JOURNAL OF A MOM – WEBER FOR TODDLERS

Without mommies in plain view, the shift in the authority figure somewhat changes so that some kids start practicing absolute authority and enforcing obedience. Whereas some abuse their physical strength to ensure superiority in the playground, others rule with absolute power based on their age, i.e. height, which boils to the same thing. Or they simply think they are right and you can’t make unequal things equal, can you? After all, ‘some animals are more equal than others.’

“Achieving a particular form of political order in any democracy depends on prevailing conditions ‘in which different forms of society cohere’ and different ways ‘in which consensus is achieved’ (Jeffry Ocay). Since a consensus is mainly reached by parents (or teachers or nannies), oppression and cruelty take its place when they’re not around and consequently achieving my kinda order is the goal of all goals, whether there’s a consensus or not. This normally implies the rule of law that all (or most) must obey, using all possible means to accomplish the goal, from open animosity to passive aggression, slamming, crying (with or without tears), punching, pinching, rolling, hiding, blackmailing, stealing and so on.

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The sociologist and philosopher Max Weber distinguished ‘three types of authority: traditional, legal-rational and charismatic, each corresponding to a brand of leadership operative in contemporary society.’ He probably didn’t have kids in mind when he coined the terms, but we’ll see that same rules pretty much apply in the playground too.

According to Weber, traditional authority implies ‘the presence of a dominant personality and it is the prevailing order in society that gives him the mandate to rule.’ Parents are dominant because they are parents. On the other hand, children in the play area frequently listen to (obey) other kids who are seen as apt by the majority, and because everyone else already does, so they just follow. I didn’t give my son B. the mandate to rule so it’s only natural that I should bitch when he presides at our home meetings (or elsewhere). A republic/parliamentary democracy is still a form of government that is nearer and dearer to my heart than a monarchy so, despite being my Little Prince, he does not automatically have a hereditary right to the throne. We’re not gonna abolish monarchy altogether, though, since ours is not the absolute, but the constitutional one (thank god). Tradition is tradition, right? Besides, it’s good to be the queen. However, what B. apparently does is copy my behavior and I can tell you he’s damn good at it. Or he just has a domineering streak. Hm…I’ll get back to that…

Second, Weber’s legal-rational authority is grounded in clearly defined laws. ‘The obedience of people is not based on the capacity of any leader but on the legitimacy and competence that procedures and laws bestow upon persons in authority.’ Having this in mind, it seems everybody who wishes to become president might as well do so, however insane, inept and inadequate, because the state institutions and laws say so. And we can’t question them, right? Kids, like adults, often follow not because of what leaders are capable of but because their ‘authority comes from widely accepted impersonal and impartial rules.’ The one who’s pronounced competent by say parents or other kids, not necessarily proving or having to prove their competence, may become the most reliable and trustworthy person to fix, open and close things in the future. As opposed to adults, children are not biased toward one over another. On the contrary, being open-minded, tolerant and anti-discriminatory, they give everyone equal chances to show what they can do and accept suggestions especially when coming from bigger and older guys. Apart from this, they are very practical. I saw you’re more successful and faster; I’ll step back and let you do it/show me. You have to admit it’s time-saving and more efficient in the long run (and intelligent too). After all, it’s all a part of the learning process and more than ok to be second best.

Last but not least, ‘charismatic authority is a trait that makes a leader extraordinary. This type of leader possesses the superior power of charisma to rally diverse and conflict-prone people behind him. His power comes from the massive trust and almost unbreakable faith people put in him.’ In the playground, like in the world of adults, such kids are often likeable, communicative, sociable, confident, charming, and above all popular. However, they might also be or turn into real despots, stingy, antagonistic, controlling, confrontational, intolerant of differing opinions and prone to oppressing their subjects (that is playmates) by for example not allowing them to climb the slide, pushing them down the slide, grabbing their miniature replicas of vehicles and silverware, while not sharing their own, screaming (to the disgust of their parents…or not): ‘It’s mine. I don’t want to share. I’m a miser.’ Weber’s charismatic authority has what he calls Herrschaft or ‘the power to compel people to obey’ so when the leader says loud and clear: ‘I am your voice,’ his supporters cannot but hypnotically nod and enthusiastically and loyally cheer: ‘Build the wall.’ Furthermore, charisma is, in Weber’s opinion, irrational. ‘Like the mystic, the charismatic leader is believed in because his message goes against common knowledge of how the world works.’ Luckily, he concludes, ‘charisma requires perpetual reanimation’ and is ‘temporary because, like magic, its appeal and its efficacy only last as long as it is seen to be successful.’

