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A Good Upbringing

I believe in aristocracy though, it that is the right word and if a democrat may use it. Not an aristocracy of power based upon rank and influence, but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky. Its members are to be found in all nations and classes and all through the ages and there is a secret understanding between them when they meet. They represent the true human tradition, the one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and chaos. - E.M. Forster
Today we find many parents who wish to be, along with their children, part of the aristocratic class. But it's not the aristocracy that E.M. Forster was talking about. it's a fake aristocracy based on external trappings with a hollow core. These children go out in the world expecting an awful lot of attention, pampering and special treatment from everyone. They believe their own hype, causing problems for other children, for other parents, for teachers, and for coaches. Then they grow up and cause problems for employers and neighbors and friends. This problem may be blamed, with some fairness in my opinion, at the feet of the baby boomers and their offspring, who blithely tossed traditional child-rearing values aside and started in on this hyper-competitive achievement-oriented culture where everyone gets measured, from cradle to grave, by his or her success collecting money, status, power, toys, etc. The art of raising well-adjusted children has become something of an arcane pursuit despite the enormous industry of self-help books, parenting magazines, and reality tv shows which has sprung up around it.

In order to teach children how to behave with sensitivity, consideration and pluck, you have to truly value those things yourself. Specifically, they must be more valuable to you than material success; for in truth, goodness is its own reward. Society will not bend over backwards to help out the sensitive, the considerate, and the plucky; as you probably already know. In fact, a great many people view these qualities as weaknesses to be exploited. That's why the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky form a sort of aristocracy -- because they persist in being good despite the often punishing consequences. This is the road less traveled.

To bring your children up this way is a tremendous gift to society, but you must never expect any thanks or even an acknowledgement. You must do it purely out of love.

If you have three people in a basic family (woman, man, child), your family dynamics form a triangle. There are three relationships: mum/child, dad/child, husband/wife. When you add another child, the dynamics increase to six: mum/first child, mum/second child, dad/first child, dad/second child, first child/second child, husband/wife. And when you add a third child, the dynamics go to nine, and so forth. These dynamics need to be ordered and organized for stability. That is the parents' job. Because of the manipulation of cultural forces, this parental instinct has become dulled over time. Conveniently, after people make a mess of their families, they turn to the enormous parenting industry for help. Sometimes it is too late, and we all pay the price for these broken families. But when a stable husband/wife dynamic grounds the family, many benefits flow to the children. The happy children put less strain on the parents, and the system self-reinforces. [Just as an aside, the Religious Right does not have proprietary ownership of this information. They didn't 'invent' this knowledge -- it belongs to all of humanity, who figured it out and passed it down long before the Religious Right ever blighted the face of the earth. While families can function in other ways, it's a mistake to cast this particular way aside just because the Religious Right laid an obnoxious proprietary claim to it. I just want to make that clear.]

Good parenting boils down to this: the parents need to be the parents, and the children need to be the children, and the parents remain in charge until such time that the children internalize stability. It's as simple as that. So how do you help the children internalize stability? Like this:

You want to ensure compliance and accountability from your children, so when they're young, have them repeat your directives back to you. For instance, if you think your child wants to resist you, say: "What did I just say? What are you going to do?" When your words come out of their little mouths, it's harder for them to claim confusion. Their little shoulders may slump, or worse, but they will get over it. To be extra sure, get confirmation: "Do you understand? Are you sure?" Now everything is very clear.

Grateful children are happy children. Train your children to be grateful and respectful to you, as the parent. You love them and give them everything they need (not want), do you not? You have every meal and snack as a training opportunity, just for starters. When you give them a bowl of cereal, ask: "What do you say?" When they say "Thank you," say "You're welcome." This habit, once instilled, is practically unbreakable. Soon you will never have to wonder whether your children thanked Mr. Coach for a ride, because your children will be completely reliable on this matter.

Do not put up with fresh mouths, harangues and whines. Just don't. As soon as it starts, put an end to it. You can say, "Excuse me?" with a shocked and bemused expression. You can say, "This conversation is over," and leave the room. You can say, "Do not speak to me like that."

