Anthony Wolf's groundbreaking book focuses on the most difficult challenges of parenting post-infant to pre-teen childrensetting limits and making demands. Dr. Wolf covers all the class parenting problem areas: family disputes, including who's in charge (Mom or Dad), sibling fights, and divorce; day-to-day issues such as bedtime, grumpiness, and public tantrums; and problems that might not be problems after all, like aggression, lying, and spoiling. Positive, loving, and, above all, effective, this guide offers parents what they want most: more time to enjoy their children.
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|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
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About the Author
Anthony E. Wolf, received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the City University of New York. For the past twenty-five years he has been in private practice seeing children and adolescents in the Springfield, Massachusetts area. Married, Dr. Wolf is the father of two grown children. He has written five books on parenting and numerous articles, which have appeared in such magazines as Child Magazine, Parents, and Family Circle. He has also written a monthly column for Child Magazine.
Read an Excerpt
It's Not Fair, Jeremy Spencer's Parents Let Him Stay up All Night!A Guide to the Tougher Parts of Parenting
By Anthony E. Wolf, Ph.D.
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 1996 Anthony E. Wolf, Ph.D.
All right reserved.
It's Not Fair, Jeremy Spencer's Parents Let Him Stay Up All Night
I1Nurturing and the Baby SelfA Potbellied StoveThe be all and end all of earliest child development is nurturing. It's that simple. Nurturing is the base upon which all else is built. It supplies the core of the personality and the foundation of true self-esteem. I have often pictured this vital nurturing as a little potbellied stove, glowing with warmth, that sits at the center of our psychological being. With it, there is always something to fall back on, a warmth, a feeling-good about oneself. With it, a child will feel comfortable moving out into the world, a child will grow and flourish.Without that nurturing, there will be an inner emptiness that a child will be stuck forever trying to fall. At the core of that unnurtured personality will be a feeling of "not enough" rather than one of sufficiency. The personality that is then constructed upon this absence, this insufficiency, will rest upon a foundation that is not solid. Without good nurturing, children become much more vulnerable to all the ills andproblems that regularly beset humans in the course of a life. Without good nurturing, they constantly hunger to fill an emptiness that does not go away.A nice thing about children is that they seem to be pretty flexible, pretty adaptable. They seem able to get their nurturing, to grow and to thrive, from many different styles, even different "amounts," of nurturing. D. W. Winnicott, a famous child psychiatrist, spoke of "good-enough mothering," referring to the observed fact that the nurturing that children seem to need in order to develop normally does not have to be totally wonderful, and the amount of nurturing does not have to be 100 percent. Given "enough," they seem to be able to take it from there on their own. Even children who have suffered serious early deprivation do well when they are able to combine their own innate strength with good nurturing given to them later. However, there is no question that there is a bottom line. Below it, children may still come through with no major impairment, but the odds start turning against them.Fortunately, nurturing is neither complicated nor difficult to give. It is touching, hugging, talking to, paying attention to. It is ongoing loving contact. It is what we as humans do easily and naturally with our children. We love our children. We grab the back of a neck in passing, we give a big hug for no special reason, we lie down next to them and watch television, we have a child who seems too old to sit on our lap do so anyway. This wonderful love, this warm, affectionate, human contact that we all know is the best nurturing in the world.Love AttachmentNurturing also builds a primary attachment between parents and children. This attachment is inevitable and automatic, but it is not to be confused with bonding. In fact, the conceptof mother-child bonding has at times been misunderstood. From the infant's standpoint, there is no such thing as an immediate, powerful, "if you do not have it now forget it" bonding to mother at, shortly after, or even weeks following birth. The idea of bonding as some sort of crucial connection made by child to mother shortly after birth on which the success or failure of their relationship depends is pure myth. Bonding has nothing to do with the psychological development of humans, nor is it the primary attachment I'm talking about.The crucial primary attachment of nurturing develops gradually and over a period of time. Early in childhood, a child makes a special attachment to a person (or persons) who has been in the role of regular nurturer. This attachment is very special and very powerful. For once the attachment is made, that nurturing person is endowed with great power. It is only he or she who can give this most basic emotional nurturing. Others can nurture a child, but once the attachment is made, only the primary nurturer(s) can provide the special emotional nurturing that is so crucial to a child's developing a healthy sense of itself. The nurturer alone can adequately fuel the little potbellied stove at the core of a child's developing personality.Fortunately, there is even flexibility in the development of primary attachments. For example, a child orphaned suddenly at one year will suffer following his parents' deaths. But placed in a new nurturing home, most children can make a strong attachment to new parents. Given good early nurturing and continued good nurturing, the special attachment can remake itself.Once the attachment occurs, it is played out: nurturer and child responding and being responded to, loving and being loved--a mutuality of intimacy and sharing. With this early attachment, the