19 Dec Why Would I Want to Behave??
One of my recent wonderings about parenting, and I could say one of my questionings, is around the contemporary idea that you can parent in such a way that brings about positive behaviour that the child chooses to do. In other words, not punishing or forcing a child to behave well but connecting with them in a calm and loving way and guiding and teaching them. I’m beginning to question the latter’s effectiveness or even it being proper parenting – at least not the full picture. Maybe the goal is not necessarily a child consciously choosing to act ethically or morally but to understand the limitations and this area of limitations helps to teach them. Not through direct learning but somewhat indirect. I’m not saying that being calm and loving and direct isn’t helpful too and the ideal but sometimes parents get caught in being too nice in their assertion and the limitation is lost on the child. I’m not wanting to be black and white here but say we need an integration of firm, direct consequences combined with calm assertion. Lastly, I’m just not sure this is an accurate view of human nature and houses a bit of wishful thinking.
Here’s my illustration: you know scene in The Breakup where Jennifer Aniston is frustrated with Vince Vaughn because she wants him to want to do the dishes? She wants him to change his desire around a household job that he doesn’t enjoy. She thinks him “wanting to want to” do the dishes means he cares. This is fucked up. We have warped expectations of relationships with intimate partners and children. We have left out the space for difference and for doing things we don’t like or children’s misbehaviour not changing necessarily but still experiencing consequences.
There is literature that says spanking and punishment do not change behaviour. I don’t spank and don’t think it’s necessary but maybe the role of parenting isn’t necessarily to get children to “want to be good”. At some point this is important but moral development in children is, well, a development. It is not a cause and effect of love and guidance. Children are still human and at times won’t want to be “good” or behave respectfully. They are in a self-centred time of development (although we all are, we just get better at hiding it) and no amount of love or calm understanding will directly change a child’s behaviour. But limitations and consequences are required to keep a civil environment: one with structure and security and clarity of action.
Expecting “good behaviour” to always come from a place of conscientiousness is asking too much. We are humans and sometimes we need plain ole consequences. Further, sometimes there just won’t be agreement. Parents will have rules that children and adolescents don’t agree with and might not live by after they leave the home, but this is reality.
So this brings me back to The Breakup. What did Vince Vaughn say to Jennifer Anniston when she said, “I want you to WANT to do the dishes”? It’s one of my favourite lines in terms of humour as well as good cultural insight. He said, “why would I WANT to do dishes?”
I’m not saying that Jennifer Aniston’s character doesn’t have any good points about him showing up for her differently but some of the expectation around his “desire” for some of this stuff is an interesting dynamic I see in lots of relationships that have broken down – the lack of difference in preference, opinion, and desire for certain things. That’s a whole other topic I should say more about but that’s not my point of this essay.