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September 19, 2003
Is Gnat being raised correctly? And is it anyone else's business?

Here's an interesting exchange of views, about parenting. Here's an email (which turned into an open letter) from Alice Bachini to James Lileks. (The email turned into an open letter because Alice couldn't work the Lileks email system. If you can help her with that, please go and do so.)

This is the particular Bleat that Alice is referring to.

When discipline is required, Daddy is enlisted. Why? I have the deep voice, and I have the will. I am careful to explain why she is being naughty; I always express my understanding of her position, but I am firm: this will not stand. Comply, or at the count of three you’re locked in your room.

Is it proper etiquette to write open letters to parents about how they raise their children? Well, as Alice says:

You will probably not be interested in this point I'm going to make, but I had to make it. Some people might consider it too personal and therefore rude, but as you write about this subject where people can read it, I hope you don't mind.

I have wondered for some time what Gnat will make in the years to come of the fact that her life has been a Public Issue from the day of her birth. I don't suppose she'll mind. Nevertheless, it must be a bit like being a member of the Royal Family, what with all these total strangers discussing your every little bit of alleged progress or alleged lack of it.

I may do a bit on White Rose some time soon about the notion that discussing individual children's lives must seem to some like a violation of privacy. Personally I just think it's life.

Lileks and Alice agree about the war on terror, which means that Alice's opposition to violence against or forceful restraint of children is not based on pacifism or anything like that.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:16 PM
Category: Parents and children

Alice strikes me as a wonderfully good parent, if it is okay for me to say that.

Comment by: Michael Jennings on September 19, 2003 07:28 PM


Strongly agreed.

But then, the way he tells it, so is Lileks.

My suspicion is that there is, somewhere, a set of rules for good parenting (involving things like: if you have a rule be consistent about it) and they both score very highly.

I have just the same feeling about the difference between good and bad teachers. It's not so much the actual rules they prefer to follow (which make them all very different from each other - reactionary, progressive, demanding, friendly, etc.) as the manner in which they follow their rules. Or something.

Comment by: Brian Micklethwait on September 19, 2003 08:35 PM

I was not attempting to make any observation at all about Lileks one way or another, but (to do so) he actually seems pretty besotted with little Gnat and I agree he sounds like a good father.

My main observation I think is that children deserve the same respect as adults, although obviously they cannot always be treated the same way as adults. Children are no less thinking individuals than are adults, and although they are less experienced and less knowledgeable, they are not less smart than adults, and they are not less capable of thinking critically than are adults. They should be encouraged to think critically and they deserve to be heard. (This is why I find the "We must censor [something] because it will do horrible things to our children" argument deeply unconvincing. I think that such things are generally unlikely to do horrible things to children, at least compared to many of the things that children encounter in real life. Plus of course this is often an excuse to censor things from adults as well).

Even more than this, the feelings of children are just as important and just as valid as that of adults. Children are just as capable of loving, hating, and hurting as the rest of us, and society seems to forget this. But Alice seems to get it.

Comment by: Michael Jennings on September 20, 2003 02:13 PM

Michael is right on when he says children deserve the same respect as adults. I hear people speaking to their children and I sometimes want to ask them "Would you treat friends like that?"

As for censoring things, I am revolted by that whole uber-Nanny attitude that says the least little thing with totally warp this child forever. As someone who survived those hide under the desk atom bomb drills in elementary school, I think we don't have to hide the fact of terrorism from children nor call in "grief therapists" whenever the least upsetting thing happens. (The people who urge this nonsense also tend to be the same people who want to throw a six year old who points a finger and says "bang!" out of school on weapons charges.)

Oh the other hand, when my children were little, I did censor what they watched on television -- even though my wife and I would take them to see plays that had adult language and themes (once had a nervous house manager come up to me and warn me about about the language in a play) -- It was the trash-level lowest-common-denominator time-wasting crap I wanted to shelter them from, not ideas and words.

