Friday, April 10, 2009

Patronizing Parenting

patronize: to adopt an air of condescension toward

I have been noticing recently how many parents treat their children in what strikes me as a very patronizing manner. Phrases like "because I'm the mom, that's why" and "good boy!" and "what do you say, dear?" are all pretty condescending. When my child asks why he has to do something, I tell him--now this doesn't mean that he doesn't have to do it (and sometimes he needs to do it now and I'll explain later), but I think asking 'why' is entirely valid. (Sometimes it makes me question why I am asking this of him, and I can evaluate whether it's really something important or if I'm just being bossy...if "because I'm the mom" is the only reason I can think of, then I know I shouldn't really have asked it of him.) When I ask my son to do something, and he does it, I say "thank you," not "good boy." He is a person, not a dog. My children have learned through example to be polite, but when Bear forgets and says "mommy give me cracker" I repeat to him "give me a cracker please?" and he repeats it more politely. I belive that if I treat him respectfully, he will learn more from that example than from any amount of nagging, reminding, or patronizing parenting.

I started thinking about these things when I read "Unconditional Parenting" [the link goes to my blog post about the book]. The author, Alfie Kohn, has plenty of flaws (for starters I'm told that he's somewhat of a moral relativist, meaning that he doesn't believe in an ultimate 'right' and 'wrong,' and therefore believes that any one's perception of right is just as valid as any one else's...obviously i disagree), BUT, I think he does make a valid point when he says that we should treat our children as fellow people. No, they are not tiny adults--their understanding and perceptions are not as complex as ours--but they do have needs, desires, and opinions--all of which are real, and which we should accept as valid. Children are not animals to be controlled; they are people, and should be taught with respect.



ETA (Edited To Add)
Several commentors have said that Kohn is not so much of a moral relativist as I had heard. I have only read one of his books, and like I said, it got me thinking, but I definitely felt that it was imperfect. My intent with this post was not so much to talk about him, or his theories, or even per say my feelings about him or his theories...just to express my perceptions about patronizing parenting (which happen to have been influanced by his theories).

11 comments:

sara said...

He may be a moral relativist (I've actually heard many other terms applied to him) but after seeing him speak I definitely got the idea that he has sure opinions on what is socially acceptable and right/wrong. I actually had never heard of him before I went to see him speak and he is so funny and so good that I went out and bought the book. As always, of course, take the good and leave the bad!

Mallory said...

I agree with you 100%! I do think that children should be very obedient to their parents, as long as their parents are righteous. Of course, that doesn't also mean that children can be disobedient when a parent isn't righteous, but they can be respectful. I am interested in reading that book! I'm sure it is very interesting.

Lolly said...

I hate it when people talk down to kids. I always talk to kids like they're adults - like we're on the same level. I figure that it makes them feel good if they're treated like an adult and not sub-human.

Lisa said...

I totally agree. I hate "good boy" and things like that. (Though I do have to admit I have used "Because I'm the Mom and I say so!" on occasion after my explanations of "why" were going nowhere.)

I do the same thing you do as far as modeling the phrasing I'd like my children to use when making requests. It seems like that's all I do some day with my 2-year-old right now, teaching that she can say "I would like some ______ please" instead of screaming for what she wants.

Cynthia said...

I certainly won't disagree with you. I make sure that I apologize or admit when I'm wrong to my kids. My Mom (who was a really good Mom) would not do that because she felt it undermined her authority. I'm not as worried about authority. I'm more concerned with raising kids who won't be 'right fighters' among other things.

Kate said...

Hey, I thought I commented here since I started my new blog, to let you know about it, but maybe not. I didn't send out a mass email or anything. When I started it, I was planning on keeping it totally anonymous (but the desire to post pictures and share with friends and family who care is just too strong).

Anyway, congrats on the pregnancy, I'm soooo happy for you.

In regards to this post, I don't think I would say that AK is a moral relativist. I'm not saying he or his theories are without flaw by any means but I was confronted with that once before, and after searching through several of his books and articles it seemed pretty clear that he's not a relativist. He even states a few times in his book that he believes in treating kids respectfully for both practical AND moral reason. Not to mention the fact that his whole book is devoted to how to raise "good" kids. He just rejects traditional ways of teaching and instilling morals, claiming there is a better way to get this result.


Just my 2 cents. (And now you see why I avoid commenting. Because once you get me started, I can't shut up.)

megandjon said...

I love that book. I have tried really hard to not say "good job" but "you did it!" instead, and to not say "good boy" but "thank you" instead. or, if the kiddo gives me a nice hug, i dont' say, "what a nice boy" i say "that makes mommy feel so nice, thank you". i need to reread it, it's been a while. I really hope that I can incorporate it, the older my little one gets (he's only 11 months right now) but i do worry about some of the real applications of what he says. the book, as i remember it, is mostly a kind of overall theory of parenting. i've been reading a lot of books, trying to come up with more practical applications that fit. I really don't want to have to use time out ever, I kind of hate the whole time out thing. So I'm trying to come up with a different methodology! Any future posts you want to do about that, or other books, would be appreciated! :)

Jennifer said...

I really liked your opinion on this. Very interesting to think about.

Kelly said...

I guess it is a matter of perspective - I will often say "Good job Sweetheart!" to one of my kids, which I guess could be considered condescending. But, personally, I just love it when one of them turns to me and says "Good job mommy! This is yummy!" [or something equivalent]. :)

Miche said...

Loved this post. You make a wonderful point for us parents to ponder on. How is the pregnancy going? I hope all is well and you aren't too tired yet :)

Jessica said...

One thing I've noticed is that as I show respect to my children they show respect toward each other. Their foremost teacher of respect is me, and if I don't show them how to act who will? Just telling them and guiding them isn't enough - I have to show them.

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