suburban male’s back seat position regarding parenting too, except for this idea I had, my epiphany that children should not be punished. Un-punished children would not have happened if I had left things up to my wife. In my house, it was me, the man, who stood up against potential violence, against the betrayal and disregard that punishing brings to parenting. In my mind, it was about that, about saving my kids from a lot of unconscious brutality, but I have to admit – I wasn’t excited to be that uninvolved, un-consulted father. I was, as so many young men in this First World life are, staring down the barrel of familial irrelevance.
Having seen the effect of that in my own father, as well as in the patriarch of my in-laws’ family, and knowing my constitution wasn’t matched for the alcoholism that was their answer for it, I knew that wasn’t going to sit well with me.
This whole ‘no punishment’ thing, though, this started long before I was able to articulate that fear. I never recognized my dad’s situation that way as anything he didn’t deserve, and I only thought about it in a personal context. It was getting to know my in-laws that gave me to understand that it was a situation many men have to deal with. Or not, I guess – and that I was facing that crisis/choice also. I think the chronology speaks to any conscious need to build a rationale I may have had – but I’m willing to grant the possible overlap of interests. Much as I’d rather look at it as a pleasant surprise, some collateral repair in my life from choosing to do the right thing, that I fought a careful and prolonged battle with my still-beloved wife to implement a form of child-rearing that very few people would understand or agree with.
I felt for many years, while the girls were young and vulnerable that I was walking a wire not to piss the wife off to the point of divorce while trying to bring her around to my idea, and to this day, I can see the pain that her lack of control over things gives her. The poor girl has done what I advise in my blog, she has lost at both ends, powerless with her own mother, and then cut off from the inheritance of power she needs so bad as an adult, never permitted to enjoy the topside of our eternal parent-child power struggle. I was trying to make the same sacrifice, but I had talked myself into it already, her parents were present in her life . . . for whatever reasons, it was me driving the change and was my wife losing her parental power simultaneously with starting to see the situation of her childhood powerlessness. It was very hard on her. She would never have it any other way now, but I think young motherhood was harder on my young wife than it is for some, thanks to me. Not to mention that I was intervening and insisting on changes because the girls were here now and needed to be spared a lot of “normal” stuff now – and a lot of the “now” was before my wife had understood or agreed with the whole ‘no punishment’ (so no force, so no bedtimes, no mealtimes, no toilet training) thing. If I ever succeeded in one of these interventions, it was often only that I had complained long and loud enough that she would just capitulate.
There wasn’t mostly a meeting of minds while the girls were little. It was a pretty stressful few years, bad for me, probably worse for her. It’s been a lot better since the younger one was maybe five or six, for all of us. Having said that –
My wife is the sweetest, most passive girl I could have found. I would say nine out of ten women I’ve met during the child-rearing years of my life would not have either allowed me to make this change, either would have whooped the kids’ asses while I wasn’t around or left me and had them all to themselves, something. I know what we did, what I made happen is what was in my dear wife’s heart, and she’s been very happy with it for many years now. We have always known we were loved, all through the teen years, always the communication and the honesty has been there.
Using your power early on takes that away from you; it’s a trade no-one in my house will ever again consider, I’m happy to say. Having said that, that, to a considerable degree, is motherhood, this power trap that my wife so painfully escaped, the stage of life where at last a young mother gets to feel her own power rather than her parents’ power, at the expense of her children’s power. I’m hopeful that we have lessened the power of that cycle for our girls and that the cycle will not simply resume with them, when they have children.
I’m hoping that my beautiful wife’s suffering won’t have helped save only our girls, but their kids, and theirs, won’t have been for a blip in history, but the start of something.
So I know how I’m framing this, and it’s horrible. It’s like male/master/rational – female/slave of unconscious needs – and I’m sorry. Any psychologist will remind me that I was getting my unconscious needs met too, of course. As I say, I powered my way into a strong parental position. Also, I acknowledge that most parents will grant that she too had a rational position to argue; I don’t agree, but if it makes me seem less authoritarian, I won’t try to convince you!
Hmmm . . . 1,300 words . . . better leave off for now . . .
Oct. 8, 2015
“so no force, so no bedtimes, no mealtimes, no toilet training”…explain…
it all comes with not punishing at all, ever. If you’ve decided not to punish – which seems important to me, I think “legitimate” hurts are still hurts – then you’ve given up the tools to win any of those scenarios. Deciding “not to spank” falls apart immediately if we still expect everything to go our way, it won’t. Not punishing means not winning everything, and that means all those things, bedtimes, mealtimes. Kids will eat when they’re hungry and toilet train when they’re old enough. We did wake them up in the morning for our work, daycare, and school, so they slept at night, mostly, like normal folks. But no punishing is a huge change, it’s not all the same stuff in our day but nicer. It’s a decision to change how we do everything.
1.Is all discipline out? 2.What if your kid at 9 wants to take drugs? Is it okay not to win that one and similar? 3. At what ages did you start your own kids on this – can’t remember in all our discussions.
yup! Discipline is just abuse with good intentions, and I’m not sure our intentions change the hurt.
No-one asked for drugs or alcohol – in fact, they’re 17 and nearly 21 and showing no interest in alcohol or drugs, despite that dad is a bit of a stoner. I’m not sure how we might have approached it, certainly we would SAY no, but we wouldn’t ever have backed it up with force . . . there were things that can’t happen of course, but they don’t all require penalization . . .
We tried to start from day one, but the idea wasn’t fully formed yet, even with me, but the wife was still stuffing the first daughter into the high chair, still wanting mealtimes and bed times, it took a few years before we were both fully on track. The second daughter is 3 1/3 years younger, we were pretty much settled into things by the time she came along . . .
It is a big part of my idea that it starts from day one, though. Once you get used to handing out discipline, it gets easier, and more necessary, it’s sort of addictive, you push the kid once, more likely you’ll need to next time. Conversely, if you never do, you’ll never need to, was our experience. Since the kids could converse – five years? – we haven’t felt the need for discipline, ever.
Interesting. I’m not even arguing with you on this one because I do think it is an interesting approach. But I also believe in horses for courses and the saying that there are many ways to skin a cat. I can’t subscribe to one way that negates all others because I have seen that your way and the way of strict to moderate discipline both produce unexpected results. Always interesting though.
Hmmm . . . ‘horses for courses’ . . . boy that must feel great, being the horse who appears to need a rough course, while other kids do not. That would feel extremely unfair, wouldn’t you think?
Your interpretation. Mine however is that everyone is different and just as I am not wearing the same clothes as you today I will not eat the same food as you today, I would probably need a different form of discipline than you also.
Plus if I were the horse who is throwing eggs and flour at an elderly stranger I would find it perfectly fair to be treated differently from the horse who is at home doing his homework as requested.
Oh, I know it, it’s the normal narrative. It’s wrong and crazy – but you’ve got the whole world on board, so, smug as you like . . .
I like being smug at least once a week! …Particularly with you! 😉