« In A Moment Of Neglect I Might Fly | Main | "What The Hell Do I Know!" »

June 21, 2009


Adam Felber is great at these. Juice crumbs is one of my favorites.

When parents have one child, the balance of power is in their favor. They can double-team the lucky kid, and give each other a break by taking turns. Life is good.

I can tell you from direct experience - from today even - that field-testing does not bear this out.

It's a relative thing, spartikus. It may seem like hell now, maybe like those 18th century wars and such, but you get two kids, and you realize the world was a lot better when you actually had a chance to talk to your spouse when the (one) kid was asleep, or you only had to satisfy one set of desires.

Wait, people are allowed to have more than one of these things?!!? My god...

Headed down 2 different aisles in a store is one thing, headed in 2 different directions in a jam-packed Terminal E at Logan Airport, with Mom (the only adult) trying to manage luggage, is another. This experience inspired me to create "The Rules of Travel":

1) Stick together.
2) Keep track of your stuff.
3) Be nice.

We drilled these a lot, in a lighthearted but serious way. It worked pretty well.

(Later I heard Pete Seeger's song "The 3 Rules of Discipline and the 8 Rules of Attention" and thought that sounded a little like us.)

But wither the role of technology in this stuggle? I'm concerned that my 4-yr-old's eerie mastery of our computer and iphone will quickly turn these appliances from panacea to to tools of insurrection. And will gesture-based computing put networked communication within reach of my 2-yr-old?!

Are we ready for flash crowds at the tastee-freeze truck?

JanieM gives me hope that my wife and I can rangle our 4 month old through DCA to Boston and back next month. We might still lose though (he's ornery, I tell 'ya)!

My mom had three kids, all under the age of five, paritial paralysis from polio, and a broken leg, when she transported the family from Connecticut to Michigan.

She used leashes. We looked like a minature chain gang.

Ugh -- you'll be fine. ;)

My son was ornery for a long time, very cranky and colicky, and from the day he was born he didn't need as much sleep as I did. We moved from Milwaukee back to the Boston area when he was 50 days old, and I worried and fretted for days about taking him on the plane (his dad was already back there, apartment-hunting). When the time came, he slept through the whole flight.

Our first daughter was extremely needy, and needed to be rocked to sleep, and you couldn't put her down just any way; you had to gently and very slowly lay her down, so that she wouldn't wake up, and very, very slowly slide your hands out from under.

If she woke up, you had to start all over.

Much like Mexico of late, I think. We've been bad, bad parents. Or bad at international relations.

Ok, this whole parallelism is too much for me, before I've see the bottom of my 2nd cup of coffee.

There is a solution with multiple kids: You grab the opportunity to teach responsibility . . . by making the older ones responsible for riding herd on the younger ones. From personal experience, it actually can work pretty well.

Turns out responsible adults, too.

wj: There is a solution with multiple kids: You grab the opportunity to teach responsibility . . . by making the older ones responsible for riding herd on the younger ones. From personal experience, it actually can work pretty well.

I second that. Put the oldest kid in charge of the youngest kid, have the middle kids hold hands with each other, and make clear they're responsible for staying together and making sure they don't get into trouble. You don't want to leave them in charge too long or with too much responsibility, but when supervising four kids on a shopping trip, when the problem is kids shooting off on their own, that strategy can work just fine.

(Can work even very, very young: I saw a boy who wasn't yet four save his sister, who was then about 18 months, and who had managed to get herself poised for a face-dive on to the floor of the bus: the boy just spotted she was offbalance, and literally threw his arms around her and pulled her back. It was quite great, if scary.)

Jesurgislac and wj favor putting older kids in charge of younger kids. There is a HUGE qualification that should be mentioned, having to do with the age difference and maturity (not necessarily age-related) of the children involved, as well as whether the younger one will pay attention to the older one and is past the age of sudden impulsive moves.

Jesurgislac gives the example of a small child saving his sister. I have read articles about, for instance, a seven-year-old holding the hand of a two-year-old who pulls away and runs into the street and is killed. That seven-year-old will forever feel that she is responsible for the death of her sibling, when in fact she should never have been EXPECTED to take that level of responsibility for a toddler.

Just last week my daughter found a child less than two in front of her apartment watching a garbage truck (right next to the truck). She went out and retrieved him, and then had trouble finding who he belonged to. It turns out that his five-year-old brother, playing nearby with a group of friends, was supposed to be watching him. Most five-year-olds are not CAPABLE of remembering that they are responsible for a little one for more than a few minutes, especially when friends are nearby.