Comment by: Jim on September 20, 2003 03:19 PM

My problem is, the way Lileks tell it, he is systematically (and entirely unwittingly, because it's not his invention but a massive, terrible and horrible bad social meme) being horrible to, and undermining, his child. I realise saying so is offensive to many. But, morally, I can't just sit around watching people make public amusement out of the pointless sufferings of their kids and say nothing about it.

However much anyone disagrees with me, that's my position. If we were talking about white people and their servants, or men and their wives a couple of hundred years ago, lots more people would get it. And as far as I'm concerned, that's basically the nature (and possibly scale) of mass delusion we're dealing with when it comes to parenting. Even in this day and age.

Comment by: Alice Bachini on September 20, 2003 10:42 PM

I haven't heard Alice's opinion on the question Brian raised in the subject line of this post, actually, which is does she think it is bad that Lileks is making so much information about his child public. Alice seems to go out of her way to protect the privacy of her own children, to the extent that I don't even know how many she has. (As she has referred to them in the plural, I assume it is somewhere between two and twelve, however).

Comment by: Michael Jennings on September 22, 2003 12:30 PM

You guys crack me up. He locks his sickly three year old child in a room (He imprisons her.) because she doesn't do as he says and all you can say is "Well he seems besotted by her."

So, your sick
your on medication
your grouchy
you have an opinion
you won't follow my orders
I lock you in dark room (Taking away your LIBERTY. You know that thing you all crow on about so much, as do I) all on your own but that is OK because I give the impression that I love you.

Excuse my French...BOLLOCKS!!!

But the only one who sees it is Alice.

Comment by: HEHD on September 23, 2003 11:15 PM

Where does it say the room was dark? Really, I think this is being a bit dramatic and hard on the man. I don't shut my 3-yr-old in his room as punishment, but I hardly think it is so terrible to merit such harsh criticism as:
"...public amusement out of the pointless sufferings of their kids ..."
And I wouldnt' judge someone as a parent based on one post on their web log!

Comment by: Amy on September 24, 2003 02:38 AM

Alice, it seems to me, is a pretty good writer who hides some sharp thinking behind a kind of fluffy persona.

However in this instance I don't agree with her in any way.

I don't know, either, how many children she has, but I do suspect from her views and her untarnished ideals that they are very young.

James Lileks was dealing very well - as far as anyone can tell - with a truculent three-year-old. It gets worse than three-year-olds, guys, by the way.

You can treat children as adults if you want, but they are not adults, they are children. There are things about the world that they don't know, and sometimes will not be told, however nicely you go about it.
I would like to see Alice being sweet and reasonable and reasoning politely with a determined and bolshie fourteen-year-old. However nice you are then, it just doesn't work.

Occasionally it happens that you have to say "NO" and "NO means NO" and "I've heard your arguments but I disagree and I am the adult responsible for your safety and your life so it's still NO." I've been there. It happens.

Of course someone will say "if you treat them Alice's way when they are tiny then they won't be determined and bolshie later.

Try it if you like; some won't -but some will.

Taking children seriously - absolutely. Debating endlessly instead of setting limits and enforcing them - absolutely not.

Comment by: Andrew Duffin on September 24, 2003 03:19 PM

I had an explicit deal with my daughter. I was the boss, which meant I was responsible for food, clothing, shelter and protection from wolves and bears. She was the kid, which meant she had to do what I said. It worked well. When she ignored me, I'd say, "Are you the boss?" She'd back down, realizing that she wasn't prepared to handle the wolves and bears.

If she was causing havoc, I'd put her in her room, locking the door if necessary to keep her there. She could play with her toys or whatever, but she couldn't cause havoc outside her own room. After a few minutes, I'd look in and tell her she could come out when she was ready to be quiet. Usually, she was too busy playing to care.

I used to write about her in the newspaper too, though not as much as Lileks writes about Gnat. As she got older, I only did so if she gave her OK.

Now 22, she's her own boss. Wolves and bears are advised to get out of her way.

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