The Perfect Parenting Crime
Wednesday, January 11, 2023
Written by Elizabeth Hanson
I witnessed the perfect parenting crime the other night. It was well-intentioned, as most parenting crimes are, but it was a crime none-the-less. The involved parties were:
The scene is about 9:00 p.m. on Christmas night. The event is a holiday celebration. It was late, and the families with young children were getting ready to leave. The first to say goodbye was the members of the family around which our drama unfolds. To be precise, it was the mother and her son.
The mother, Susie (not her real name), was in the foyer about to open the front door. Her seven-year-old son, Jake (not his either), was in the foyer too, but he was standing very close to the living room, as if to go back. The grandmother, having just said goodbye, was standing on the other side of Jake and making her way back into the living room.
The scene begins with the mother's hand on the front door handle, and Jake announcing that he wants to stay with his grandmother.
"No, you're coming home with me," his mother said in a tone that would make John Rosemond smile.
"No I'm not. I want to stay with Grandma!" Now Jake is stomping his foot and looking at his mother defiantly. "Why do I have to go with you?" he demands to know.
"Because I'm your mother," Susie says raising her voice a little.
Hearing the exchange between mother and son, the grandmother turns around and says to Susie, “He can come with me if he wants.” Jake whines even louder and demands again to stay with his grandmother.
His mother, now exasperated, turns to her mother and says, "But you said you weren't going straight home. You said you were going to stop by your brother's house on your way home."
"No, he's sick with the flu, so I was only going to drop some things off at the front door."
Susie, realizing she’s losing this battle and failing to hide her annoyance, says to her mother, "Thanks, that's really helpful."
Sensing he's made some progress, Jake raises the volume on his demands a few more notches and bellows, “I want to go with Grandma!” Not only that, but Jake has also succeeded in gathering some attention from the rest of the party. About five family members have now congregated behind the grandmother wanting to know if everything is all right.
But is everything all right? Take a few minutes now to analyze the situation before we move on.
Now that you’ve done this, we can examine the crime together.
First, tell me who you think the guilty party was?
Correct answer: the guilty party was the grandmother.
She failed to uphold a united front with her daughter. Instead, she took her grandson’s side in opposing his mother's decision. The grandmother was not ill-intentioned; she simply didn't understand the importance of keeping one voice in front of the child. If Jake wanted to spend the night at his grandmother’s house, why not? What was the big deal? After all, it would make him “happy.”
The big deal was that by inviting him to go with her after his mother had already said no, she was undermining the authority of his mother.
And this was the crime: the grandmother undermined the authority of the mother. And, by extension, the grandmother undermined her own authority too.
The lesson that Jake learned is that he can oppose his mother, and his grandmother will support him when he does. The problem is that if the boy learns to oppose his mother, what's to stop him from opposing his grandmother later when she goes against his wishes?
If children don't learn to respect and obey their parents, it becomes difficult for them to learn to respect anyone else and impossible to train them in civilized behavior.
What the grandmother should have done was repeat what his mother had said by telling her grandson that he was going home with his mother, but he could visit his grandmother another time. She should have quickly said goodnight and walked back into the living room to join the rest of the party. No drama. Just say goodnight and go back to the party.
The daughter, on the other hand, had the right attitude towards her son. She was authoritative. Once she had made her decision, she was firm. But, did she make any mistakes? Yes. Her mistake was to engage in a conversation about it. When her son demanded to know why he couldn't stay with his grandmother, instead of saying, “Because I’m your mother,” she should have said, "Because I said so!" End of conversation.
Her second mistake was to engage in a conversation with the grandmother. Whether the grandmother had a stop to make or not was irrelevant. The daughter knew she did, and she gambled on that point to put an end to the front door battle. Instead, it just compounded things.
"Because I said so," is all she needed to say.
When a child is attempting to usurp the adult’s authority, both adults have to stand united and let him know who's in charge. A secure child knows the adults are in charge, and he trusts that they have things covered. But the progressive parenting model says that children know what they want better than the adults; therefore, we should include children in the decision-making process. After all, isn't our #1 goal to make sure our children are happy?
No! It's not! It’s only common sense that a child would know what he wants better than anyone else, but does he know what’s good for him? If he did, he’d eat his spinach without a fuss.
The point to raising a child well is NOT to give him everything he wants and expect him to be happy. Spoiling a child does not breed happiness. The greater objective is to teach him right from wrong and raise him in the ways of good character.
This isn't to say that a child can't voice his opinion. Jake could have asked his mother politely and respectfully, "May I stay with Grandma tonight?" and his mother could have said yes. But whether she said yes or no is irrelevant. What matters is that the adults keep a united front when making decisions for the children.
It's a very simple maxim:
Be authoritative and teach your children to obey you, or you will find yourself obeying your children.
Elizabeth Y. Hanson
Certified Leadership Parenting Coach