nurturer assumes great power over a child's feelings. Parents smile and their baby is in ecstasy, they frown and their child's world is dashed. In their arms, their child iswithout worry. Parents know everything and can do anything. They keep their children fed, warm, and safe. Should their parents leave, the child frets, wanting them to return. A major theme of this book is that this primary nurturing attachment and the consequent great power that this gives to parents over their children's feelings is the single most important source of leverage in raising one's child. It is where parents find the ultimate power for child control. Parents and child are linked forever.Indeed, we all know, for better or for worse, how our parents, even when we have left home, gone on and made lives for ourselves, still have a direct line to some place deep at the center of our feelings.I'm a mature, successful woman. I can't believe how whenever I talk to her, my mother can still so easily get to me.If you understand the power of this leverage and have confidence in your own influence with your children--especially in the face of all the "I don't cares" and other disobedience you will encounter as a parent in the years to come--you will have a solid foundation for an effective system of child raising.The Move Toward IndependenceAs the loving and being loved continue between parent and child, children gradually develop a capacity to nurture themselves, to make themselves feel good. In effect, they become able to pacify themselves when alone. We sometimes describe this as internalizing the "good parent." But, really, it is the internalization of loving and being loved.Often, young children need some kind of external object to help them, such as a thumb, a special blanky, or a teddy bear. Later they may create imaginary friends. But eventually they are able to hold the whole pacifying process inside themselves. When they are alone, they feel content and comfortable.When something happens in their lives to make them feel bad (for example, Mommy or Daddy gets mad at them for making a huge mess in the family room), they are able to fall back on something inside themselves to ultimately dissipate the bad feeling. They are not wholly dependent on Mommy and Daddy to make things feel okay. Left on their own, they can handle bad feelings. They mature. They begin to move toward independence.Normal development pushes toward maturity, independence. Yet there remains a part in children--in all of us--that does not grow up at all.The Baby Self and the Mature SelfEvery day seven-year-old Lance comes home from school, takes off his coat, and drops it on the floor, not three feet from the wall hook where he is supposed to hang it up. He does this every day, and every day he gets yelled at."You can't just surprise me one time and hang up your coat when you come home?"But he never does. Not even once. Lance's classroom at school also has wall hooks for the children's coats. Every day without fail when Lance gets to school he takes off his coat and hangs it on his hook. Every day.Lance acts one way at home and another way at school. This is the way it is in real life and it's a crucial phenomenon of human psychology for parents to understand. Without it, much of child and adult behavior will never make sense. Like all of us, Lance has two different modes of functioning, which is actually like having two different selves. And in our lives, they operate back and forth like a switching of gears. I call these two selves the baby self and the mature self. At home, Lance's baby self wants what it wants now. It wants only pleasure and absolutely no fuss. Specifically, it likes to unwindand fill up with good stuff after a hard day at school. It likes to relax and feed. For example, it especially likes to sit in front of the television and eat Doritos. But let's take a closer look at the baby self.The baby self will tolerate no stress. It does not like to be bothered by anything or anybody.
"Lance, just this once will you please hang up your coat when you get home? One simple hand and arm motion. It is not asking a lot."
But Lance never does. When the baby self is in full sway, asking anything that it does not feel like doing is asking more than it will do.The baby self cares only about getting what it wants now.
"I promise I will clean up my room all year if you buy me that Megaman Victory Fort."
The baby self makes promises very easily because it recognizes no future. It feels obligated to nothing. The baby self particularly likes the word "later." When used by the baby self, "later" simply gets its parent out of its face for the time being.
It knows no shame and is never sorry.
"Lana, aren't you the /east bit ashamed? I caught you redhanded sneaking more lollipops and just after I said you couldn't. Aren't you sorry for what you've done?"
Not the baby self. It's only mad that it got caught.
It does not look at itself and it makes no judgments about itself.Doesn't Lana care that she has been sneaky and disobedient? No. The baby self does not look at itself and has no sense ofitself. It is not good or bad. It is not truthful or dishonest, smart or stupid, pretty or ugly. It just is.
"When I'm home, I'm just me. It doesn't matter what I do. It doesn't matter how I look. Nothing I do counts."
It takes no responsibility for its own actions, nor does it care about the effects of its behavior on others.
"Can't you see how upset your teasing makes your sister?""But she was the one who came into my room."
Including parents.A frustrated seven-year-old Kevin says, "You're the meanest mommy in the world. You are."Isn't Kevin concerned that this may hurt his mother, whom he genuinely loves? Not at that moment. All the baby self knows is that it is angry at its mother for not giving it its way and it wants to strike back.And yet later, and when looking back at his miserable behavior toward his mother, when separate from her and switching over to the mature mode, Kevin will feel remorse. And so he returns, as they often do.
"I'm sorry, Mommy. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. Are you mad at me? I didn't mean it, Mommy. I love you. I don't like to make you feel bad."
