Mind you, I’ve only been a parent for just over nine years, but as far as I can tell being a parent is pretty much the exact same thing as conducting psychological warfare for at least 18 years. That is to say that if you have kids like mine, you find yourself in a constant battle of wills. I’m not exactly sure who gave these kids permission to be their own separate thinking, autonomous human beings with their own feelings, emotions and motivations, but it makes parenting goddamned-near impossible. So you wind up having to figure out ways to essentially trick your kids into doing what it is they need to do, or more likely the case, what you want them to do at the moment.
I mean, let’s face it, there are tons of things every single day we need to get our kids to do for their own good. Brushing their teeth, eating their vegetables, not becoming crazy judgmental bigoted d-bags when they grow up…you know, the basic shit. And there are also tons of things we ask our kids to do every day that they don’t really “need” to do, but that we want them to do so that it makes our lives easier and less stressful in the long run. Don’t deny it. When you tell your kids to go play in their room or go read a book, you’re probably doing it so you can sneak a few moments of much-needed peace and quiet into your life. Don’t be ashamed of it; we all ask our kids to get the fuck away from us from time to time. You’re only an asshole for doing it if you act like an asshole while doing it.
But whether it’s doing their homework or going outside to play so that you can have a tumbler of whiskey and cry in silence for a few minutes, the odds are when you ask your kid to do one of these things — anything, really — you’re going to get guff. Sometimes you’ll get a lot of guff. Sometimes you’ll get smaller amounts of guff, and sometimes you get the kind of guff that actually makes you proud to be that little stubborn a-hole’s mommy or daddy because it makes you realize you’re not raising a stooge who takes what they’re told on face value. The point is that coercion is not only okay in parenting, it’s pretty much a goddamned requirement.
It’s how you go about coercing your children to do what you want them to do that separates parents, I think. Clearly putting your hands on your kid in a violent way to get them to do something is both ineffective and stupid, not to mention abusive and asshole-y. I’d also recommend against verbally abusing them by calling them terrible names and devaluing them with your rhetoric. So what options do you have? Psychological Warfare, of course!
We tell them that Santa Claus exists in the hopes that at the very least they’ll spend the months of October through December trying to be well-behaved. Ditto with the Easter Bunny and Jesus Christ, of course. But it’s not just fictional characters we use to get what we want out of them. As parents we are constantly tap dancing all over our children’s emotional and intellectual nerve endings to cajole them into line. The bottom line is that you have to convince them that what you want is what they want and vice versa, which is pretty much the hardest thing in the world to do.
Even something like an allowance for chores performed is a bit of psychological warfare with your kids. Sure, we can pretend that we’re preparing them for the real world where they’ll have to get a job and stuff, but at the end of the day, aren’t we also trying to just get them to pick up their goddamned clothes off the floor, and we’ve set a price for that peace of mind at X cents or dollars a week? From the moment they can truly understand us, we are playing games with our kids’ heads, and it’s called “parenting” to make us feel better about brainwashing our kids into believing in what we want them to or behaving the way we know they should behave.
Here’s the thing, too, don’t assume they aren’t on to you. And don’t assume they aren’t playing games right back. It’s human nature to try and weasel the best deal possible for yourself, so believe me, your kids have probably already sized you up and found your small, 2-meter wide exhaust port. Manipulation is a hallmark of any healthy family, if you ask me.
So what this all really means is that none of us should be surprised when we find that adults behave the same way to one another once they grow up. We were trained to do this, and so too are our kids. Does the art of finagling come from the fact that we all have to bargain with our parents and our children to get what we want sometimes? How the fuck should I know? I’m a comedian, and that’s something someone with a big, fancy degree could probably answer.
All I know is that I have to find a way to convince my four-year-old to stop breaking things literally the moment they are handed to him, but since my parents never figured out how to do that with me, I’m thinking I’m fucked. But that is another topic for another useless parental advice column.