Do not get sucked into sibling rivalries. This is where family dynamics often get seriously out of whack, as the parent(s) get induced to throw their weight around. Don't do it. As long as nobody is really injured, tell siblings to work it out. Tell them you don't want to hear it and then ignore them. If something happens leading to a fight, but you didn't see it, punish them all. If you do see it, react immediately and clearly, punishing the offender without matyring the other(s). There's a bright line between tattling for nothing and tattling for safety. Make that crystal clear. Make a big deal when a child makes the right call on tattling.

Make your children help the family. Say: "We *still* don't have a maid" if they waltz off after supper. If they're flopped out while you are doing chores, say: "I see you're not busy. Fold this laundry (sweep the stairs) (pick up your room) (etc.)" Tell them to solve problems, especially if they just lazily want you to fix something they can do themselves. Say: "Figure it out. You can do it."

Be the adult, and be an ally. Provide your children with the security of knowing that you can handle problems. "There's nothing so bad you can't tell me." If they need to get out of peer pressure or some uncomfortable situation, say: "You can blame it on me if you need to. I don't care."

Build trust and confidentiality within your family. You have the right and responsibility to advise your children. They will have to deal with problematic people, and you will need to instruct them what to do. You cannot let them be doormats, but you must be very clear about expectations. "This conversation does not leave this family."

When it's necessary, punish effectively and build resilience. Know what your child most enjoys, and withhold that thing when you need to discipline. Don't shield your children from your anger and disappointment. Be honest.

Explain how the world really works. If you raise your children this way, you must also help them to protect themselves. Trust but verify. Ask lots of questions about the people they interact with. Find out if anyone is taking advantage of them and give specific instructions on how to handle the problem. Help them select good friends, and always meet the parents. As soon as your child picks up a new habit, good or bad, find out where it came from and put your child on notice that you are paying attention.

Move on. You have to let go and move on from mistakes, yours and theirs. Don't rehash things.

By the time children reach seven or so, they really begin to see the advantages of this kind of parenting. They start to appreciate it. It draws the family bonds tighter, as they understand that you are helping them form good character. They respect you for knowing how to do this. They see how other children are deprived of these gifts, miserably drowning in material possessions. Your children will be well on their way to becoming sensitive, considerate, and plucky people.

My grandmother called this a Good Upbringing, and I think it used to be much more common. A Good Upbringing is absolutely the best gift you can give to your children and to society. This knowledge belongs to all of humanity. We just need to remember how to do it and pass it on.


A. Peasant said…
No problem. Glad you saw it. I can guarantee this works through age 12 or so.
MarcLord said…
Some Greek dude once since, give me a boy from when he's 4 until he's 7, and I will show you the man. That's probably not as true now as then, but that age range is tremendously important. Really, I so appreciate you writing this beautiful and wise dictum, and will send it to my wife.

When a doctor tells you of your 1-year old, "I fully expect him to be mayor someday. I'm not kidding," or an educator says of your 4-year old "he is utterly unique in my experience," you know you're in trouble. At a week old, he was exhibiting so much will and mobility that a Brazelton Institute researcher asked if she could show him to her class in two months. He was already rolling across rooms by then. Walked at 8 months, ran at 9, never stopped.

Obviously I'm proud, but it has taken a lot of work, struggle, help to rein in what needs to be, give the good stuff room, and enforce the boundaries. Had one of those rewarding "you can figure it out" moments just last week. ;-)
A. Peasant said…
You are very kind. I am expanding this and will post it on my WordPress blog ( in a few days as its own page.

I encourage you both to continue to be firm. My Oma used to say, "Oma is a beast." But of course, we adored her and completely respected her. God would not have sent you a little pistol like your son unless he thought you would do a great job. Just stay right on top of him and have confidence about it, as though you've already raised 50 challenging kids and you know *exactly* what you're doing. And whatever you do, make sure you and Mrs. Lord always back each other up in front of The Mayor and Otter. You'll be fine.
MarcLord said…
I will definitely start using the Repeat Trick much more.
A. Peasant said…
Oh yeah. That's a really good one for the strong willed. It just deflates their little fantasy of thinking they can outsmart you or talk their way out of something later by claiming confusion. Ha. You don't have to yell or anything.