And the remorse is genuine. But the next time, when he does not get his way, he will be nasty all over again. For once again the baby self is back in charge.But, above all, the baby self wants Mommy and Daddy, the main nurturers, and it wants as much of them as much of the time as it can get.It is this last characteristic of the baby self--its total commitment to feeding on Mommy and Daddy--that is responsiblefor much of the most frustrating and perplexing of childhood behaviors.The Secret Behind Fussing"André, would you please take those two glasses out into the kitchen?""They're not my glasses.""I don't care whose glasses they are. I am asking you to take them into the kitchen.""I didn't leave them there. Stephen did.""I said I want you to take those glasses into the kitchen.""But that's not fair! I didn't leave them there.""André, I don't care whose glasses they are. I'm telling you to take them out into the kitchen.""But it's not fair, I always have to do everything. Stephen's a slob and he gets away with everything.""TAKE OUT THE GLASSES!""Don't yell at me, I didn't do anything wrong."
The scene continued downhill from there, ending with eight-year-old André in tears running to his room.
"You always yell at me. You always do. You always do."And his mother was left feeling furious and helpless."You're really asking for it, André."
The glasses remained where they were.
When you think about it, this story makes no sense. Why didn't André simply take the glasses out into the kitchen in the first place and avoid the very unpleasant scene that followed? Why did he seem to create a long, nasty scene intentionally, when just a tiny amount of effort on his part would have avoided it? It especially makes no sense given that similar scenes had almost certainly taken place in the past. Andréknew what the outcome would be when he balked at taking the glasses into the kitchen, yet he provoked a scene that would end with his being genuinely miserable. Why--besides the unfathomable laziness of the baby self, the absolute refusal of the baby self to do any work, to experience any discomfort or stress--did he not simply take the glasses into the kitchen in the first place and "be done with it"?Parents who have been through such scenes know that often it seems more than just a matter of a child's being indescribably lazy. Their child seems to provoke the fight, and to want it to continue and to escalate. It is as if their child is after something, but it is unclear what. From the parents' standpoint, it often genuinely seems as if their child wanted a smack in the face. Why? What is the child after?Let me change the previous example. Suppose André's mother made the same request as before, but in this version the rest of the story proceeds a little differently.
"André, would you please take these glasses from the family room out into the kitchen?""They're not my glasses.""I don't care whose glasses they are. I am asking you to take them into the kitchen.""Oh, all right."
André, perhaps mumbling under his breath, takes the glasses into the kitchen. What happens next? Typically, we would expect that André would go off on his own and do whatever it was he was doing or planning to do prior to his mother's asking him to take the glasses into the kitchen. Perhaps he was going to play with his action figures in his room, or go pester his brother. Over the next half hour, André probably would have engaged in some activity quite separate from his mother.Now let's return to the first version. In that example, André got the opposite of a half hour of independent activity. Whathe got instead was a long emotional scene of yelling, screaming, crying, and sulking. Rather than time spent separated from his mother, he got a substantial period of time filled with passionate interaction with her. For the baby self in André, this is quality time.Back in the early reaches of André's childhood, when he was first stubborn about doing something that he did not feel like doing, he made a discovery. He found that fussing could get an emotional response from his mother. He found that if he just kept up the fussing, he could provoke his mother into an ongoing battle, which would continue as long as he kept up his end of it.
"You're picking on me. You're always picking on me.""I'm getting really fed up with you, André."
André discovered that he liked the battles.On one level, a child may be genuinely upset. André truly believed that he was suffering. Were we to descend suddenly, hook him up to a lie detector, and ask, "Are you doing all this on purpose? Are you enjoying this?" André would angrily sob, "No!" and the lie detector would show that he was telling the truth. Yet on another level the baby self, who was running the show, was definitely having a good time.Anger is a strong feeling and the baby self, with its lack of boundaries, is just as open to anger as to love. Underneath, André's baby self was enjoying itself. Battles, with the give and take of strong emotions, can be quite pleasing and stimulating to the baby self. They become almost like lovers' quarrels. A passionate angry battle is a strong dose of parental contact, and the more passionate the interchange, the better.The pigginess, the insatiability, of the baby self in its pursuit of parental involvement is beyond description. Let me give a classic example, which will be easily recognizable to all parents.
Morris and his mother are in a room together. Morris is happily playing by himself, paying absolutely no attention to his mother. But then Morris's sister Sasha quietly comes into the room, her presence unrecognized by her mother. But Morris is well aware of her and immediately drops what he is happily doing and starts demanding something from his mother. As all parents know, the same reaction would occur had Morris's mother gotten a phone call. Morris would have immediately dropped what he was doing to pester his mother for the duration of the phone call."Mom, will you help me with this?"The problem is that the baby self is so piggy that even when it does not want a parent, is interested in something else, has temporarily shifted to the independent mature mode, it is still lurking underneath, constantly vigilant, to make sure that should the baby self want its mother, she would be immediately and totally available. And the baby self does mean immediately and totally.The Baby Self's Other PathThe whole story of the mindlessly piggy baby self can get even more complex. Though its goals never change, the paths that the baby self takes to those ends can be very different indeed. To get what it wants, the baby self will attempt not only frontal assaults, as did André, but insidious, subtle routes as well.Helena and her mother were shopping for a birthday present for her friend Trish. Helena had found a cute stuffed pink unicorn and a nice leather pen-and-pencil holder, both of which she liked.
