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Monday, November 10, 2014

Why the gumball scenario wasn't really equal opportunity

A recent essay I wrote has garnered me a lot of hate. About three thousand people have called me a lousy parent. That's okay. I'm working on it and have been for long before that essay was published, and things are actually going really well now.

When I wrote about how my liberal views ruined my parenting, I wasn't saying all liberals...or really any liberals other than me...had these issues. I was just saying I did, and some of the reason why is that I tried to instill ideology at an age too developmentally immature to handle it.

My point is that things that apply to the real world do not and cannot apply to parenting. Like the gumballs, which I assert actually works really well as an analogy for what happens to people in the assistance system.

So, let's talk about that. Everyone is so upset that I would redistribute the gumballs. In fact, Fox News called me to go on their show this weekend. That's how serious gumballs are.

They eventually decided not to go with me for a segment. I think my answer to this question is why:

FOX: "What would you make of the gumball analogy and the reaction to it?"

ME: "I think people took the wrong message from that analogy. They were talking about it as if my daughter had lost her gumballs, and it was entirely her fault. But it wasn't. Her fine motor skills aren't good enough for her to be able to open that package without spilling some. So is it her fault or my fault?

In this way, you can see the difference as applies to the ideological systems at play. When a person using assistance, let's talk about the 'abusers' the 'generational users', is there for long stretches of time and cannot or will not get out, we blame their efficacy and agency. But perhaps they don't have the skills, or education, or knowledge of how the successful model works. Instead of blaming the people who can't get out of the system for 'spilling their gumballs,' perhaps we ought to invest more money in 'training their fine motor skills' by implementing programs that teach them how to apply for colleges and grant money, programs that teach them how to use the language, how to address potential employees, and while we do that, yes, they still need to eat.

Was splitting the gumballs up equally the right thing to do as a parent? Maybe not. Is it how many taxpayers feel about their hard-earned wages? Probably. Does that mean the girl who asked me to open her gumballs had equal opportunity to the girl who tried to do it by herself and spilled them? Not really. One had the knowledge and maturity to know to ask for help from the get-go, much like a privileged person networking for a job. One tried to do it all on her own. Much like a person trying with no other support to get off the system. Do these things work in parenting moments? No. Do they work in ideology? I say they kind of do."

So, yes, I stand by it, though I am sorry my writing wasn't clear enough to bring the point through the first time.

Looks like that's another thing I have to work on. Thankfully with writing, you get millions of shots to make it just perfect. With parenting, not so much.

However, I seem to be doing a lot better on both fronts, so we'll just see how it goes from here, shall we?

Empathy is key. Sympathy is key. Understanding fully what privilege and equal opportunity mean is key.



  1. A few tips here (2 part post because of character limit):

    Number 1: when one child lost some of her candy and said "It's not fair, now I have less than she does," the proper response is this: "I'm sorry you lost your candy. Your sister didn't lose hers because she asked for help, rather than rushing to open it. You may ask her nicely if she'll share some with you, but if she chooses not to, that's her choice."

    Then I'd turn to the sister and say, "You have a choice on whether or not you want to share some of yours to be kind to your sister, seeing as how she lost some of hers by accident. If you don't want to share, that's your right---but remember, the next time it might be YOU who loses something by accident, and she may decide not to share with YOU, because you wouldn't share with her today." Then see what she says. If she refuses to share, say, "Okay---but remember, next time she may not share with you, and I won’t make her." Then tell your other daughter, "Sorry hon; maybe next time you'll be more careful opening the bag, or think to ask for help." If she pitches a tantrum, say, "This candy was a gift. You still have some candy to eat---if you keep pitching a tantrum, I may have to take away the rest of it, and then you won't have ANY." If she keeps it up, follow through and take away the candy. Be consistent, and do as you say.

