John Rosemond October 2016 Columns
Copyright 2016, John K. Rosemond
The Effects of 'Parenting' on Child-Rearing
In 1971, a psychologist named Fitzhugh Dodson published a book titled How to Parent. It did so well that he came out several years later with How to Father. By 1971, Dodson was one of a handful, if that, of child-rearing traditionalists left in psychology, but his titles were quite progressive. In short order, parent and parenting became verbs, however illicit.
The word “parenting” implies a technology and indeed, parenting is far different than just raising kids—or, as I prefer, raising adults. I asked my mother, in her later years, what parents had called said process in the 1950s. She thought for a moment, then said, “We didn’t call it anything. We had children and raised them to be responsible adults and that was that.”
It wasn’t called anything because it was just something people just did—a natural process requiring only commonsense, not great intellect much less great study. Parents of the 1950s and before didn’t even think about it much. Looking back, I rarely got the impression that my parents were thinking about me and on the rare occasion when I realized they were, I began to worry.
Paradoxically, raising an adult is both a huge responsibility (mostly, to one’s neighbors) and a simple, non-scientific process. It becomes difficult, arduous, and exhausting when one reads parenting books, magazine articles, and newspaper columns. (Irony alert!) These materials, with rare exception, lend to the impression that child rearing is parenting and parenting is a discipline, a technology to be mastered. So, today’s mothers read “parenting” books in an ongoing effort to perfect their parenting and, by extension, perfect their children.
Dads, by and large, do not read parenting books. They are not trying to perfect their parenting or their children. That’s important – very important, in fact – to understand. Moms are trying to accomplish Immaculate Parenting. Dads are not, which greatly bothers lots of moms.
Immaculate Parenting will, apparently, produce the ideal child, one who makes straight A’s, makes it into the gifted and talented program, wows adults from an early age with his knowledge and insights, and never, ever gets into trouble for doing a bad thing. They don’t do bad things anymore anyway, because bad things don’t fit the “parenting” narrative; they simply do unintentional things called “bad choices” which they never mean to do.
Mothering—the female form of parenting—is very hard work. Mind you, raising adults is not hard work, but mothering? That’s a horse of a different color, for sure. The mothering mom is in constant child-oriented motion because to slow down is to risk the possibility that one of the plates she is spinning will begin to wobble and come crashing down, and that simply will not do. Mothering is all about work. Mothers who mother even work at demonstrating love to their kids. Everything about mothering requires great mental concentration and physical energy.
Parenting is all about psychology. Raising adults, by contrast, is about nothing more than commonsense—comprised of equal parts of unconditional love and unequivocal leadership. Parenting is all about ascribing legitimacy to children’s feelings, whereas one raises an adult with the commonsense knowledge that children are drama factories.
Parenting is demanding and it is almost a given that children who are parented will be demanding, which demands even greater parenting.
And ‘round and ‘round they go!
Dinner Table Doesn't Have to Be a War Zone
Q: Dinner with our three kids always, and I mean ALWAYS, turns into a disaster. Typically, the oldest, 11, begins to needle the youngest, 6, and then, when the middle one, 9, figures out which of them is winning, he jumps in on that side. We’ve yelled, sent the instigator from the table so we can restore a semblance of order, not allowed television in the evening, and so on. Needless to say (or I wouldn’t be writing) nothing has worked. Needless to say, the bickering between them is not confined to the dinner table. Help us, please, before we commit a felony.
A: Nothing has worked because you’ve done essentially nothing. As is the case with most of today’s parents, your consequences do nothing but annoy your children. You set off firecrackers when you need a hydrogen bomb. You try to stop charging elephants with flyswatters. And then, when the elephants trample you, you blame the elephants. This problem began because of the children. It continues because of you.
What is it with you folks (meaning not just you, but parents of your generation)? Never mind. I know the answer. You (plural) won’t use BIG, HUGE, MEMORABLE CONSEQUENCES—as in, consequences that go beyond annoying and truly mean something. Why? Because you want your kids to like you. As a result, a lot of you end up not liking your kids. Furthermore, your kids don’t take you seriously until you begin acting like escapees from the local looney bin.
You’ve yelled? It is inevitable—and I mean it is a 100 percent ironclad guarantee—that parents who want their kids to like them end up yelling at them on a regular basis. You’ve sent the instigator of this chaos from the table and/or taken away television for—what?—two hours? Wow! And then you experienced great guilt, right? Right. Because parents who want their kids to like them are wracked by guilt on a regular basis, whereas their children feel guilt rarely if ever.
Here’s the paradox: The less a parent wants to be liked by his/her child, the better the parent-child relationship will be. I’m not talking about being hateful toward one’s child; I’m talking simply about not giving the proverbial hoot nor holler whether or not the child likes you or any decision you’ve made at any given moment in time. You know you love your child. You know you would make the supreme sacrifice for your child. Right? Right. And that, my friends, is all that matters. Not what a CHILD thinks about you.
Only your children can solve this problem, but they will not take any steps in that direction until the problem upsets THEM, and THEM only.
Since three children are involved in this mealtime circus, bar all three from the dinner table for a month during which the two of you enjoy civilized evening meals for two. While you dine in the sublime peace of childlessness, confine them to their rooms. When you’ve finished your meals and civil conversation, release them to clean up after you. When they’ve finished and you approve the result, allow them to fix themselves sandwiches or some other cold plates, after which they clean up after themselves and then return to their rooms until bedtime.