"Which should I get for Trish, Mommy?""I don't know, dear. I'm sure Trish will like both.""But which should I get.""I don't know, dear. I'm sure either will be fine.""But I don't know which one.""Just pick one, dear. Trish will like either of them.""But I don't know which is best. I want you to decide.""Oh, for goodness sakes, Helena. Just pick one.""But I don't know which Trish will like. You have to pick for me."
Helena's indecisiveness is nothing more than a passive path the baby self has taken to achieve its goals. Following this path, the baby self takes no chances. Helena invites her mother to take over and merges with her through submission. And unless Helena's mother finally makes the choice, Helena is ready to hold out making a decision forever and possibly to get quite hysterical if further pressure is put on her to decide one way or the other.What was the big deal? What was so difficult about making such a little decision? If one knows what one wants, there is not a problem. But if one is unsure, there looms the specter of a right or wrong decision, one choice that might have been just slightly better than the other, and therefore the mildest of worries might creep in.
"Maybe Trish really would have liked the pink unicorn better. Maybe she won't like me as much."
The baby self will have none of it because worry equals stress. Where one is not absolutely sure, even the most minute degree of uncertainty creates a situation that the baby self will not tolerate. A rational observer might ask how much stress can be involved in making such a small decision. Not much. But parents have to remember that being rational is not a quality of the baby self.Boys and GirlsThe distinct paths that André and Helena took to similar ends are worth noting because there is no question that, overall, boys do seem to prefer the aggressive path and girls the passive one. The following two statistics make this quite clear.1. In the United States, four to five times as many preteen boys as girls are referred to professionals for psychological problems.2. By adolescence, the ratio of boys to girls referred to mental-health professionals is more or less one to one.If by adolescence, and certainly in adult life, just as many women as men have psychological problems, what were all those future problem girls doing during their childhood years? What were they doing that their problems did not bring them to the attention of their parents or anybody else? Being good. If the aim of the baby self is to avoid stress and to get fed, an obvious alternative to combat is to be very, very good.
"I will do exactly what Mommy wants me to do. I will try to make sure that Mommy and I are friends all of the time. I will even try to anticipate what Mommy wants me to do. Her will will be my will. Of course, I will not make any decisions because I could make the wrong one. I will leave all of that to her."
"Is this what I like, Mommy?""For goodness sake, Helena, you know what you like.""No, I don't, Mommy. You do."
They set the table without being asked. They write endless quantities of "I love you, Mommy" notes with hearts and smiley faces.
"What should I do now to help you, Mommy?"Parents rarely bring their children to mental-health professionals for being too good. Of course, in adolescence--with its mandate that one must be independent--the worm turns. And most of the girls who used the passive route as a means of getting a lot of Mommy and Daddy and staying close to them keep the same goal but change tactics. In order to make themselves feel that they are being independent, they switch over to the willful, obnoxious route.
"I'll maintain my sense of independence by disagreeing with everything Mommy and Daddy say. But the disagreeing and arguing will still keep me close to them for lots of feeding, since I'll do it all the time."
With adolescence, boys change too; they usually disappear into their rooms.Certainly, many boys take the passive route and many girls the more aggressive, but generally it is the other way around. Further, it should go without saying that all children who cling, who write "I love you, Mommy" notes, who fight against making decisions, are not doomed to lives of emotional problems. Their behavior is part of normal development. But one cannot ignore the underlying hand of the baby self where children constantly choose what is most safe. We will see later how this manifestation of the baby self can become quite crippling.The Mature SelfFortunately, the baby self has its counterpart, the mature self, that prodded Lance into hanging up his coat at school. The mature self is everything the baby self is not. This mature self does not require immediate gratification. It will tolerate frustration. It can be patient. It has self-control. Unlike the dependentbaby self, it is willing to deal with stress in order to work toward a goal. It takes on responsibility, and its concerns are not only with the present but also with the future. Totally unlike the baby self, it is willing to work.The mature self is self-aware, looks at itself and makes judgments about what it sees. It is pretty or ugly, good or bad, smart or stupid. And as the mature self interacts with and cares about the world around it, not only does it judge itself but it constantly feels judged by others.
"Do they think I am fat?""Do they think I acted like a fool?""Do they think I am a good parent?"
The independent mature self is just that--independent. It must somehow deal with all feelings on its own. In the most deep and profound way the mature self is ultimately alone and always will be.Because it knows of the past and future, the mature self can worry. And because it can look at itself and judge itself, the mature self can feel bad about itself--ashamed, guilty, humiliated. Because it is alone, and knows that it is alone, it can feel vulnerable. And because of all the above, the mature self feels responsibility for its own actions, which can be a source of great pride or a terrible burden.This mature self pursues a second kind of nurturing that is different from the primary nurturing the baby self desires. The mature self turns outward from home and family for its nurturing.A three-year-old boy is trying to build a block tower. After a number of attempts, he is unable to balance more than two blocks on top of each other. His mother, watching, comes over and, wishing to help, starts to put on a third block. The boy pushes away his mother's hand.For the mature self, nurturing comes from its sense of competenceand acceptance in dealing with the world separate from parents and home. The mature self is the part of the child that explores, that seeks out what is new. The mature self is the part that enjoys and cares about friends. It is the part that wants to look into cupboards and put on its own socks. It is the part that wants to acquire skills, to be good in sports and games, and to do well in school.Early on, primary nurturing of the baby self is far and away the most important. But as children get older, increasingly their sense of well-being depends on nurturing of the mature self. Less and less can primary nurturing make everything all right. The milk of parental love is simply not as nourishing as it used to be. Past a certain age, "You do look lovely, Sharon" or "Well, Stephen, we think you are a wonderful boy" usually brings little more than a shrug or a grimace when once they would have brought a beaming smile.
"Of course they have to say that. They're my parents."
The mature self is charged with the very important job of learning how to survive on one's own. For finally one day the child does go out into the big world. Ultimately, it will even make new primary love attachments--to friends, lovers, spouses, and finally to its own children.
"I do love you, Mom. It's just that Lorraine and the kids have to come first. You know that."
It is what we call maturing. It is what the mature self does.The baby self and the mature self exist as two wholly separate and complete systems of behavior. Each has its own set of rules, perceptions, and even differing sets of feelings (for example, embarrassment does not exist in the baby-self mode). The only problem is that we so rarely get to see the matureself. For the domain of the baby self is at home and with parents. The good behaviors that we wish to instill in our children do come out--but usually away from us, at other people's houses, at school.At nursery school, a three-year-old cries and will not play with the other children as long as either of her parents is present. But as soon as they leave, she stops crying and happily joins the other children.A ten-year-old girl gives her parents nothing but grief at home and would prefer death to helping around the house. Inexplicably, her grandmother reports that on occasional weekend visits her granddaughter is always pleasant and regularly offers help with household chores.
"She did? Are you sure it was our Tracy?"
A teenage girl allows herself to look like a slob when she is at home. But she fusses with her appearance for over an hour to get herself ready for school.A seven-year-old boy is bossy with his parents and siblings but with everyone else he is very polite, even timid.We simply get a different version of our child than the rest of the world does.As parents we see these differences as inconsistent and perplexing.
"How come you never act like that when you're with us?"
But for children it all seems totally natural. If they see themselves as considerate, honest, hard working when they are out in the big world, the fact that they are inconsiderate, dishonest, and lazy when at home is just not a problem. Though intellectually they can appreciate the inconsistency of their behavior, they cannot feel it.
"I can't explain it. It's just different. when I am at school or somewhere else. I don't know. At home doesn't count."
That's the best they can do to articulate their different behaviors. To children, the unspoken lines between the two domains are an automatic part of their lives. They assume that parents will understand and are simply puzzled when they do not.But then comes the important question: Which of these two--the at-home version or the one away from home is the better indicator of who our children really are and who they will become as adults? The answer, as time invariably shows, is that it is not the behavior of the baby self but the behavior of the independent, mature self, functioning in its realm away from home, that is the far more accurate reflection of the adult-to-be. But it is the baby self that parents usually get to see, which has huge implications for parenting. For parents are faced with the overwhelming paradox of child raising: What you see is not what you get.Who Gets the Baby Self?Where, when, and with whom the baby self chooses to appear is not always easy to understand. Its ability to appear and disappear in different places and with different people can be downright perplexing.Seven-year-old Luke and his mother were in the family room. Luke, pursuing scientific curiosity, began playing with a lamp that had a variable-watt bulb. He was interested in both the three-way effect and in how quickly or how slowly he could turn the light on and off. Luke's mother was trying to read by that same lamp."Luke, please stop that. It's very irritating. I'm trying to read."Luke, seeming not to hear his mother at all, continued his experiments."Luke, did you hear me? I said stop playing with the lamp.""You can read. It's not bothering you," said Luke, turning the switch many times as if to demonstrate his point."Luke, I said stop playing with the lamp!" Luke's mother's voice was now getting louder as she was getting more aggravated."You don't have to yell at me. You don't have to yell at me all the time," shouted Luke, who was also now angry and continuing to turn the switch.At that point, Luke's father, hearing the commotion, entered the room. He strode over to Luke."Luke. Stop that. Now."Luke immediately backed off from the lamp."Barbara, you're just not firm enough with Luke," said Luke's father, irritated that he had had to interrupt his paperwork in order to come in and deal with the problem.Luke's mother, though resentful of her husband's comment, said nothing. She basically felt he was right. This was not the first time that such a scenario had been played out. Clearly, Luke did respond better to his father's interventions than to hers. Luke almost always gave her some kind of flack, but he virtually never gave any to his father. Luke's father never hit him and was not intimidating, yet Luke usually jumped at his father's commands while he usually ignored or fussed at his mother's, no matter what she did.Though Luke's mother hated to admit it, Luke's father must somehow be doing it right while she obviously was not dealing with Luke properly. This did not make sense to her because she knew that she was generally a tougher person than her husband. Yet from the way that Luke responded to the two of them, it seemed just the opposite.A second story:
For a number of years, Barbara's and Joseph's work schedules dictated that Joseph was home most of the time when the children were out of school. He was also on duty for bedtime, which was a battle every night because, among other things, his daughter Jennifer would procrastinate endlessly."But my show's not over."And the twins, Derek and Dugan, would fight and fuss endlessly."Dad, Derek took my pajamas.""Dugan spit on mine. My pajamas have spit on them."Bedtime was always a struggle. Joseph was invariably exhausted by the time the three were finally in bed except on Thursday nights, when Barbara was home and had the honors."I'm ready for bed, Mom," called Jennifer punctually at her bedtime. "Come kiss me good night.""Look how good we are," said the twins, appearing washed, toothbrushed, and neatly pajamaed to present themselves to their mother.But then the next night, when their father was in charge, bedtime was the usual chaos."Why can't you three ever go to bed for me the way you do for your mother?" asked an exasperated Joseph."Mommy's nicer," said the twins as they ran into the kitchen for potato chips.A chief characteristic of the baby self is that it comes out more with the primary nurturer in the children's lives. Other adults, who are cared about but who are not primary nurturers, tend to get far more of the mature self who wants self-respect, who wants to feel proud. Children also care that their primary nurturer is proud of them, but they care more that their primary nurturer is there to give love unconditionally. That love they always want to be able to take for granted, even if theirbehavior is not always something of which they are proud. Unconditional love. Thus Luke presented his mother with his baby self and his father with his mature self. But Barbara and Joseph's children were just the opposite, frustrating their father at bedtime with their baby selves, because he was the primary nurturer in that family.In today's families, mother-father roles are not fixed. Where fathers are the main parent and mothers are either absent or in a distinctly lesser role, the father will be the primary nurturer. Where fathers have all along been just as involved in the child raising as mothers, both can just as easily be in the nurturer role. The gender of the parent has nothing to do with which "version" of their child they get. It is their roles in the life of their child that determine that. If you are the primary nurturer, you get more of the baby self. If you are distinctly less present day to day, you tend to see the better behavior of the mature self.Orlando behaved excellently the whole time he was at his friend Michael's house. But when his mother arrived and started chatting with Michael's mother, Orlando's behavior mysteriously deteriorated. He began whining and fussing."I don't understand," said Michael's mother. "He was so good until you came."Maturing: How They Become CivilizedConscienceBut if the mature self is the part that is in charge of self-control, of doing what the child is supposed to do, of becoming civilized--where does it come from? It does not spring out of nothing. How do children learn to be civilized?In earliest childhood, when the mature self is just startingout, it has little role in child control. That is the parents' job."Don't," says Derek's mother as she grabs his cereal bowl just before he intentionally tips it onto the floor.But if children become attached to a parent, they automatically not only take in the loving parent and make him or her a nurturing part of themselves, they take in the whole package. Parents' rules included. They cannot help it.And so they begin to develop a conscience. Initially that conscience is the internalized voice of the parent floating around in their children's heads.
"Mom will get mad if I don't pick up my room.""Dad will get mad if I don't brush my teeth.""Mom will yell at me if I come home from Kevin's house after it starts getting dark."
And because of the basic love attachment, this voice has power. Going against this voice, not obeying this voice, causes discomfort and always has an accompanying sense of unease.
"I know it's getting dark and I should go home but we're in the middle of a game and I don't want to stop. I'm not gonna. I don't care if Mom gets mad. It's a stupid rule."
But the sense of unease is there. Of course, the pull of the conscience may not always be enough to produce obedience because, in any given instance, the forces working against the conscience may be too strong.
"I'm not gonna go. I'm just having too good a time."
But often the pull, the unease, wins out.
"I gotta go, Kevin, or my mom will have a fit. See ya."
This voice, the conscience, is of course a voice that only the mature self hears. The baby self never hears its call. Therefore,the voice will kick in when the child is apart from the parent, even if it's just in his room.
"I really shouldn't have called Mom a jerk."
But when he said it to her face, baby self in charge, she genuinely seemed to deserve it.Over time, the voice, the developing conscience, automatically undergoes a transformation. Increasingly, the voice, rather than sounding like a parent's, sounds more and more like one's own voice. "I should clean up my room or else Mom will be mad" becomes "I should clean up my room. It really looks messy."This gradual transformation is the internalization, the taking in as one's own, of one's parents' wishes and values. It is where our rules for them, our wants for them, get transformed into their own rules and wants for themselves. It is the formation of their own adult conscience.EmpathyAnother major source of control that becomes part of the mature self's conscience is what we call empathy.Empathy is knowing that others have feelings just as we do, and genuinely taking pain or pleasure in what happens to them. It's the kindest part of the conscience. Children develop empathy not from any learned sense of right or wrong, but from the sense that we, as human beings, genuinely care about others. We suffer or feel pleasure not just from what happens to us, but from what happens to others as well. A child is unable to tease the class bozo because he knows how the teasing will make him feel and will feel discomfort at the other's suffering. In the long run, empathy is perhaps the single most important of all behavior controls.The main requirement for the development of empathy isgood nurturing. Empathy develops from being treated lovingly, caringly, and selflessly. Empathy comes from having been cared about and from having one's own feelings taken into consideration. It comes from having been part of a loving relationship. It's a fact of child development that children who are raised with love and consideration are able to give the same to others.However, even children who are not raised in loving and caring relationships can develop empathy. Some who are ill-treated as children latch on to an adult who is not a major caregiver in their lives--a teacher, a grandparent, anyone who has been kind to them--and somehow use that small piece of compassion as a foundation for their own caring for others.Self Control/Self-DisciplineThe last major piece of becoming civilized is the actual ability to control oneself. Along with the development of a conscience, the mature self has to supply the self-discipline to heed that conscience. Without self-discipline, a child may not wish to take the candy that Mom was saving for her bridge club because he thinks it is wrong, but he's just too hungry and he wants the candy too much. So he takes it and eats it anyway. A person can genuinely know what is right, want to do it, mean to do it, but lack the capacity, the self-discipline, the maturity to act as he wishes. I may be the nicest guy in the world, genuinely wanting to do the right thing, but if I am still just a big baby, with little tolerance for frustration, with little ability to deal with not getting my way, I will act badly.
"I really did mean to come to your party, like I said I would, but I met these guys and we got to talking, and anyway, I spent the evening in a bar with them."
"I really didn't want to hurt her, but I just got so mad when she started yelling at me. I just couldn't stop myself."
"I wanted to finish high school. I didn't want to disappoint Mom and Dad, but I never seemed able to get myself to do the work."
That is, it is all well and good to have an excellent empathic conscience, to be in our hearts good people, but we also need the strength to have our actions back up our beliefs.These are the basic elements of becoming civilized. Internalizing parents' values, genuine caring for others, and the capacity for self-discipline. How do children acquire them? Where do they come from?The answer is that if parents are doing their job--nurturing, but also, as will be discussed, making demands and setting limits--the mature self will have all it needs to grow, just as it should. It will get bigger, stronger. Its role will increase. And in time the mature self will take on an executive role. It will take charge of deciding the when and the where of the two selves. It decides when we need to act in a mature manner, and when it is okay for us to give the baby self free rein. To the mature self falls the job of keeping the baby self in its appropriate place. Eventually, the mature self actually controls the shifting back and forth between the two modes.At the office Christmas party, I have to watch what I say and do. But at Harry and Vivian's New Year's Eve party, I can act like a total jerk and nobody is going to care. Not even Lou Anne.When I come home from the office, there is half an hour when everybody has to leave me alone. When I am just going to veg out. When I do not have to hear about anybody's day. But after that half hour, I am available. I'll make supper and the kids can tell me about anything they want to, and I'll listen.That control never becomes perfect. But by adulthood, with most of us, it works well enough. That is, we can work when we need to work and we can play and relax when it is time to play and relax.Baby selves will always act like baby selves. They do not change. But mature selves do. During childhood, the mature self is growing. While the baby self keeps going nowhere, the mature self is getting stronger, taking on ever-increasing responsibility until finally it becomes a full, genuine, adult, mature self.What Good Is the Baby Self?A fact of life is that the realm of the mature self is also the realm of stress. Therefore, with children and adults as well, the baby self is our retreat where we can go to relax, unwind, and free ourselves from all the worries and stresses of our everyday lives. It is a time-out place, like a corner in a boxing match between rounds, where we can nurture ourselves, regroup, and head out again into the fray.It can even be a part of us separate from who we are in the world out there, separate from what we have accomplished, separate from what others think of us. It can be a part of us that just is, not good, not bad, not successful, not a failure. It is not the part of me who may or may not get promoted to vice president in charge of sales, not the part who is or is not popular in school, good or not at school work, good or not at sports, but it is the part of me who likes to watch Godzilla movies or do jigsaw puzzles or play with my action figures in my room.The baby self also has a central role in adult love relationships. In adult life, we can be ourselves in relationships only where we feel that we can get nurtured. It is the difficult paradox of such relationships. We want to be on our bestbehavior in order to treat our loved ones well. But for the relationship to be nurturing for us, we also need to feel that we do not have to "put on" any behavior, that within the relationship we can act as we feel, not just as we think we should. It