Total Pageviews

Monday, December 13, 2010

A parent sometimes does need to invoke their authority

"BECAUSE IM THE PARENT" really isn’t a logical explanation for ANYTHING”

You see this sort of comment when reading the musings of FDR members.  It is consistent with the Molyneux argument that parents are bullies, blah blah.  As with most things in this realm of FDR, the thinking is simplistic in the extreme. Yes, a parent patiently reasoning with a child or explaining the logic of things is the preferred method of communication. Causing a child to realize their own self interest is enhanced by taking a bath before bed and then going to bed to get a good night’s sleep is definitely the better way. But there are lots of other times when an authoritarian approach is not only acceptable, it would be parental malpractice not to use the “because I’m the parent” approach.

There is a classic scene from the Movie Erin Brockovich. Most know the story. A big bad utility company is dumping a cancer causing chemical into the water supply of several California communities. Erin is in the living room of an afflicted family. She is talking to the mother and trying to explain that her water supply has been poisoned for years without her knowledge. The mother is resisting the news. She can’t quite process the full truth. But eventually she begins to understand that what Erin is telling her is the truth. She has been sick. Her husband has been sick. It finally comes completely home. The mother realizes that her family has been drinking and bathing in contaminated drinking water for years. The shock begins to fall over her. But as her mind drifts, her gaze wanders to her children playing outside. They are in the pool splashing and laughing. THE POOL….FILLED WITH CONTAMINATED WATER!!!!!!.

She runs outside and tells the kids to get out of the pool.
The kids respond as kids always do. They said, “Why?”
The mother says, “You have to get out of the pool right now.”
The kids respond, “But mom, we are having fun.”
Mother is now urgent. “I said, ‘Get out of the pool!!!”
“But Mom, Why?,” the kid says.

OK. Everyone with a frontal lobe knows what should and does happen next, but let's carry on in the nutty Moly world of enlightened parenting.  In the Moly movie of this event, the mother gathers her terror and puts it in check. Should calmly explains that she has some strong evidence that the water may be deadly? She calmly says to the children in the pool, “It may already be too late, but in my judgment it is better to get out of the water now. We might be able to save you from a long and painful disease and death.”

Of course, at this point the kids say, “Don’t worry about it mom.” And they stay in the pool.

Sorry ladies and gentlemen. A good parent is NOT going to explain anything. They are going to insist that the kids do as they are told. If they resist, parental authority will be invoked.  When the final "why mom?" issues from the kids mouth, the answer will properly be:  “Because I am the parent.”

Now this is a dramatic representation.  This fundamental truth about good parenting is less dramatic.  It is this.  There are times when children are better off NOT knowing the rationale for a parent’s instruction. The parent has the duty to protect children from possible damage. I have no doubt that parents rely on the “because I say so” paradigm too much. Fatigue and impatience exist.  Lack of time is another reason that is less easy to judge.  Sometimes it is a valid reason for "because I said so."  Other times it is an excuse.  I always preferred taking the time to explain an instruction if at all possible. It made it easier to garner cooperation in the future if my son or daughter understood why. 

"Honey you are dirty.  Germs grow in dirt.  If you don't bathe, you will smell and get itchy.  You will also sleep better after a hot bath."   If it worked...great.  If not, "You are going getting a bath and going to be because I said so."  Long story short:  It is fully appropriate to invoke parental authority.
So let’s modify the original statement:  "BECAUSE IM THE PARENT" really isn’t a logical explanation for most things. But in certain circumstances, it is the right way to handle a communication with the parent’s child. ”


  1. I'm not a parent, but please accept my humble musings. Noam Chomsky, intellectual-extraordinaire and (in my understanding) an anarcho-syndicalist, once defined anarchism as something like continually and creatively challenging ILLEGITIMATE authority, and even conceded that in the process of freeing themselves from the cage, the people may at some point need to enlarge and strengthen the floor of the cage to protect themselves from an even greater external threat. For this reason, I think your Erin Brockovich scene is an example of the legitimate use of authority/coercion.

    In this interview, Chomsky makes the similar point that an authoritarian parent-child relationship would be legitimate in the instance of grabbing them back off the road when a car's coming to save their life.

    What you think?

  2. P.S. Thank you for this site. I only just discovered Molyneux thru an interview with Charlie Veitch and I fully acknowledge my whole body was resonating with integrity, just like you described: "If you have the slightest leaning against an over reaching government or confiscatory taxes, or the corruption that comes from political power, Moly will capture your attention. He is conversational and engaging. He makes points of observation that will make you feel like a warm blanket has been pulled over you. You think to yourself: “Ahhh. Someone else really gets this.”

    This site provides the balance that any sincere person seeking to embody the change they want to see in the world should be informed by.

  3. I did like the first part of the Choamsky video. Authority has to be justified. However, saving the child from running into the street analogy is ok for that anarchy argument, but is too simple for a discussion of parenting authority. The right amount of authority for a Parent lies somewhere between child/busy street (no doubt: good use of authority) and beating a crying child until they cheer up (no doubt: bad use of authority). The 'right' use of Parental authority is a continuing balancing act where the balance point is constantly changing. Parents live on that oscillating high wire for approximately 20 years per child. Remarkably we all do a very good job of it.

    Moly claims to have made the final philosophy argument for morality, secular ethics, blah blah. He constantly holds hiself forth at the final arbiter of what is virtuous. If a child is raised in a loving and secure family for those 20 years, wouldn't a coherent system of ethics warrant an exploration of the virtue of gratitude?

    Instead Moly and his wife have twisted the idea of virtue into a pretzel. In the FDR world, cruelty and petty revenge are the virtues. With this set of values driving the FDR community, it is no wonder that Moly also encourages therapy for everyone.