“Because I said so.”
I’ll never forget the first time those dreaded words came out of my own mouth. For a fraction of a second, as the last syllable still hung in the air, the universe stood still.
I, like many of my peers, swore I would never use that phrase on my own children. In fact, there are many things my parents did that I swore I wouldn’t – and for the most part I’ve been successful. Yet there it was. The ultimate Machiavellian statement.
In my defense, I must say that it took me at least four years to reach this point – maybe even closer to five. And I must say that my oldest daughter is exceedingly challenging (Google “Spirited Child” to find out). And I’m not all that patient by nature, and I sure as hell ain’t June Cleaver. But because I’m not June Cleaver (more like Joan Jett), I always hated it when my parents employed such autocratic tactics. Blind obedience to authority just isn’t my bag and never has been. So what happened?
When asked about my parents, I always say I had a lot of examples of what NOT to do. And I really took them to heart. I always gave my daughter a reasonable, age-appropriate explanation of why we were doing a particular thing, or gave her choices whenever the end result didn’t really matter (are striped tights and a flowered skirt really that important?). And for her intellectual, philosophical temperament, this Caesarian approach worked well. Mind you, I was not some softie, pushover mom. I just let her have more freedom when it didn’t really matter. After all, that was a lesson in decision making, individuality, and autonomy.
But then – probably when I became busy with a second child, among all the usual stuff – the constant explanations got to me. Just once I wanted her to accept what I said at face value. Because I said so. I hated myself in that moment time stood still. And yet I realized, I was driven to it.
I wanted to say she drove me to it, but that wouldn’t be fair. She is what she is, and lord knows I encouraged it. No, it was more the circumstances of life that did pushed me over the edge: inquisitive child, new baby, full time job, remodeling the house, and so forth. Normal, everyday stuff.
She’s now seven, and the situation is only worse. Two very strong little women I have as children – and my husband is a saint for living with us. The older one (appropriately named Tempest) is insanely persistent – and frankly, life is too short to argue with her. So….Because I said so. Just do it. Now. One. Two. Three…….
The point of all this rambling is this: isn’t our role as parents one of our proving grounds for leadership? If so, then how does this play into my earlier pieces on Machiavelli vs Caesar? How can I truly believe in the Caesar method and yet be completely embroiled in Machiavellian parenthood?
Maybe I should look at it the other way around – not that Machiavelli is infecting my parenthood, but that Machiavelli applied parenting to leadership. Perhaps he noticed that authoritarianism worked with children, so why not on peasants? After all, treating them like children subdues and subjugates them, bends them to your will.
So maybe I shouldn’t feel so bad about saying it. Maybe instead of feeling that I didn’t live up to Caesar, I should recognize that perhaps what Machiavelli wrongly imposed on an adult populace was nothing more than successful parenting techniques.
Don’t get me wrong: I have no intention of implementing this authoritarian bullsh*t any more than I have to. Unfortunately, given my own temperament and that of my daughters, I think a certain amount of it is unavoidable. I have no illusions of being a perfect parent (subject of another blog). I want my girls to know that I respect them and I want to give them as much autonomy is appropriate for their ages and that they can responsibly handle…..but at the same time the sheer facts of life as a working mother dictate that I must unquestionably maintain my alpha status.
I feel like a hypocrite. My parents were so awful; I feel soiled at having ANY similarities with them. And yet I know that I am a WAY better parent, and leader. My girls will grow up knowing what it means to be a leader in the community, as a citizen of the country and of the world. And if it takes a little Machiavelli to get us there, is that so bad?