Monday, April 25, 2005

Further Excuses for Parental Bullying

One of the more common explanations for why parental bullying is, if not optimal, at least morally permissable, is that it simply impossible to avoid doing it. This particular excuse is usually unconsciously premised upon the idea that that children are so ignorant or evil that bullying simply must come into the equation.

Often the parent who offers this excuse also knows that bullying is in some way suboptimal. Sometimes they may even be clear that when they bully they are forcing their progeny to enact a theory that is not active in the mind and they realise that this is a poor way to live and learn. However, because they believe their children to be deeply ignorant or evil, they feel that bullying occurs, a bit like abortion, as a necessary evil in their lives.

Why is this parental position suboptimal, for it would seem that in the best possible world and the happiest families, some parental bullying will occur? The reason why one could look to better this situation is that the premise that children are so irrationally difficult or evil, predisposes one to the bullying position.

Instead, if possible, the best position on the matter seems to be to accept one's own fallibilism and to understand the limits of knowledge. With this humiility about the extent to which one can apply one's reasoning to another, one starts to really listen to one's child and they can suddenly start to make a lot more sense. The parent may still feel that the child needs further help with sorting out the issue, but again, all theories offered by the parent will be tentative and may be rejected by the child. He will only take them on board when they actually make sense to him and true learning, with conjecture, refutation through critique will have taken place. The premise that children are grotesquely ignorant or evil simply disappears. The apparent egoism of the toddler should vanish when it becomes apparent how desperately they need the parent in order to survive, for example.

All this is written as a reminder to myself. In the course of the last month with the physical exhaustion resulting from illness, it has been all too easy to imagine that almost any demands made upon me were the result of evil intent. My goodness, this has been so wrong and so sad. But we had a lovely time yesterday evening, playing, writing and drawing till just before midnight. Perhaps things are looking up.


Mike said...

What about when a child bullies the parent, sometimes at the expense of a sibling?

What is the best course of action? Is it appeasement or should it be confronted and challenged. Or would that be bullying by the parent.

Occasionally there will be a battle of wills. If, as a parent you can not reason with the child, which of you should be allowed the ultimate control?

Carlotta said...

The answer to this definitely merits another posting altogether, but briefly, there is some controversy over whether it is technically possible for a parent to be bullied by a child. In purist terms, such a situation is meant to be regarded as a matter of self-coercion by the parent, but that aside, in effect, I think bullying the parent by the child appears to happen, particularly when people do try to taking their children seriously.

Indeed, during some stages of the evolution of the idea of taking children seriously, coercion by children has even been regarded as the preferable fail-safe mechanism for preventing bullying to children, though this has subsequently been exposed as a canard, since bullying the parent actually does not work: parent ends up bad- tempered, or exhausted or depressed or some such and this results either directly or indirectly in further coercion of the child.

So the ideal answer remains...(though frequently not acted upon...booo hoooo), that one ingeniously and creatively seeks common preferences, all the while being prepared to consider and change preferences, even entertaining the idea of the Disney solution, ie: the answer that everyone wants but that comes from left field, something that was not indicated by the original problem.

If there remains a battle of wills, it simply means that a common preference has not been found. Since we cannot be sure that we cannot find one, we are meant to keep on just looking, with a famous sort of invigorating optimism!

So, OK, failure does happen and somebody along the line gets coerced. But at least
we know precisely what is going on, can apologise and can attempt to do something about it next time.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious about what this bullying of the parent consists of. Is the child forcing the parent to stay in his room, make him cook a particular meal immediately, which involves going back to the shops, or some such thing?

Carlotta said...

eg: Being unable to mail a good answer when I feel like it, because someone wants to chat...

Hth, for now.

Anonymous said...

That's interesting. It never occurred to me to label that feeling of occasional or even frequent frustration as bullying!! Even now when I have to forsake some event of my own to take a child to some booked activity (or spend money I can ill afford) I never feel as though am being bullied; I tend, rather, to feel that I am not getting enough support to enable me to solve this problem as easily as it could be. Perhaps that is feeling bullied by circumstances, but not the child. I do agree, though, that dealing with the restrictions on one's choices (although obviously one chose to have the child in the first place!) is much easier when there are lots of caring people around - just two caring parents would be nice! It is very hard not to feel resentful of one's burden as a parent when one is the only person dealing with meeting needs and trying to accommodate one's own needs at the same time - often with no success. Equally, a partner who is pulling in a different direction can actually make one feel worse than one would on one's own...

My post was because I was wondering if Mike had specific incidents where the parent being bullied actually felt seriously threatened and coerced into action by the child himself.

Out of interest the dictionary definition of 'bully' is: "1. person using strength and power to coerce others by fear. 2. persecute or oppress by force or threats." Since a child can't actually force one to do anything *usually*, a case where a child is literally terrifying its parent into submission would require a very different solution perhaps. I do understand though, that the obligations of parenthood can so easily feel like coercion from the child instead of inner conflict; but is it really true? That's my question here. Or am I just getting muddled up in definitions of words?!!

Carlotta said...

I don't think the question is either muddled or meaningless and also suspect that the answer does matter, since to believe that the situation is a matter of inner conflict rather than coercion is to empower oneself with a variety of options.

I do also think that this situation is actually a matter of parental inner conflict and not coercion by the child but that it can seem like the latter because of a number of premises which the parent may be holding, eg: that it is not right to bully one's child and that perhaps at all costs one should attempt to prevent this. The "at all costs" theory could result in the parent falsely feeling bullied.

Anonymous said...

Well put! The 'at all costs' idea could be what makes one feel bullied. When in reality the parent has all the power.

I think the best course of action when conflict arises would be to discuss the options as far as possible, then wait. Particularly as the parent might not be as rational as he thinks.

An anarchist friend has three children, and the three often have desires that are difficult to meet because one child's wish might deny another. What she does, which always impresses me, is listen to all the view points,have chats about them together and/or separately, and then every one just waits for a while - days if it is possible. Generally it isn't long before one person is likely to have changed a preference or new solutions have presented themselves. She is brilliant at taking each child's preferences (as irrational as they might seem to her) as being as important as an adult's would be. It is easy to forget to treat one's child as if he has this right to respect.

Anonymous said...

what if your own mother bullies you? having my door closed is forbidden, speaking on the phone for over 10 minutes is forbidden, and i have to study 6 hours on 1 of the 2 days of the weekend. my mother is fucking nuts and my step dad isnt being much of a help... what do i do?