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Parenting Tips

This will be an ongoing list.

1. Don’t let the kids or yourselves interrupt someone else speaking at dinner. This is absolutely crucial if you have five kids, like me.

2. Remember the lawyer’s adage, “Never ask a question you don’t know the answer to.” In law, that means don’t ask a witness a question you don’t know the answer to. Here, it applies to one parent asking the other for their opinion about something the kids are doing. For example, suppose Mary is wearing tight jeans, and Mom admonishes her. Mary says, “No, they’re not really tight.” Dad comes into the room. It is a fatal error for Mom to say,”Dad, what do you think of Mary’s jeans?” unless she knows how he will answer. He will probably say, “They look fine to me,” and she’s destroyed her own authority. Instead, she should take Dad aside, tell him that Mary’s jeans are too tight and Dad should tell her that, and he will, if he agrees, which he probably will one due consideration even if he would never have noticed otherwise.

3. Don’t tell your kids,”Keep going. You won’t fail.” This is bad for several reasons. First, it’s a lie— often, they will fail. If they never fail, what they’re doing is too easy. Second, often they should give up. “Cut your losses.” “Never draw to an inside straight.” Third, what you’re really telling them is, “If you fail, I won’t love you. You’ve got to succeed, or you’re no good.”

So what do you do? Give them good advice— to quit, if appropriate, to keep trying otherwise. Tell them it’s okay to fail, and not to be too proud to admit failure. And have an attitude that no matter what, you’ll still love them. But don’t tell them that! Have the attitude, but don’t tell them.

If you tell them, you’re conveying the exact opposite message. If you say, “If you fail, I’ll still love you,” you’re saying, “If you fail, naturally any sensible person would be afraid his father won’t love him any more. In fact, I’m thinking that myself. But I don’t want to scare you, so I’ll tell you how hard I’m going to try to love you even if you fail and don’t deserve it any more and most fathers would stop loving you.” It’s like someone telling his son, “If you aren’t earning $200,000/year by age 30, I’ll still love you.” True, I should love my son even if he isn’t earning $200,000 by age 30. But what kind of message does saying that send?

See PHd, Law Degree, or Job.

4. Convey to teenagers that they should do a lot of things like filling in school forms that their mothers will try to do for them. This has numerous advantages. Tell them:
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A. Your time is worth less than your mother’s.
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B. You will learn how to fill out forms, etc., useful life skills.
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C. It is less unpleasant for you than for your mother, largely because of point B— you haven’t done it a million times before, so it has novelty and slight challenge. Note that this does not imply it is not highly unpleasant, since it can still be even worse for your mother. It’s just that you aren’t used to doing unpleasant things like she has to do every day.
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D. It is easier for you to keep track of what needs to be done for yourself than for your mother to keep track of it.
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E. You should be kind to your mother.
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F. Doing this will teach your mother that you are capable, not a helpless baby.

Doing it yourself has two disadvantages:
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X. You have to do the work yourself.
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Y. You are less mature, so you are more likely to forget it and get into trouble (note, however, that very likely your mother will remind you anyway, whereas there’s nobody to remind her if she forgets, because you are too immature to be any help reminding her).

As you see, the advantages outweight the disadvantages unless you are both selfish AND short-sighted.

Note that I don’t mention fathers. Your father will generally not volunteer to do it for you anyway, and if you ask him, he’ll probably say, “Do it yourself”. Mothers are less willing to impose discomfort on their children, even when it’s good for them. Whether that’s because they love them or love them less is an interesting question.

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