This popular post was first published here on January 31, 2011.
What kind of parent are you?
Parents have traditionally been judged by their offspring in the context of their discipline style. Whether or not they were strict, or whether they were around to discipline at all. But have you ever thought of your parenting style as leaning conservative or liberal?
Conservative and liberal philosophies go much deeper than who you vote for. It is a lens by which the world around you is viewed, and how you react to people and to circumstances. Parenting is at its core, the act of passing down your values and preparing your children to enter into society as participating adults.
Let’s do a little situation ethics test and see where you fall.
Let’s say little Billy and Steve is sitting around the table, playing a game of “Sorry” while you, their mother sits close by.
Billy begins to cry. As a mother, you are naturally concerned and ask Billy why he’s crying. “Steve keeps bumping me out, he just keeps landing on me. He’s being mean.” Little Billy whines as he tucks his head down into the fold of his arm. “It’s not fair,” he continues to pout.
How would you react?
Which child needs the discipline? Is this small crisis in Billy’s life need of parental intervention, or guidance at all?
A) Scold Steve for being “mean” to his little brother. Pointing to the fact that he is now crying, and his feelings are hurt. Do you point out that he is little and it’s not fair that he should lose “all” the time? Or point out to Steve that it is not more important to win, than to take care of his little brother?
B) Tell Billy to stop crying and blaming his brother for his misfortune. Explain to Billy “Sorry” is a game of chance. The playing field is even; there is no unfair advantage. Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. Encourage him to pick his chin up off the table, and keep trying. It’s not his brother’s “fault” that he lost the game.
Without thinking it through, most parents would simply react to the situation. Granted, it’s certainly the easiest route to simply glance over the computer screen and tell the children to “play nice” or you’ll put the game away. However, effective parenting takes thoughtful action. Each answer holds with it a message for a young child.
Which action seems like the one you would choose?
If you chose A, to scold Steve the message is a potentially crippling one for both of the boys. You are punishing Steve for winning. The boys will walk through life excelling at some things, and failing at others. People around them will surpass them. How they react to these situations will determine, to some extent, not only their happiness, but also their own success.
In this scenario, not only is the winner not recognized for his winning, but is made responsible for his brother’s failure. Guilt is misplaced, and a victim is hand crafted.
By choosing B, at first glance it seems to be cold. Images of parents of old telling little boys not to cry, to “buck-up” and be a man come to mind. Unnecessary harshness with no regard to the child’s feelings, or self-esteem haunt the corridors of the American parental psyche.