After a month, give family meals another go. If the circus begins anew, put them on the fix-it-yourself cold sandwich diet for two months. At some point, this is going to get very old—for them, that is.
Society Has Dumbed-Down the Definition of Bullying
Noting that October is Bullying Prevention Month, several editors have asked if I am willing to write an apropos column. I am and for two reasons feel eminently qualified to do so.
My first qualification is that I was bullied as a youngster. It began in the fifth grade with George K. He would run me down, wrestle me to the ground, pin my arms with his knees, and begin tickling me. I am very ticklish. Being tickled is “funny” for about three seconds upon which it becomes excruciating. Forget water-boarding. We should simply tickle non-uniformed enemy combatants. They’d tell us everything and more, believe me. When George was finally sent to reform school, Danny P. took his place. Danny’s specialty was the sucker punch. I dealt with this by taking the long way home, sneaking through back yards. If that didn’t work, I ran. Forrest Gump had nothing on me.
My second qualification is that I am, apparently, a bully. A 23-year-old young woman, when I politely disagreed with an ill-informed opinion, sharing several pertinent and verifiable facts with her, told me I was bullying her. Her parents, seated at the same table, said nothing.
The head of a private day school recently told me, “This bullying thing has gotten completely out of hand, John.” He went on to describe enraged parents—overwhelmingly, mothers—storming into his office to complain that their children are being bullied and then describing incidents that anyone possessing of a fair degree of objectivity would call harmless pranks—the sorts of practical jokes children, especially boys, are known for.
There is genuine bullying, and then there are parents who are in deep states of co-dependency with their children. By definition, no emotional boundary exists between the parents in question and their kids. What their children feel, they feel. Under those circumstances, the emotional dynamic resonating between parent and child spins out of control.
Children are drama factories to begin with. They have the innate ability to make an emotional molehill into a Category 5 hurricane. One of a parent’s responsibilities is to help his or her children put the everyday slings and arrows of life into a proper perspective. When a parent not only fails to do that but also begins to participate sympathetically in a child’s emotional experiences, the result is emotional chaos. Both parties suffer long-term damage from this state of affairs.
On the website of the National Bullying Prevention Center, bullying is defined as “Behavior that hurts or harms another person physically or emotionally.” The definition is problematic because it depends to great degree on the subjective judgment of the self-identified victim. Was I bullying the young lady mentioned above? Is disagreeing with someone or expecting them to defend their opinions bullying? Is bullying strictly in the eye of the beholder?
This messiness is the consequence of a culture that has dumbed-down the definition of bullying to the point where school officials often cannot differentiate truth from hysteria. And so they give little more than lip service to complaints of bullying while pointing proudly to their bullying prevention programs.
In other words, to avoid giving legitimacy to parent-child co-dependency, schools often end up enabling bullies. A mess for sure, and sadly, it will still be a mess on November 1.
New School Year, New Babble on What's Wrong With Your Kids
The new school year is still fresh and “it” has already begun, “it” being the ongoing effort on the part of schools to persuade parents that there is something wrong with their kids’ brains.
This year, this effort is about something called “executive function,” which the Harvard Center on the Developing Child defines as the “mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.”
(Full disclosure! According to HCDC, I am not qualified to be an air traffic controller.)
A number of teachers have told me that over the past year or so they have been required to attend seminars on executive function led by psychologists, psychiatrists, or pediatric neurologists who claim that the frontal lobe moderates executive function; therefore, deficiencies in executive function are due to frontal lobe dysfunctions of one sort or another. The solution: expensive therapies and—yes, you guessed it—drugs.
Be assured, folks, that this is about as scientific as most of the “brain differences” babble that has proliferated over the past decade, which is to say it is not very scientific at all. The fact is that barring obvious, measurable, and reliably verifiable brain impairment (lesions, e.g.), this stuff is theoretical. At best it is educated speculation.
The further fact is that all skills are brain-based and all brain-based skills are distributed within a diverse population according to the bell-shaped curve, which educators are in danger of forgetting even exists (surely indicating a problem with executive function). In other words, it does not take brain problems for some kids to be below average with respect to a given skill. In many cases, the issue is simply maturity. Furthermore, the measures in question are unreliable. This adds up to the fact that a child who is below average with respect to a skill at age 7 may be above average at age 15.
I maintain that this executive-function-left-frontal-lobe-brain-difference brouhaha is the latest iteration of the four-decades-long effort by the unholy alliance of psychology, psychiatry, pediatric neurology and Big Pharma to proliferate the spurious diagnosis of ADHD (for more on that volatile topic, see The Diseasing of America’s Children by yours truly and pediatrician Bose Ravenel). When one label has exhausted its half-life, a new name will give it new life.
Before I go into the witness-protection program, one last fact: Good research (see Failure to Connect by professor Jane Healy, for example) has found that early and continuing exposure to electronic media (television, video games, smart phones, computers) can and does compromise the skills HCDC associates with executive function.
In other words, the solution to many if not most childhood executive function issues may be as simple as shutting down electronic media. But that takes properly functioning parental executive function, which is another matter entirely.