So I guess I disagree strongly with this advice with very young children, which was not mentioned in the above posts.

Wait, you mean occasionally taking one of your kids, throwing them up against the wall to show them who's boss, invading their room and scattering their things every which way, while allowing all the other kids to grab whatever of their stuff they like, then appointing a council of your kids to be figurehead rulers of their lives, while not allowing them any actual power, isn't a successful technique?

Even if you include a flat tax?

It doesn't make your kids a beacon of hope and inspiration for the neighborhood?


"The whole field of asymmetric conflict can prepare you for another aspect of child-rearing: your superior education, physical strength, and total command of financial resources will not translate into anything remotely resembling 'control'."

Well, the neoconservative argument would be that you also have to be willing to use that physical strength (i.e. beating your children)...

Actually, a number of reds actually seem to out this into practice... Now I'm just sad.

Wait, looks like Gary (kind of) beat me to it.

Somebody upthread mentioned leashes.

We had one of those leash/harness contraptions for our daughter in toddler stage (she's now 28, and doesn't need it anymore).

I think my wife found it in a consignment shop for half a buck or so.

Two benefits: it absolutely limits the distance kiddo can go, and (one most people don't think about) the poor child doesn't have to keep her arm vertical and shoulder socket strained for hours while holding hands.

However, be warned: the busybody parenting police don't like those doodads. My wife regularly got frowned at, occasionally commented upon, and once threatened with being reported for abuse.

Much better, of course, to let little cherub run into traffic, or run away and hide in the mall.

I find it's sometimes useful to give problematic blog commenters treats when they've been good, and to spank them and rub their noses in it when they've been bad.

Getting them to bark is terribly easy.


Where did you pick up "Shucky-darn"? I've never heard it used outside my (Pennsylvania Dutch) family.

Nobody dies in this.

There are, however, flaming heads.

"Where did you pick up 'Shucky-darn'?"

No idea. Er, I read widely? It's one of a zillion phrases I've been using seemingly as long as I can remember.

Although Google does list only 2,730 uses, so I guess it's rarer than I thought. It's a non-quite portmanteau of "shucks" and "darn," of course, which aren't rare phrases at all by themselves. Also a variant of "aw-shucks."

I see there's a site called "OhShuckyDarn.com," for what it's worth.

I like shoo-fly pie, too.

We had one of those leash/harness contraptions for our daughter in toddler stage (she's now 28, and doesn't need it anymore).

Yeah, after about age 26 there's less and less need for the leash and the whip, right?

I never thought, as a child, that I would be glad that I grew up in the '70s. I couldn't imagine how much worse it would get.

Put the oldest kid in charge of the youngest kid,

I believe this lines up with what IR terms as 'internal repression' :^)

No, Gary. What I mean is being a 3 year old, taking care of my 1 year old brother -- because my mother was too sick to get out of bed for months, and we were way out in the country with no neighbors. We got along well then, all thru school (even after Mom got better), and still do, after several decades. And nobody got physically (well, except that I learned to change diapers solo and do laundry real young).

Obviously a small child has some limits, both from lack of experience and from simple size. But within those limits, he can do a great deal -- far more than is usually expected of him. (I use "him" deliberately. Girls are more likely to have responsibility dumped on them earlier. But that's culture, not capability. Boys can do that stuff too, if it is asked of us.)

Sorry, Gary. That was dnfree i was responding to. Just messed up the ident.

"I like shoo-fly pie, too."

Between that and "Shucky-darn," you're close to being an honorary Dutchman. (Last bit of the entrance exam: how do you feel about stuffed pig's stomach?)

wj, my father at five also watched his baby brother occasionally when his parents worked in the farm fields. That was in the 1920's, out in the country, as you were. It was also a necessity, as it sounds like your situation was. It was not in the big city, on streets.

It sounds like you were in your house and your mother was at least overseeing. That's a far cry from letting a five-year-old "watch" a toddler while also playing with his friends. It's also a far cry from having a two-year-old bolt from a seven-year-old and run into traffic. I don't dispute your example at all, but that certainly doesn't cover all cases.

My daughter also has a friend who got home from work and had to make a quick bathroom stop while leaving her infant strapped in the car seat and her three-year-old next to the baby in the entryway of their home. When she returned in mere minutes, the three-year-old had dragged the baby out of the car seat by its head and was holding it by the feet above the tile floor. You could say that this mother should have taught the three-year-old more responsibility, or you could say she should have taken the baby to the bathroom with her except that she had never envisioned that the three-year-old would decide to do that.

