YOU ARE THE FUCKING BOSS; if you have children, that is.
Most parents are reading this thinking, “Well, duh, of course I’m the boss. My kid can barely string 3 words together and he flip-flops back and forth between ‘being a human’ and ‘being a dinosaur’ all day long.” And that’s what makes it so important that I really drive my initial point home… YOU. SHOULD. DEFINITELY. BE. THE. FUCKING. BOSS.
I recently read an article in McLeans magazine that quite poignantly outlines the basic causes (and the unfortunate effects) of what the author refers to as “The Collapse of Parenting”. The whole piece is fascinating, but I found one sentence to be particularly eye-opening (and by eye opening, I mean terrifying):
“In Western society, where equality for everyone has become a cultural objective and a constitutional right, children are treated like they are one more minority group to honour and empower… But many kids are actually overpowering their parents.”*
You guys, what the actual hell are we letting happen here? How have we wound up at a juncture where we’re literally asking our children if they’d like to eat their greens? As if they have the reasoning power to make a well informed decision on the matter. And when did dessert become a given, rather than a treat or privilege? Are we seriously letting our tiny, and, may I add, completely irrational, spawns make decisions for themselves that, worst case scenario, could result in diabetes, obesity and malnutrition? Yes, we are. And when we commit such glaringly obvious parenting fuck ups, the spawn’s spidey senses activate:
[According to prominent Vancouver psychologist, Gordon Neufeld], ‘when we consult our children about issues that symbolize nurturance like food, we put them in the lead.’ That triggers an innate psychological response, and their survival instincts activate: ‘They don’t feel taken care of and they start taking the alpha role.’*
Are you still with me here? The kids are not alright! They are confused! Because we are confusing them! They are taking on the alpha role! This is scary shit!
The crazy thing is, I’ve actually seen it happen before my very eyes. I’ve seen kids refuse dinner and still get dessert (I think this particular memory was really seared into my brain because it caused me to have flashbacks to my own childhood, during which such asshattery would never, ever, EVER happen). I’ve seen kids demand things at the grocery store (things that are definitely going to kill them eventually) and those things – ALL of those things – made it through the checkout.
Clearly there has been a massive generational shift in parenting over the last few decades. I’m a millennial (cue eye rolls from every other generation). Yes, we are the generation of participation ribbons and special snowflakes. We were coddled, fluffed up, educated to the tits, and then, in an almost poetically cruel twist of fate, just as we finished our abstract University degrees, the economy crashed and more than a few of us ended up working for little more than minimum wage at jobs for which we were totally overqualified… But enough with the millennial sap story; we survived, figured our shit out and we’re even beginning to procreate! The problem? A lot of us were never fully able to break away from the teet. Our parents help us with down payments on our houses, they throw us some cash if our Visa bill gets out of control, they occasionally show up at our condos with a fridge worth of groceries and/or home-cooked meals – we have been the kid our whole lives, even after we became ‘adults’. Is it really all that surprising that as parents, we are totally uncomfortable being the alpha / the boss / the grown-up?
We want everyone to get along. We want our kids to like us and we want them to feel like we genuinely respect their opinions. We want our homes to be democracies, not dictatorships. But we’re being really fucking stupid and really fucking short sighted. What we’re doing with our would-you-like-to-have-a-bath-tonight’s and are-you-ready-to-go-to-bed-yet’s is creating a generation of very sleep deprived, very sugar-infused, very scary little people who think that the world revolves around them and who truly believe that even their most ridiculous desires deserve attention and fulfillment. Terrifying. But we now know this is a problem, so what can we do to stop it?
Well for starters, we can stop with the fucking questions. I’ve been trying to implement this one of late, and it’s an admittedly difficult habit to break. Questions just sound so much more sophisticated than orders… but some things are not negotiable and I don’t want my kid thinking otherwise, so I’ve made a conscious effort to change the rhetoric we use in our house. For example, whereas before I would have said something along the lines of, “Can you come help Mommy clean up this mess you made, please?”, I now say, “Before we can play another game, you need to come and help Mommy clean up.” Simple, direct, and not a fucking question.
The same goes for anything pertaining to other non-negotiables, namely food and sleep. I’ve actually been a bit of a hardass in both areas since day one, but since I started paying close attention to my word choices, I’ve found ways to reduce the occurrences of power confusion. For example, I used to ask my son if he “wanted” to eat his lunch, and if he would “please have a bite of his sandwich for mommy” – I’m now very conscious of the fact that I do not want him to think that mealtime in general is optional and I most certainly do not want him to think that he’s doing me any favours by eating.
While nothing makes me happier than seeing him polish off a big serving of nutritionally dense food, I would be a terrible alpha if I let him know that. Now don’t get me wrong, I have no intention of going all National Geographic on him and making him wait his turn for me to have my fill before giving him permission to come and gobble up my discarded scraps; however, I do want and need him to know who’s in charge and the best way I can do that is to make it very clear that anything pertaining to his health and well being, until he can make rational decisions for himself, is strictly under my jurisdiction. Anything else is fair game.
For example, here are some questions I will gladly ask him (and happily acquiesce to his responses):
What would you like to wear today?
Which park should we go to?
What books do you want to read this afternoon?
Do you want to go visit grandma and grandpa today?
Would you prefer broccoli or peas? (this one’s kinda a trick questions – either way, he’s eating dem greens)
Should we colour? Or do stickers?
See? Autonomy! It can still be taught without completely disrupting the parent/child paradigm. Maybe some of you are sitting there thinking, “wow, mean-mommy much?”, but how about this? While you’re downloading every educational app under the sun and enrolling your kids in private preschool, the fact remains that in order for kids to flourish intellectually, emotionally, and creatively, they need to know that there is a responsible adult in their corner who has their absolute best interests in mind. They don’t need to know that in you they have a bestie for life or that you’ll be there to smoke them their first J. Turns out, authoritative parenting has a larger influence on a child’s overall wellness than that of race, ethnicity, household income or IQ*; so let me ask you one more time, in your household, WHO’S THE BOSS?
*Gulli, Cathy. “The Collapse of Parenting: Why It’s Time for Parents to Grow up.” Macleansca. Maclean’s, 07 Jan. 2016. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.
Featured image: “The New Mothers” by Sally Mann, 1989