Where Child-Rearing Philosophies Really Come From

By Joel Stein

Until I became a parent, no one ever told me they had a "philosophy." Not once did a woman at a party grab a dirty martini, sit next to me on a couch and tell me she made all her ethical decisions based on the aretaic turn. The only time I ever heard people start a sentence with, "my philosophy is," their very next phrase was "to never get involved."

But at kids' parties, every mom is Jeremy Bentham. They're raising their kids according to Magda Gerber's RIE theories or Rudolf Steiner's Waldorf techniques. There are neo-humanists, Montessori-ites and Reggio Emilia followers. And it's not a friendly interchange of ideas between the camps. It's the Crusades for these moms, and they will not befriend the enemy of their beliefs. In fact, they'll say awful things behind their backs. The mothering instinct is surprisingly similar to the junior-high-school girl instinct.

The thing is: These moms didn't really pick a philosophy. Neither did we. Our kids did.

You know why my lovely wife Cassandra and I love the job-based, structured, non-interactive theories of Montessori? Because our wimpy son Laszlo loves structure and fears other kids. And you love RIE -- which, from what I've gathered at parties, involves letting your kid do whatever her wants -- because your kid is a bully. Your chosen theory isn't a brilliant breakthrough that works for all kids: It just works for your kid.

And it's what you were going to do anyway. Even if you liked Reggio Emilia before your kid was even born, it was because you are a confident, outgoing, social person who doesn't need a lot of direction. And guess what? You procreated with a person like that and ended up with a kid like that. Or you procreated with a shy person, overpowered their genes and bullied them into picking your parenting style. But if the gene pool had spit out a random shy kid, you would have turned on the Reggio Emilia thing pretty fast.

Those parents who helicopter at the playground, mediating every single dispute over toys? Trust me, we'd rather be texting. It's just that our kids are wimps and will come crying to us if we don't, and that's a lot more work. You're letting your kid run free while you text not because of the tracts of Magda Gerber, but because your kid is a badass. A badass who is going to make our kid cry. We don't have different solutions. We have different problems. Also, your kid is a jerk.

I've met Tiger Mom's daughters. They are sweet, smart, calm, ambitious kids with a lot of self-control. As are their parents. If they had gotten an ADD boy there would have been no Tiger Momming. Amy Chua would have written Battle Hymn of the Mom Who Put Her Son In Mixed Martial Arts Classes To Tire Him Before He Came Home.

It's good that you're reading books about child-rearing and all the stages your kids will go through. And it's good that you've got a philosophy to keep you consistent. But 98% of what you're doing is reacting in the moment, according to your personality. You're just using embarrassing terms like "I respect what you're saying" while I'm using embarrassing terms like, "I have no idea what you're saying with that pacifier in your mouth."

Our philosophy, actually, was to never use pacifiers. Now our two-year old uses them to sleep and when he gets hurt. Because it works. That's why my philosophy is to give all kids pacifiers until they're 12. Unless Laszlo still likes them at 12. In which case, I'll adjust my philosophy.

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