f you've read this far, you're either deeply skeptical and are merely driven by morbid curiosity or you see the advantages of building parent-child relationships on the goal that matters -- equipping your kids for a healthy, productive and meaningful life -- even if it means giving up long-cherished notions of parenting. In either case, you care enough about parenting to admit to some doubts about the conventional precepts that have produced the joes and janes who people our world. Let's get started.
1. BUILD ON A BEDROCK OF HONESTY
Your kids don't believe you're a perfect being who always know what's best for them. Not if they're normally bright kids past the age of seven. So if you're basing your parent-child relationships on that woeful premise, you'll quickly find yourself slamming against a painful dead end at around the time they turn twelve. In fact, we believe that most of the trauma our society imputes to adolescence is brought on by misguided parenting posing as good parenting.
Let's face it. You don't always even know what's best for yourself, much less what's best for another human being. You can't claim the role that so many parents seem bent on claiming -- that of the all knowing god of their kids' lives. That role must be ceded to each child at the earliest possible opportunity. Usually that's around the time they start screaming at the top of their lungs while squeezing tears through their tightly shut eyes. That blessed event occurs, in my experience, seconds after they've exited the nirvana of their first home.
Yes, we firmly believe that parents must cede sovereignty over their kids' lives and forego centrality in decisions that affect them from the moment the little creatures exit the womb. Instead, for the first ten years of their lives they should expect to play thoughtful hosts showing new guests around.
Remember who invited the new being into this world?
Our philosophy turns the conventional notion on its head. You didn't give them life for the simple reason that they didn't ask to be born. You invited them! Like any good host you want to see to it that they have the best possible time for the longest possible time.
If you're okay with this premise, we're halfway there.
Forget that self-defeating notion of parental authority. There's no such thing. Never was. Never will be. It's like talking about using a hammer to program your computer system. It's a concept born of a time when people had to scratch for survival in a harsh land and has no place in an age when the best yardstick of future prosperity is the kind of self-assurance and dynamism needed to fuel creative energies.
You aren't a drill sargeant toughening up a recruit for battle or a warden keeping order among hardened criminals. You're a host who invited your guest to come as she is. Like any good host you want to make sure your guest doesn't hurt herself by tripping over that pesky tree root in the back yard or slipping on that slick patch and falling down those concrete steps. You want to make sure there's ample food and drink, a warm dry place to sleep, a variety of amusements. Most of all, you want your guest to enjoy herself so much that she'll want to stay forever.
Stop laying down silly rules or force-feeding hypocritical nonsense about how they have to live with arbitrary restrictions because, well, because you care about them. That's bull. The truth is, parents who lay down lots of rules are just trying to make life easier for themselves, whether they're conscious of it or not. It's easy enough to intimidate the kiddies into putting up with restrictions that may spare you some annoyance, inconvenience, discomfort and effort. But consider the price you pay when you bully in the name of love.
It's ironic that America is always carping at China and other nations about "human rights" and "democracy" when there's so much oppression, arbitrariness and emotional cruelty in so many American homes. You don't have to look much farther than that for all that teen anger and angst.
Parental bullying, we believe, is the original sin of parenting. It injects the poison of hypocrisy into the parent-child relationship. In its wake follows dishonesty, mistrust, resentment and, ultimately, alienation and self-destructive rebellion. It probably won't happen when they're seven, eight or nine. Maybe not even when they're ten or eleven. But bully your kids under the rubric of parental authority, then compound the sin by calling it love, and sooner or later you'll have turned that beloved little guest into an irksome, even a hateful, burden.
Okay, Mr Know-it-all, you're thinking. How do you teach your kids to grow up to be healthy, well-adjusted, productive and happy adults if you can't even lay down any rules?
The short answer is that those aren't things that come from teaching the way knowledge of math can come from teaching. We'll get into the subject of rules versus choices later in the article. The purpose of this section is to lay down the foundation for a constructive, effective and rewarding relationship. The first rule is not to base it on the dangerously misguided notion of parental authority. Push that notion completely out of your head even though it may have been pounded into your head by your own parents. You'll spare all concerned a lot of futility, frustration and rage. Always remember that any exercise of parental authority is merely bullying and bullying has no place in raising a great human being.
You're probably imagining all the impossible situations that will run amuck if you give up the right to come down hard on bratty behavior. I told you it would be difficult. But rest assured. There are ways to lead your guest toward happy maturity, much better ways, as you'll soon see. But that all depends on laying a foundation based on absolute honesty. Honesty demands that you not force on that newcomer the false notion that you are all-knowing and therefore have the right to resolve awkward situations by bullying.
But start with honesty and you will be able to establish a framework that will grow stronger as your child grows and will let you play a key role in helping your child build the best possible life for her own unique strengths and weaknesses. If you succeed in doing that, everything else will fall easily into place. A relationship that began with much bawling tyranny on one side and continual sacrifice on the other will, almost before you know it, mature into the warmest, most mutually gratifying relationships you can imagine.
So let your child know from the outset that you aren't god and that you don't know what's best for her, but that you want to do everything in your power to help her discover the really important answers for herself. After all, your real goal is to help that little guest become a confident, capable settler who embraces life with the maximum amount of joy. The only way to do that is to let her feel from the start that it's her life. That fundamental truth learned early in life forms the rock-solid foundation for every lesson to follow. If not, everything will be built on quicksand.
2. FOCUS ON WHAT YOUR CHILD FEELS, NOT ON HOW YOU LOOK
Who enjoys more universal approval than a good parent? Virtually no one. So of course it's only natural to aspire to that title. Unfortunately, it's based more often on appearances than on results, and that focus on looking good can make you lose sight of the goal of parenting. Just because you happen to be within earshot of someone who might pass judgment on your worthiness as a good parent you might be tempted to scold your kid when you'd rather laugh with her for that bit of innocent impishness. You might deny her that second ice cream bar when you know that letting her become responsible for her own eating habits will be far healthier in the long run. You might push her to get better grades despite doubts about adding to the pressures built into our social system. In short, you might lapse into treating her like a dimwitted, burdensome intruder than your most cherished guest. We've already seen how that will put your relationship on a self-defeating track.
The temptation to court social approval at your child's expense can be resisted if you consciously weigh it against what effect such betrayal would have on your child. What would it do to her to see that her parent values the approval of others over preserving an honest, mutually respectful relationship with her? Would it instill doubts about your honesty, loyalty and trustworthiness? Would it make her question the sincerity of everything you say and do? Of course it would. The thought of that price will keep you honest with your kid -- even though you might feel your face warm a little as your child casually tears the wrapper off that third Eskimo Pie in front of other parents who cut eyes at you for standing by like some neanderthal while all that sugar, fat and cholesterol wreck your offspring's delicate metabolism.
It isn't easy or pleasant to suffer the silent clucks of other parents. Yet if you are to spare your child -- and yourself -- the awful consequences of "good" parenting, that's exactly what you must do, time after time, especially during the first ten years of your child's life. Take comfort in the knowledge that it gets easier with each passing year, especially once the benefits of your farsighted parenting approach begin manifesting themselves. More on that next time.
READ PART 4