Two months ago, I conducted a two-day small-group “parent retreat” during which I talked about, among other things, the legitimacy and power of “because I said so.” One of my missions is to promote the restoration of the attitude that accompanies the calm, straightforward (the operative conditions) delivery of that traditional parenting aphorism. Why? Because it is the very essence of effective discipline, that’s why.
“Because I said so” is nothing more than an affirmation of the legitimacy of the authority of the parent in question. The parent is an adult; the child is not. The child is completely dependent upon the parent for his or her very survival. The parent would take a bullet for the child; the likelihood that the child would take a bullet for the parent is slim to none. For those reasons, the parent’s authority over the child is legitimate.
And for all those reasons, the parent is under no obligation to justify any decision made concerning or any instruction he or she gives the child. As I used to tell my kids, “ Your mother and I pay for your lives. You pay nothing. We are responsible for you. You are not responsible for us. With those facts in mind, the arrangement here is very simple: We make decisions and give you instructions. You abide by and obey those decisions and instructions; and the reason you abide and obey is because we said so.”
Neither of our kids ever had to see a therapist. They made good grades in school (and my wife and I did not help with homework or science projects). They made good social choices, never got in serious trouble, and were completely self-supporting by their mid-20s. “Because I said so” does not seem to have been traumatic.
Beginning in the mid-1960s, child psychologists and other mental health professionals began claiming that those four words had a problematic effect on children. They robbed children of autonomy, denied their ability to think intelligently, lowered self-esteem, and blah blah blah. Said professionals had no evidence to support any of this. They made it all up. Nonetheless, American parents, having no reason to know that people with impressive credentials sometimes make things up (a mental health tradition stretching back to Freud himself), believed them and began giving children reasons. Since then, arrogant disobedience, once rare, is now legion.
For example, consider one of the couples who attended the above retreat. They were desperate (no exaggeration there) for advice concerning their very disobedient and disrespectful 5-year-old daughter. The parents thought that by giving reasons for their instructions and decisions they were showing respect for her intelligence. The child, however, had no use for her parents’ respect.
The parents took in every word I said, but paid special attention to my mini-seminar on “because I said so.” I received a progress report from them the other day. “(Name of daughter withheld to protect the guilty) is much better,” they wrote. “The other day, for example, we told her to do something, to which she asked ‘why?’ Before one of us could answer, she said, ‘Wait, don’t tell me; because you say so.’”
Once again, proof positive that this parenting thing is really quite simple.