    Number 2, the store incident: Your child was using the age-old tactic of trying to twist a concept or something you said, to fit the current situation IN ORDER TO GET WHAT SHE WANTED. Children have attempted to guilt parents, or to use the "ask the other parent when one says no" for thousands of years---get over it, this is NOT because you "tried to teach children concepts they are too young to grasp." Children actually grasp fairness quite easily---it's one thing they EXCEL at---the problem is, you didn't address the real situation and the real unfairness going on. What you should have said is this:

    "Nice try, but you have a closet full of toys back home, and in no way does you not getting the current toy you want compare to someone going hungry because they have no food and no money to buy it. In fact, you trying to pretend it *does* is unfair to *them*---and, it's unfair to me because you're trying to make me feel guilty so I'll give you what you want. Not working. Oh, and if you're thinking about throwing a tantrum, know this: that won't work either; all it will do is make us leave this store early, and then land you with some restrictions when we get home."

    Number 3: All parents make mistakes; it's part of the learning curve. It's one thing to own a mistake; another to flagellate yourself over it. When the mistake is directly to them, don't be afraid to admit it and apologize to them---but also, don't let them use that later as a guilt-trip prybar on you.

  2. 2nd part:

    The *biggest* mistake you've made here is in drawing erroneous conclusions: children *do* understand "fair"---but sometimes they confuse (or deliberately construe) "fair" to mean "I get what I want." You didn't correct their definition of fair, and instead have decided that you should just run with the standard "Life isn't fair, get over it." That's the *worst* thing you can do!

    Look, why is life unfair? Two reasons:

    1. Random things sometimes happen that we couldn't foresee, and/or have no power to change. We have to deal with this as best we can.

    2. Unfair things happen because of the actions of someone else: someone decided to do something mean or wrong for their own advantage. Simply accepting it as "well Life isn't fair, get over it" allows those people not only to *keep* doing unfair things, but also puts your tacit *approval* on them doing those things, which means you yourself are helping to make and keep the world unfair.

    And to be honest, if you pursue the "Life is unfair" approach, *you* are being unfair to your daughters: instead of addressing the real issue (their concept of what is fair being turned to "what I want" without considering anyone or anything else), you're now telling them that unfairness should never be fought, just endured.

    It's also unfair of you to blame this on Liberalism, when in reality it's simply that you're a loving parent who wants to never make a mistake with your kids, and you're having a hard time getting over the guilt that you did, in how you handled the gumball episode, and that you felt a total lack of control in the shopping incident. Liberalism does *not* mean "give your child everything they want," nor does it mean "let your child manipulate you with false correlations and/or attempted guilt trips."

    Please think about this, and remember: love heals many mistakes parents make; children understand "fair" but need help separating it from selfishness and help in seeing it from the viewpoint of everyone involved; and lastly, even the sweetest, nicest child will sometimes try to manipulate a parent (or both parents) to get what they want. It's a normal behavior, but it's also one that you need to recognize and address, and be firm against. Honesty is something else children recognize; if you're bluntly honest with them about it, they'll admit it to themselves at some point, even if they won't admit it to you right away.

  3. Finally, I apologize if all that came off sounding aggressive. I hate character limits and wrestled with trying to get it all into one post (which in the end I couldn't do, but was too brain-fried to edit it better by then). The "proper response" part, and the "what you should have said" lead-ins sounded bossy. How I would normally say it is, "I would say something along these lines; however you word it, I think it's important that you stress ________ etc." I had to chop it down to something that sounded bossy, I'm sorry about that---it's uber late and I just couldn't get the brain to find a way to say it more nicely (the tone I wanted) in shorter words.

    I also have been wrestling for over an hour just to get it to post in two parts, because it saved all kinds of cookies and such. After trying multiple times to post a part 1 and having it auto-change it to the whole reply and then give me the "too many characters" message, I finally figured out I'd need to clean my browser history to fix it. Argh. At this point it's well into the wee hours for me, and my brain is fumbling wording a bit. Anyway, I hope you take the tips in spirit intended; trying to shorten them to fit into one post made the intro words come out abrupt and bossy-ish (if that's a word). Good luck with your little ones!



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