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The Informed Parent

Once The Game Begins, You Can’t Change The Rules

by John H. Samson, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Feb. 12, 2001
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We, as a country, have just experienced the truth in this title statement! The fiasco of Florida’s presidential vote tabulation was a prime example of common events that take place within families. Rules are established and announced to the children. Frequently there are partisans within the family structure. Instead of democrats and republicans it becomes mom and dad. Each has his own idea of important family rules of conduct. The result becomes two sets of family “laws” with each party inconsistently enforcing them.

The child begins to play one force against the other. In so doing, it is the child who maintains control and does whatever he or she wants. The parents are forced into adversative roles, each trying to maintain control of their particular agenda.

Jimmy knows his mother does not allow TV during evening homework time. Nevertheless, he wants to watch Monday Night Football. Past experience has taught this teenage politician that Dad will allow him to watch the game. Cleverly he waits until Dad gets home. Then he wanders into the TV room, sits down and begins to enjoy the game. Mom enters the room and immediately chastises Jimmy for breaking HER rule. Dad jumps to his son’s defense. An argument ensues, leaving the boy free to watch TV.

When the rule was originally established Dad had agreed to it. But now, since it conflicted with his wishes, the rule was changed.

“Big deal”, you say. “It’s only a TV show and one that is not bad for the boy to see.” That’s correct. But the more important concept of one set of rules equally enforced by both parents is at stake. It would have been smarter to make Monday Night Football exempt from the TV code. This would have been clear and enforceable.

This type of small time manipulation is educating Jimmy in the craft of “divide and conquer my parents”. It is guaranteed that he will use it in the future with issues both moral and ethical in nature. More importantly the message becomes clear that he can manipulate all rules to fit his desires.

It is imperative for parents to develop a set of rules both agree with, and plan to consistently enforce. They must discuss the content of the code, striving for mutual agreement. This may take time. Both parents are allowed to accept or discard each rule until a mutual agreement is met. Only then can the rules be presented, verbally or in writing, to the children. Both parents should be present. The sanction for breaking a rule must also be clearly stated.

Should a child point out a legitimate flaw in a rule the parents can reconsider IN PRIVATE. At another session the rule can be changed. It is critical that there be no argument about the change in front of the children. This would give them the false understanding that their parents disagree; therefore, a potential manipulative wedge could begin. Special exemptions may possibly occur. It should happen rarely, and must be clearly agreed upon by both parents.

Within a family, parents are the legislature, administration, enforcement agency, and the Supreme Court. Yes, this is a big responsibility. But, when a couple decides to bring children into the world this is what must be accepted. If the couple does not want this responsibility, they should not procreate. Bringing a child into your home cannot be treated with the same obligations as getting a new puppy.

The rewards of responsible parenting are life-long and invaluable. But the work of such parenting demands a bipartisan parental attitude, real love, unselfish dedication, application of common sense and a moral and ethical belief system.

Let’s not let a “Florida Fiasco” occur in your family on a regular basis. Parenting without a consistent code of conduct is neither informed nor responsible parenting.




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