It was a complicated matter, but one that is becoming so important to me that I feel inclined to try and describe it here.
Basically it boiled down to the role we have as parents. Whether a child has the ability to make good decisions.
Faced with a cookie, does a child have the ability to turn it down? To say, “this will give me a stomach ache” and refuse it.
Or does a parent need to intervene?
The fight was over the specifics. We both agree that we don’t want our child do develop diabetes by eating too many cookies, but at what point do you intervene? Here are some possible options:
- Tell them “no cookies” and reprimand them if they eat one.
- Remove cookies from the house so it’s not an issue.
- Sit the kid down and explain to them what happens when you eat too many cookies (you don’t eat as much good food and so don’t develop your brain and body as effectively, and you go through major energy swings, and you get a stomach ache) and then let them do what they want to do.
- Option #3, but then take the cookies away
- Force them to eat a lot of cookies so that they get a stomach ache faster
I’m a fan of #3. More and more my default is to treat the child with respect. If I have some insights in to what happens if you do something then explain those insights, but then let the child do what they want to do and confirm the advice in what ever way they see fit.
My wife would probably be more along the lines of #4.
This is well intentioned, you’re explaining your actions and then taking the correct action, but more and more I see it as robbing the child of an opportunity to confirm your advice. It feels like you’re literally saying “I just told you what’s best, but I don’t trust you to do what’s best”.
If you do #3 then the child will still probably take a cookie, but in the back of their head they will have your advice and I think they will choose to make the right decision given the autonomy to do so. At the very least then as soon as they have a stomach ache then they’ll likely think, “huh, they were right, this is probably because I ate too many cookies”.
It probably won’t work out like that every time, but I’m developing some very strong opinions that we need to give our children more trust and responsibility to do the right thing. It’s fundamentally important to their development as people. Every time we intervene we rob them of the opportunity to discover something for themselves. We change the world such that they’re not sure what the cause and effect was.
You can say you trust them, but if you don’t trust them to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes, if you forcibly prevent them from ever doing anything that will cause pain or sadness or frustration, then you’re not allowing them to figure out how to deal with those things, how to change their own behavior and become the person they want to be.
I’m probably over-dramatizing all of this. It’s kind of hard to have a balanced perspective after you’ve just had a fight. I’m guessing the best answer probably lies somewhere in the middle (because it usually does).
My wife and I will likely continue to fight over what exactly is the best approach to parenting. Those fights will probably benefit both of us as long as we don’t take them too personally. We made it through this one intact, so that’s a good sign.