I didn't say teaching children responsibility for younger children was a bad thing--I said it depended on age, maturity, and the situation. Some people have very poor judgment as to what level of responsibility a child can handle; some underestimate what a child can do, as you indicate, and some overestimate, with sometimes tragic results.

I also learned "shuckydarn" from my Pennsylvania Dutch mother. I never thought to question whether it is common or not! She would also "redd up" the house (tidy up). If we went out without our coats in winter, we were in danger of catching "kypoozle", which I have never heard anywhere else, so I don't know if that is Pennsylvania Dutch or just her own imaginary disease to threaten us with.

"Last bit of the entrance exam: how do you feel about stuffed pig's stomach?"

I don't think I've ever had one, but I'd like to try some Bacon Explosion some time, I liked the one taste of haggis that I've had, and I'm very fond of stuffed derma/kishke, if that helps.

Also, I know a hex sign when I see one.

I'm very multicultural. It goes with being all liberal-like.

JamieM - I typed the title of that Seeger song into a search engine and got a bunch of references to Mao.....

Ted -- the wireless is very sketchy where I'm staying and I can't get anything to post from my laptop, so I'm using the Mac in the hallway. Try googline "Pete Seeger Three Rules of Discipline" and you should find at least the tune somewhere. (I found it on a site called listen.grooveshark.com.)

I have it on an old album that I haven't listened to for ages because it's either a platter or an audio tape and I don't have a record player any more, or a tape player in my car....my memory is as sketchy as the wireless in this B&B but I think it's an actual Red Army marching tune...my version is a concert rendering, so Pete talks about the rules ... "Don't steal food from the peasants" and stuff like that.

[If this shows up 3 or 4 times in 3 or 4 versions: my deepest apologies. And good night.]

One comment I've been expecting someone to make, but hasn't turned up yet: the image of the U.S. as a benevolent parent to the rest of the world doesn't resonate well internationally, to put it mildly.


the wireless is very sketchy where I'm staying

I understand perfectly well that you mean WiFi, but I still got a strong image of your being in the Outer Hebrides, trying desperately to pull in Radio One on your crystal set.

dnfree: You could say that this mother should have taught the three-year-old more responsibility, or you could say she should have taken the baby to the bathroom with her except that she had never envisioned that the three-year-old would decide to do that.

Well, I wouldn't say either, because I've never found it that helpful to engage in drive-by mom-bashing when a kid does something spectacularly, well, kid-like. For every horror story, there are a thousand non-stories where nothing did go wrong, or even started to go wrong.

The small boy I witnessed saving his sister from a face-dive on to the floor had good reflexes, cared for his sister in a very protective big brother kind of way that could be very endearing or very infuriating depending where it led him, but he wasn't even four yet and no one had put him in charge of his sister or expected him to save her: he just reacted. Obviously under no circumstances would he have been left alone to babysit his sister: but he did save her from what could have been a nasty fall.

One of the other peculiar things you see in discussions of parenting is asymmetry of knowledge. Everyone has an opinion about parenting, but a substantial proportion have seen it only from a child's view, not a parent's. There are few things more eye-opening in becoming a parent than suddenly realising why your own parents behaved in some of the ways they did. Whereas as bo-duke's comment reminds me, some (though by no means all) adult non-parents seem to believe that there is only one possible way of understanding the parent-child relation and that all other views are defective.

The parallels with IR, in which too many Americans seem to find it impossible to see that any other countries have legitimate interests of their own does spring to mind at this point.

The Outer Hebrides?

If only. ;)

Um, no-one has noticed that this:
The potential complications of a multipolar order were never clearer the first time this happened to me.
is not at all about multipolarity. The situation is one of unipolarity, with multiple threats.

Multipolarity is what happens in step-families and the like, where two or more approximately equal powers issue conflicting signals.

But most of all, the lesson from kids is that they are just like North Korea. We pampered Westerners have difficulty, imho, understanding the ruthlessness and total lack of scruple of some of our opponents. Parenting helps here, because kids, who are unbearably cute and whom you love to pieces, are essentially devoid of any scruple in seeking their own advantage. Thus, if just once you feel sorry for a little munchkin and allow him/her to skip the peas, you can bet that next time this is already the rule, and you have to expend entirely disproportionate effort to re-impose it. Ditto bedtime!

Bright line rules which are occassionaly 'harsh' are better than seeking to do justice in all circumstances!

In the case of North Korea there is of course the bad influence of its Northern relative Aunt Red China setting it against its Southern brother (adopted by Uncle Sam).

Yeah, but it's even more complex, since Aunt Red China is financing Uncle Sam's credit card binges.

But she did not yet when she brought NK up. Now she too seems to a bit worried about the lil one's playing with fire next to the house. She has not yet her mind up about Uncle Sam (probably hoping to inherit more than his debts one day).

I'm doing my best to ignore the paternalistic attitudes in comparing US foreign policy to the parent-child relationship, because it's just going to make me very angry, and sticking to actual adult-child relationships.

My rule when looking after children has always been: Have rigid rules that you can sensibly justify: stick to them absolutely unless there is a sensible reason why not: but allow any child who can, to offer a cogently-reasoned and articulate argument why the rule should be broken in this one instance.

(Then feel free to respond, if necessary "That's an excellent argument, but the rule will be kept. Because I say so.")

I agree with magistra that looking after kids gives you a real instant insight into why your parents did and said the things they did: I tried not to resort to "because I say so" too often, but there is no doubt that at times you just don't have time to explain exactly why you decided that...

I love Auntie's cooking.

And regardless of whether the situation is multipolar or unipolar, there's no doubt that Dad is bipolar. Probably also has a borderline personality disorder.

Regarding the child minding issue: what about au pairs?

We had a couple of them when I was young and I thought that was quite entertaining (my brother minding me - not so much...). It also furthers international understanding, a bit like exchange students.

Somebody upthread mentioned leashes.

However, be warned: the busybody parenting police don't like those doodads. My wife regularly got frowned at, occasionally commented upon, and once threatened with being reported for abuse.

That sucks. I don't like the idea of putting kids on leashes, but I'd never accuse someone of abuse for using them. "Busybody" seems insufficiently harsh.

If you have well-behaved, compliant, non-defiant children, you may be crediting your stellar parenting skills and wondering why those parents wrangling their screaming child out of the grocery store aren't as good as you are.

All of us are just one child away from being the parent with the screaming child. My first two children were extremely well-behaved, and when complimented on them, I always said, "That's just how they are." When I had the third child, I was glad I had not taken the credit for the first two, because I wasn't taking the blame for that one in the early years!

All of them have turned out to be fine adults, and if you met them, you probably couldn't guess which was the difficult one. But there were some challenging years in there. A little humility is good when discussing parenting techniques.

I don't like the idea of putting kids on leashes

Why not, other than we associate leashes with animals? It seems to me (complete non-parent, so) to be an excellent idea. It allows the child some freedom of movement, a feeling of being free, but being under control.

"I don't like the idea of putting kids on leashes"

I live in a pretty old New England town, and there's a lot of historical stuff dating from the 17th C.

One of my favorites is this odd wooden bucket that colonial women used to put their kids in. It looks like a truncated cone. The kid could stand up or sit in it, could look around and see Mom, but couldn't get out.

Seems kind of weird now, but in days when every home had an open hearth fire going more or less 24/7 and a variety of ways for an inquisitive little kid to do him or herself serious harm, it probably saved some lives.

I've often thought an larger adult version would be appropriate for those times when someone has just a little too much fun at a party.

Why not, other than we associate leashes with animals?

This is definitely part of the reason. On my part, there's also a gut reaction (uninformed and probably inaccurate) that it allows and/or demonstrates neglect. How hard can it be, I wonder as someone with no friends or relatives who have small children that I see more than twice a year, to watch one kid? Therefore, someone must be lazy to need a leash on their kid. Like I said, gut reaction, probably totally unfair, but that was my reaction the first few times I saw kids on leashes.

Many years ago our family was departing China the long way from Kunming, which is what the new Communist authorities had decreed. This involved, along the way, taking three different riverboats down the Yangzi River from Chunking (Chongjing) to Hankow (Wuhan).

On one of these boats, our "accommodation" was outside, on the third deck of a triple-decked steamer. The lowest rail around the deck was slightly higher than my little brother, who was just shy of his second birthday and very mobile.

We (= my parents) kept a rope around his waist securely anchored to a fixed post the entire time we were on that boat.

And no one, so far as I could tell, thought the worse of us for that.

(As opposed to being imperialists and all that kind of stuff.)

The comments to this entry are closed.