Sunday, September 06, 2009

On "Because I Said So!"

I've said before many times that I don't use the phrase "Because I said so!" with my kids when I'm trying to get them to do something. Actually, the few times it's slipped out of my mouth, I've stopped myself and corrected with a "Okay. That's not a very good reason, is it? Here's why this needs to be done . . . ."

I don't use this phrase because it's parenting-from-authority. I view my role as parent-as-guide rather than parent-as-authority-figure. I have authority, sure. I have experience and knowledge and a mature brain, and all of those things help me guide my children. I hold the Experience-Knowledge-Mature Brain trump card, if you will, and I will throw it down when things are getting out of hand. (Heh. I almost said tricky. Uh, whoops.)

Besides, if I can't articulate a good, rational reason for wanting a child to something, then why am I trying to get him to do it? And if I DO have a good, rational reason, then why on Earth wouldn't I share that with him? I'm trying to lead by example here--they need this information!

I was perusing the Ayn Rand Lexicon site this morning for a longer post I'm working on, and I came across this Ayn Rand quotation (from “Causality Versus Duty,” Philosophy: Who Needs It, 98, my emphasis).

[Immanuel Kant's] view of morality is propagated by men who have never heard of him—he merely gave them a formal, academic status. A Kantian sense of “duty” is inculcated by parents whenever they declare that a child must do something because he must. A child brought up under the constant battering of causeless, arbitrary, contradictory, inexplicable “musts” loses (or never acquires) the ability to grasp the distinction between realistic necessity and human whims—and spends his life abjectly, dutifully obeying the second and defying the first. In the full meaning of the term, he grows up without a clear grasp of reality.

I thought that was interesting! Guide your kids, and give them your reasoning, lest they do what you want them to out of a sense of duty.


Wendy Hawksley said...

This is one phrase I don't use either. I have observed my sister using it for 12 years now, and in the first 6 years (before I had my son), I resolved not to say it. Ever.

When I babysat my sister's children, she would say, "They don't need a reason to behave or do what you tell them to do."

But I couldn't agree with that. I mean, if there is no reason, what is the point?

Great topic!

Anonymous said...

OK, I've got to ask for more detail about this.

I've spent a lot of time watching over kids, in various capacities (none of my own, nor for the foreseeable future, alas). In particular, two sisters come to mind in relation to this, who I watched when the younger was 3 to 5 years old, and the elder was 5 to 7.

ALL of the kids in this family were born with quadruple helpings of stubborn,

(Tangent -- from observation and experience, I do not believe that newborns are completely "blank slates". A certain amount of character, or personality, is inborn. This maybe makes me a Bad Objectivist, but I refuse to ignore the evidence of my own observations and experience. At any rate, I am no determinist, I just think some people are born, for instance, naturally happy, and others naturally not. Which dispositions remain as a "default setting", even if one does much to alter, improve, and overcome them.)

(Sorry, this is a very, very prolix comment. I thought when I began it that I had just a brief question. Hah!)

At any rate, both of the girls, for most of the time that I have taken care of them, have very definitely been younger than the "age of reason". The elder one was a total and complete social metaphysician and drama queen. Every conflict with her for a long time was a struggle for social dominance. She would ignore any other terms. Objective reasons for anything at all were worse than useless, they increased her emotionalism and refusal to do what anyone told her to do (and likelihood that she would do the opposite, just to exercise "control" over her enemy-of-the-moment).

The ONLY thing she would respond to for some time was authority (which galled me on multiple levels), and then only when it was made repeatedly clear that she could not prevail. Sometimes, after the drama and hysterics passed, she would listen to objective reasons and explanations -- which, I hope, helped her gradual improvement. But before that, the only terms she could or would understand were purely subjective, power relationship terms.

The younger girl was and is much smoother. She, too, operated on an apparent social metaphysics basis but, A) she often knew when her cause was lost and to give up; and B) instead of treating confrontations like fights, she often treated them like games, pretending they weren't really important so that she could save face when she lost.

From the start, she was more open to explanations, but if she got emotionally invested, she would be just as closed to reason as her sister.

All of which is too much background to asking: if a particular child will not or cannot go along with anything other than authority, how could that be handled in a way you would find acceptable?

Assume an age of 5 or younger, with all the emotional control issues that go along with that.

Rational Jenn said...

Wendy--thank you SO MUCH for all of your thoughtful comments of late. I'm a bit behind, but please know that I appreciate them very much! I'm glad we're on the same page.

Jason--Very briefly, and I may add more tomorrow....

1.) My understanding of "tabula rasa" is that it refers to concepts. That is, no human baby is born knowing certain concepts and information (I may not be phrasing this correctly...). Temperament is not "covered" by tabula rasa. I've observed this with all three of my children, and the children of my friends. Kids are different. From Day 1, some kids are very vocal, others are quiet. Some are sensitive (my sons), some are persistent (my daughter). So I think we are in agreement about this issue.

2.) Whether or not the child understands the reason I'm giving him is immaterial. :o) So, if somebody is having a huge fit about something I want them to do for a really great rational reason, well...okay. That happens. But *I* give the reason. *I* know that there is a good reason, and when I say it out loud, even if the kid is freaking out, there is a sense of "Mom has a reason."

Now, they may not LIKE my reason, they may hate it. But my point is that there is a reason.

Sometimes, too, when they are in a tantrum, I don't bother to explain the reason at that particular moment. They can't *hear* me then. But I will always talk to them about it later. Or in an emergent situation--jumping into the street, for example. I act first, explain later.

But I never say "because I said so" and leave that as my reason...not even in the heat of the moment. They need to know that my actions have a purpose. And it's okay not to like that purpose--I get that it's no fun to stop your game to use the potty (for example).

Sometimes as a parent or caregiver, you must enforce a limit in spite of (or because of) the objections of the child. That is part of the job. But you should always have a good reason to do that, and always be willing to explain it to the child in the moment, or after everyone has calmed down.

Does that make sense? Let me know. Thanks for commenting!

Anonymous said...


Thank you for wading through my verbiage and for your thoughtful answer.

Whether or not the child understands the reason I'm giving him is immaterial.

This had never occurred to me. (Which implies ghastly things about my own upbringing, all of them true.)

In short, plant the seed, the notion that mommy has a reason, which will grow and bear fruit later. Very good. :)

So "because I said so" remains out (and thank goodness). How about "I'm older and understand the consequences better than you do" (assuming that there is followup to explain said consequences)? Looks okay to me, so long as it's not used as a cudgel.