Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bringing Up Parents

I don't quite know what to make of yesterday's New York Times article: "When a Parent's 'I Love You' Means 'Do as I Say." Link here.

For quite some time now psychologists have been debating whether parents should love their children conditionally or unconditionally. Should they love their children when they do the right thing? Should they withhold love and affection when the children get it wrong? And should they love a child more when he gets a good score on a spelling test and less when he gets a bad score?

I am not going to summarize the answers because the terms of the problem are unclear and need redefinition.

First, most children have two parents of two different genders. Mothers and fathers are not the same thing. It is not obvious, to me at least, that they need to have exactly the same policy toward love and discipline.

In many, if not most, families the mother expresses love and care-- often, unconditionally-- while the father defines the rules and enforces discipline.

Yet, the article does not draw this most elementary distinction. I suspect that the gender neutral world of advanced psychologically-correct thinking does not acknowledge it. Yet, most children, from an extremely early age, can tell the difference between mother and father. They know that mother will always love them and that they will not always live up to their father's standards.

The article also confuses things because it fails to distinguish between loving your children and feeling proud of them. A parent might very well love a child no matter what, but it does not make a great deal of sense for the same parent to feel parental pride when the child when not accomplished anything worthy of said pride.

If your child drops the ball, you will still love him. You will not, however, feel proud of him for having committed an error.

If you mistake love for pride and try to feel proud of your child no matter what he does you will, in my view, foster feelings of grandiose narcissism.

When your child makes a mistake, you will, as a loving parent, will console him, tell him that everyone drops the ball sometimes, and offer a few extra hours playing catch in the backyard.

To me that feels like parental love. No one would really want to shun a child for making an error. But no one should want to feel pride in a child when the child has not earned it.

I would add that good parenting does not involve telling the child that you are proud of him for trying, no matter the outcome.

It is better to try than not to try, but parental pride should be reserved for success.

Without considering the difference between love and pride, and without considering that mothers and fathers do not have the same role, the discussion becomes confused and misleading.

No comments: