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Parents must stamp out child tyranny

| Tuesday, April 7, 2009

This is the third in a series loosely titled "I Don't Know About You, But I'm Ready for the 1960s to be Over and Done With," in which I lament the destructive effect of that inane/insane decade on American child rearing -- since known as parenting (which means to exhaust yourself in the service of your children).

Thus far, I have dealt with the nefarious notions that (a) children should be allowed to express their feelings freely and (b) the words "because I said so" cause damage to the immature psyche. If you have been so unfortunate as to have missed either or both of those first two columns, and you're interested, go to my Web site at www.rosemond.com and click "Weekly Column."

This week, I take on the notion that the family should be democratic, first advanced by Thomas Gordon, the author of "Parent Effectiveness Training," and his acolyte Dorothy Briggs, the author of "Your Child's Self-Esteem" -- without a doubt the most influential parenting books of the era.

By "democratic," Gordon and Briggs meant that children as young as 2 should have an equal say in the making of decisions that affected them even remotely. Example: Children should have veto power over chores. If that sounds inane/insane, you're beginning to get the picture.

My wife, Willie, and I began our family in 1969. That also was the year I began graduate school. It was "hip" to believe in such things as the democratic family, and so, being super-hip, Willie and I charged down the road to democracy with our first. We were going to prove that Family Utopia was within our grasp.

Three years later, it was obvious to us that we had failed. Instead of democracy, we had created tyranny. The tyrant was 36 inches tall and weighed the same in pounds. Whenever we attempted to motion for a certain decision that was not to his liking, Eric screamed and threw himself around like a madman. We, in turn, danced to his discordant tune. We danced until we found a place to stand that would cause him to stop screaming. This meant, of course, that the more we danced, the more he screamed, and the more we danced, and so on.

It took at least another six years for us to come to grips with the fact that our parents had not done such a bad job after all and began raising our children, belatedly, the way we ourselves had been raised. Fortunately for all of us, belatedly worked. But the awakening that dawned upon Willie and John Rosemond did not dawn on the culture at large. It is 30-some years later, and all too many American parents still are dancing to their children's unruly tunes, still acting as if little people with no life experience know what is best for themselves.

The epitome of this is the new practice of catering to children at family meals. Mom and Dad are eating roast beef, mashed potatoes and green beans, but 11-year-old Che' is eating a hot dog and french fries, and 6-year-old Fidel is eating a grilled-cheese sandwich and the only brand of potato chips he will deign to consume.

This might look like democracy, but as Willie and I painfully discovered, it is the tyranny of the Children's Republic. Furthermore, someone ought to tell the parents in question that a family shares the same food at family meals.

That is one of the things that makes them a family.

"But John," the guilty protest, "my child doesn't like roast beef and green beans."

That, my dear, is because you serve him a hot dog instead. I'll bet there are no children in Darfur who suffer from roast beef anorexia.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on his Web site at www.rosemond.com .

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