The bottom line is the whole society plays an active role in shaping an individual. Consequently, every child has the potential to become an alpha. Being a benevolent alpha parent is, on the other hand, quite normal. Being dominant in the relationship implies, among other things, being protective and comforting and should not be confused with being domineering. The alpha in a wolf pack is the one who protects the pack, not the one who bullies and intimidates.

Still, I can’t help but wonder what the childhood of notorious world leaders was like and how their parents acted when their needs weren’t met. So, here are a few tips for (future) parents to try changing bratty behavior, if possible, with an additional request not to judge parents by how their kids behave:

  • If your children defend their position by repressive means, tending to control almost everybody at home, rest assured, they’ll, unless you teach them differently, turn into control freaks one day, controlling everything in the state as well, should they show interest in becoming presidents. The question is whether they’ll become absolutists, unjust and cruel rulers, or usurpers, illegitimate ones.
  • If your kids show a tendency to be despotic, make sure you satisfy their need to be in charge every now and then by offering them creative alternatives to the bossiness. It’s all a game to them anyway so play along before it stops being funny. The crucial thing is that they get the attention they crave (your way, not theirs).
  • Mind how you talk in front of the kids. You can initiate a positive change by changing the tone in which you ask each other to do things around the house (yes, Bojana, you too). Instead of ‘Take out the trash already,’ why don’t you try something like ‘Hun, can you please…?’ It won’t hurt (always). Other times, you’ll probably be too mad to even bark an order, just putting the trash forcefully on the floor in hopes that he trips over it. There, I said it. Now, if you could see our trash can, I’m sure you’d be more supportive and understand why I have to nag. Now, shut up and keep listening.
  • Say yes whenever possible. Too many no’s may prove detrimental in the long run. Just as offering alternative sources of healthy foods if they prefer x to y, you should offer game alternatives to choose from. You can’t play with mom and dad’s toys, but why don’t you try this?
  • Use positive reinforcement to promote good behavior. Don’t punish bad behavior and failure. Concentrate on the process rather than the outcome. Good job, honey! How didn’t I think of that?
  • Anticipate problems by observing your kids, not to say spying on them, especially when they start bringing friends home: who, where, when, how. Someone’s always to blame for their disruptive/unusual behavior. You shouldn’t feel guilty. Look at democratic societies eavesdropping on the rest of the world and learn. If you’re caught red-handed, deny everything. If espionage becomes a bit too obvious, resort to transparency as your obligation to share information, tell your kids it’s for their own good and make the spy-bugs smaller.
  • Finally, try being effective democratic parents, whenever possible. Although democracy is not as flawless a system as many western governments present it, do not change it or, even worse, turn to tyranny. It is your duty as a parent to offer protection, love and guidance (discipline too) and promote tolerance and freedom of expression if you want your kid, family and society to thrive. Long-term peace, stability and equality can only be attained when everybody’s rights are respected. Why don’t we start with our children? That being said, we might just stop producing more loonies (than necessary), provided you’re not one, in which case we’re screwed, and electing more tyrants presidents in the future.

JOURNAL OF A MOM – SHORT FUSE

My son B. may be the spitting image of his dad but he definitely takes after me with his short-temperateness, determination, perseverance (or stubbornness?) and reluctance to make concessions. 2.5 seconds he needs to go from ‘What a beautiful world’ to ‘I want to smash everything, especially your head’ has been a sign that couldn’t be denied by anyone, his mom in particular. However, whereas we tend to get upsfunet pretty quickly, it may take us ages to cool down. Everybody knows that and over the time they have learned the tricks to cool off, unlike us.

If we’re tired or stressed, we tend to get irritable pretty fast, whining about and to the world so better get used to it.

When somebody pisses us off…what do you want us to say?! Run and hide.

We are drama queens. (OK, I am. Mom can’t beat me.) So what?!

Being impatient is second nature to us and it’s incurable, mom says. Long (or short) lines at the supermarket, closed ice-cream shops, and hunger lasting more than 5 seconds are not our thing. The ‘if my fruit smoothie doesn’t wait for me as soon as I open my eyes, I’ll scream’ type of reaction is quite common. Trust us, everything’s negotiable (sort of), except an empty tummy. When we’re hungry, we bite and you’re the guilty one. So don’t come near us. That is, you may approach the bench provided you have that smoothie or milk shake. Make it quick and warm.

We’re cranky long after we wake up. Just shut your mouth and stop breathing. It’ll pass…in a couple of hours. (Who’s impatient now?!)

We like to tease just for fun (not to make you angry) so don’t freak out every time and don’t you dare raise your voice. We’re highly sensitive to high-pitched sounds.

Try not to make us laugh or, even worse, make fun of us when we’re annoyed and busy throwing a tantrum. You’ll make it worse and then you’ll be sorry. Very sorry. I’m better at ruining the world around me, meaning pens, pencils, phones, books, mom and dad’s stuff, toys, nothing is safe when something doesn’t go my way. Mom, on the other hand, is not prone to smashing objects around the house (though she could definitely use an anger room), but is much better at holding a grudge than me.

The bad thing about us is that we never actually know when exactly our trigger might go off, nor can we remember at all times what/who hurt us in the first place. Be that as it may, hardly anybody can beat us at being mad for hours. Mom says we’re just uncompromising.

Though we are generally sociable and talkative, we appreciate our alone time and silence. If we don’t feel like talking, don’t ask us questions. If we need your company, entertain us. Our refusal to be cooperative or cheerful is temporary. It could however turn into a long-lasting (not to say permanent) thing unless you (learn to) read the instructions clearly written on our faces.

We are terribly stubborn and might see things differently sometimes, which means we’ll eventually do whatever makes us happy (though often others miserable).

We rarely feel guilty for losing our temper ‘for no reason,’ as you call it. You see, we strongly believe that every ‘why’ has its ‘because.’

Many have given us anger management tips, suggesting yoga, meditation and counting to 10 but we think that kick boxing is more in line with our character.

When we’re in distress, you better steer clear of us. It’ll pass (maybe soon, maybe never). Go on pampering us, playing us Peppa Pig and feeding us. What are you waiting for? A thank you card?

We love our mom and have strong separation anxiety, crying every time she leaves. Show some understanding when we can’t come down.

If you don’t do anything when we’re not behaving sensibly, things may (will) go from bad to worse. Talk to us. Be there.

Though we are no strangers to sudden bouts of sullenness, we are generally enthusiastically fond of smiling and being happy.

Finally, we’re cuddly. When you see something’s not right, make sure you give us a comfort hug. The bottom line is all we need is love.

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JOURNAL OF A MOM – LEARNING TO FLY

It’s 7 AM and my son B. is wide awake. Without further ado, he’ll run to the door, press the door handle down, and dash down the hall and into the kitchen, impatiently hopping from one foot to the other saying yum yum. I’m still in bed; the boys can do without me…Obviously not today. Remember the time when I was waking B. up when he felt like sleeping in? Well, it’s the other way round now. My boy’s almost grown up and a good learner, his methods being not so subtle, though. He’s starving for my attention as I am for some extra sleep and will do everything in his power to drag me out of bed: jump all over me, sit on my face, kick and slap me, pull the sheets off the corner of the mattress, take my blanket, and sound as miserable as can be. I’ve been ignoring him for too long. You’re going to pay for this, little weasel! I put his hands over his head and hold them so he can’t move. I bite, pinch, kiss and hug him violently, which he hates when he’s not in the mood. He starts yelping and whimpering. It’s time to hug some. And hide under the blanket, shouting laaaaa, lu, lu, lu, qu-e, d-g, d-g, du da and aya, aya. And tickle. And giggle…and do butt jumps.

We’re up and heading to the kitchen. ‘Breakfast’s almost ready. B, can you pass daddy the bottle? …Thank you. Way to go, honey! Now the nipple…’ B. sees his fruit smoothie is not there yet and kicks the sink in frustration. ‘No! No!’ He hurls himself to the ground, screaming and rolling furiously on the floor. ‘B, take it easy. You’ll have it shortly.’ ‘No, no, no!!!!’ The collar is screwed onto the bottle, securing the nipple in place. ‘Here you are.’ He’ll grab the bottle hastily, open his mouth real wide, and, holding it with both hands, gulp his morning drink down in the blink of an eye. The tummy’s full and he’s smiling again.

My advice to people when meeting my almost two and a half year old son is to be careful what they do or say to him since he can go from wow’s and yay’s to ‘heated arguments’ (no no, no, no, no!) quicker than you can count from 1 to 3, let alone 4. To say that he becomes sad or upset if he can’t get something done right away would be an understatement of epic proportions. Desperation, more like it. Can’t open something? Despair. Can’t close something? Despair. Any other difficulty? Despair. However, kids are spot-on so eating or staring at TV or going into silent mode to avoid confrontation is not their way of dealing with a problem. Regardless of their reactions, they learn from their mistakes, unlike adults, and rarely give up. You have to appreciate their roll-up-your-sleeves attitude, whatever the outcome. Rest assured they’ll go back to what made them angry in the first place sooner or later. You may end up with a few gray hairs along the way, but hey…whatever makes them happy.

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It has been a challenge to keep B. busy and get him interested. Luckily, he has recently started playing with his toys (it was about time!) and, most importantly, alone so I don’t have to follow his every step like before. Despite this, once he gets bored, which is pretty much every 2 minutes, he wants to be in the spotlight again. He’s a natural showman and is never nervous or timid when on stage. Give him a thumbs up, and an approving smile, and he’ll be more than thrilled he did great.

B. enjoys going for a walk. Even if it means strolling around the apartment, he’d grab your hand so as to go places at least 1000 times per day. If I’m busy doing something, he’ll pull on my pants. If I dare to ignore him or not pick him up when he wants me to, he’ll resort to pushing my buttons, playing with a sugar/coffee jar and throwing things around.

He likes to empty crayon containers and toy boxes onto the carpet, and get on top of the desk, throwing down everything he finds there. Lately, I’ve been on a quest to find new ways to keep him busy. Straws and an empty water bottle is one of them. I give him a cup full of colorful straws and a bottle and he knows what to do. His little fingers take the straws and drop them through the mouth of the bottle, his tongue sticking out. Every now and then, he’ll stop doing what he’s doing to suck the bottle or put the straws in his mouth and chew. The bottle is full, but how on earth are we supposed to empty it now?! Concentrating…frowning…moaning…counting to 10. 1, 1.5…Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!! Frustration sets it again. I help him pour the straws out so that we can load them in again. It’s fun. In spite of losing it a few times, this may keep him happily engaged for a near record-breaking 5 minutes.

Playing with real cooking spoons, pots and plastic bowls is priceless. Just give him the real thing and he’ll keep quiet for as long as you want him to. Lastly, scooping and pouring small items, preferably beads or buttons, is yet another game he takes great pleasure in. But, since mom is worried he might put them in his mouth, she’d set out a bowl or tray of macaroni, and show him how to scoop, transfer, and pour them into another bowl. He’ll eventually pick up the container and turn out the contents on the floor so I’ll be the one to count to 10. Smiling and counting.