is the main challenge for people in long-term relationships--to act considerately while at the same time providing adequate room for the baby self. For without our baby self in a love relationship, we simply cannot get nurtured.In children, the baby self is especially important and necessary for healthy emotional development. Perhaps the most striking example of this can be seen in a well-known phenomenon with foster children. Many of these children join a new family and are quite well-behaved for a couple of months. But when that "honeymoon period" ends, they start acting badly. The true test of the foster placement follows. Will the foster parents hang in there with the child who is going to give them trouble, or, as often happens, will the agency be called and the child moved on?But why couldn't these children simply continue being good if their placement was working so well? Certainly they were getting lots of positive feedback and lots of nurturing as a result of their good behavior. Would that not make them want to continue the good behavior? The answer is that they may have been good, they may have been getting lots of positive response, but they were starving. Being on their good behavior meant operating most of the time in the independent mature mode, which is fine, even necessary for most life situations, but not adequate at all for the receiving of primary nurturing. Without primary nurturing to go back to, a child's interest and tolerance for independent activity, a child's capacity and willingness to go out and deal with the world, cannot be sustained.The baby self, as piggy as it is, is not bad. Only it can get the primary nurturing so necessary for overall well-being. Its presence at home with us, with all of its accompanying unattractivebehaviors, does not mean that our child is a monster. In fact, if we are doing a good job as parents, we can know that our child is maturing just fine. We want the baby self to have a time and place and to know that that time and place is with us. We want to give our kids a childhood. They need it. But letting the baby self have its time and place with us also means that parents are stuck with a child who can, will, and must regularly revert to being the craving mindless blob that is the baby self in order to get the special necessary feeding it must have to grow and mature.The Problem and What to Do about ItThere is, of course, a problem. The problem is that the baby self when not getting its way can be a very tough adversary.For in order to foster growth--mature-self development--parents must set limits and make demands, which the baby self absolutely hates. And against which it will fight tooth and nail. And this is where the tricky part comes in. For if the baby self cannot win, it is just as happy to feed and further provoke as much parent response as it can. Which leaves parents with only one option: When setting limits and making demands, don't feed the baby self. Otherwise they risk getting more fussing, bickering, and horrible scenes. These scenes give the baby self the food it craves, but this food does not nourish. This food leads children to hold on and not move forward, it motivates them to repeat the unwanted behaviors in order to get more of the forbidden but terribly tasty food.A key to effective child raising is to truly believe that it is not a problem for our children to misbehave--sometimes--with us and at home. The point of child raising is not to stamp out all bad behavior at home, not to perfectly shape our children's behavior when they are with us. The point is to make sure that we are putting in all the proper ingredients. Goodparenting is treating children well and setting limits and making demands, and then standing back and letting the good processes that we have thereby lodged inside of them grow. If we give them love, don't abuse them, set appropriate limits and make appropriate demands on them, we truly have done what is necessary.Though we may respond to their baby-self behavior in ways that our children may not like, we are two-faced. On the surface, we react, do what we feel is necessary, but all the while we understand that this behavior is not a big deal. We understand that baby-self behavior does not deserve any serious response. If we truly believe that, it frees us to act, and then to swiftly step back, to not get caught up in endless but destructive battles with the baby self. And from this both we and our children reap great benefits. They get their childhood and we get children who behave--most of the time, but not always--and who grow up to be happy and productive adults.The Wonderful DealLetting them have their childhood is part of the wonderful deal. The wonderful deal is that no matter what my children may do, they get everything that I have to give simply because they are my children.
"No matter what I do, I lose nothing just because I was bad? I still get all the good stuff that I would have gotten anyway, no matter what I did? I'm entitled to it? Just because I am me, your darling darlingest? I still get everything, even if Jennifer is better behaved than I am?"That's the deal. But then Jeremy's sister pipes in."You mean even if I'm much better behaved than Jeremy? I don't get any more than him?""That's right.""Then what's the point of my being good?""It's your choice.""Then I'll be bad.""I f you want.""No matter what I do, good or bad, I get the same as I would anyway?""That's the deal. You get the full amount of what we have to give.""I just get it. Period?""That's right.""So what do I get for being good?""We're not mad at you as often as we are at Jeremy. You have more freedom because we can trust you. For example, we can trust you to have paints in your room which we can't do with Jeremy. But that's probably it.""That's it? That's all I get for being good?""That's it. Of course, you get all the good stuff you're entitled to for being our daughter. You automatically get that.""I can be good or bad and it doesn't make any difference?""Yup.""It's a weird deal.""Yup."
The whole point is that children like this deal. They love it. They come to feel, at the deepest level of their being, that the deal is a good one. People, at least Mommy and Daddy, can give just to give. It's not tied into anything that I'm supposed to do. They just do it because they want to and they love me. Having been a recipient of the wonderful deal, having been given to unconditionally, they do not grow into people who seek always to get all they can from everybody but grow into people who can be generous. Having been given to without strings, they do not worry about being taken advantage of, and they can trust.Copyright © 1995 by Anthony E. Wolf, Ph.D.
Excerpted from It's Not Fair, Jeremy Spencer's Parents Let Him Stay up All Night! by Anthony E. Wolf, Ph.D. Copyright © 1996 by Anthony E. Wolf, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission.
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