Children’s Bill of Rights – a Refutation

October 13, 2011

Parenting

Let me start by saying that for years (since I was a young child) I’ve determined that there should be a Children’s Bill of Rights.  I never managed to sit down and write one, and it appears that John Rosemond has beat me to it.  Unfortunately, I found when I read it that I had a very visceral negative reaction to it.  So much so that here I am taking the time to expound on why.

Firstly, I find the tone of the list as a whole to be condescending and assumptive.  Most if not all of these items are actually rights of Parents rather than rights of Children, just gussied up in language meant to somehow imply that Children have a “right” to Parents who act in a specific way.

Before I go further into my rant, I should note that I am a first-time mom of a 7-month old son.  I have not yet experienced much of parenting.  I have goals and ideals, and I fully admit that my opinions on many of these things may change in the future.  However, I was also a child.  I remember much of my childhood.  I remember a whole lot of frustration, hurt, confusion, and much was due to people acting on the principles espoused by this so-called Bill of Rights.

With that caveat, here is my point-by-point refutation (or at least response):

1.  Because it is the most character-building, two-letter word in the English language, children have the right to hear their parents say “No” at least three times a day.

Boy, where do I even start with this one?  Why would we even want to put a minimum on the number of times we tell our children “no”?  This assumes that there are a minimum number of times when our children wish to say, or do, or have something which is inappropriate — every day.  Perhaps this will actually be true.  It is also true that children need to learn limits and be able to handle things like disappointment.  But somehow, this pithy “right” conveys an authoritarian tone that I feel is just not necessary.

2.  Children have the right to find out early in their lives that their parents don’t exist to make them happy, but to offer them the opportunity to learn the skills they will need to eventually make themselves happy.

OK.  For what did we bring these children into our lives if not to help shape them into happy, productive, responsible individuals?  I know, I know.  We do not exist to cater to every whim, I don’t argue that point.  Again, I think there might be something useful here, but it is cloaked in a brutal guise.  I look forward to all the times I currently make my son happy, and I look forward to those times which will occur in the future.  I am no Pollyanna, I know there will be conflict (as there already has been, like the time I had to take away a certain toy because it really wasn’t very good for chewing on).  I also believe that one can make a child happy without “spoiling”.  Why harp on this supposed expectation that children have that adults are only around to make them happy?  Why go on the defensive right away as a parent?  Why assume exploitation?

3.  Children have a right to scream all they want over the decisions their parents make, albeit their parents have the right to confine said screaming to certain areas of their homes.

I fully expect that I will make decisions that my children do not like.  I also think it’s important for them to be able to vent their feelings on this.  I also agree that trying to create a framework to do this respectfully (both directions, thank you!) is worthwhile.  I dislike that the tone of this implies that a child’s disagreement should neither be seen nor heard, and that isolation is the response to disagreement.

4.  Children have the right to find out early that their parents care deeply for them but don’t give a hoot what their children think about them at any given moment in time.

Really?  John Rosemund, are you telling me that you have never cared what your children think about you?  Or are you advocating that as a parent, we should lie and give the impression that we don’t care about it?  I find this silly.  I think what is more appropriate is that hopefully we can help our children understand that the important thing is that we can separate “love” from “like”.  That is, that we can still love each other even when we don’t like situations we’re in.  That it’s OK for my children to not like me sometimes because I am the agent of something perceived to be negative in their lives, but that hopefully they can still love me despite that.  Idealistic?  Sure.  Impossible?  I don’t think so.

5.  Because it is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, children have the right to hear their parents say “Because I said so” on a regular and frequent basis.

This is my hot button!  I can remember almost every single time a parent has said to me, “because I said so,” and I can tell you right now that I still feel it was one of the most disrespectful things parents ever said to me, and all it ever did was make me resentful.  So much so, that I have yet to let go of it (though I really am trying).  The thing is, there is *always* a reason.  That reason may be selfish, but hey, get it out there even if that’s what it is.  Now.  I don’t want to confuse this with the last-resort “because I said so” answer that happens when a toddler who is stuck in “why” mode asks “why” so many times in a row for the same question that there’s almost no other option.  I’m sure I’ll fall into that as well.  My request is that parents don’t just go straight to “because I said so” as the default answer.  As parents, we should be conscious of why we are asking our children to do things, whatever they are.  Maybe it’s a safety issue.  Maybe it’s a social issue.  Maybe it’s an emotional issue.  In asking ourselves “why” we may find that there isn’t actually a good reason.  How many times are we asking our children to do something because it’s what our parents asked us to do, or because it’s what parents are “supposed” to ask children to do?  How many times are we asking our children to do something we don’t do ourselves, and thus are fostering hypocrisy?

6.  Because it is the most character-building activity a child can engage in, children have the right to share significantly in the doing of household chores.

I don’t actually have an issue with this.  My one pet peeve are parents who use their children as slave labor, or at least as exceptionally cheap labor.  Never ask your child to do something you would not do yourself, and further, make sure as a parent that you are also sharing in the work.  Divvy-ing up work is great.  Dad cooks, mom does dishes, children set the table and take out the trash, whatever.  However, demanding that your child get you a beer because you’re too lazy to get off the couch is a no-no.

7.  Every child has the right to discover early in life that he isn’t the center of the universe (or his family or his parents’ lives), that he isn’t a big fish in a small pond, and that he isn’t the Second Coming, so as to prevent him from becoming an insufferable brat.

Again with the presupposition!  Parents, beware!  Unless you are very careful, your child’s natural inclination is to be self-centered and bratty!  It is true that parents do need to model and teach empathy, social awareness and responsibility, sharing.  I can’t imagine anyone would argue that.  But why isn’t it then the right of the child to have role models and be taught such values?

8.  Children have the right to learn to be grateful for what they receive, therefore, they have the right to receive all of what they truly need and very little of what they simply want.

Stop the bus!  Children do not “owe” us.  We didn’t have children just so they could be grateful to us (at least, I hope not).  If we model gratefulness, our children will also learn to be grateful.  Children did not ask to be brought into this world.  WE made that decision and took on that responsibility and bestowed the gift of life.  And as with all gift-giving, it should be done without the expectation of reciprocity.  We do need to meet all of our children’s needs, and when it is not detrimental to them, we should also not be afraid to give them what they want.  If the point is to help children learn the difference between needs and wants, I wholeheartedly agree, it’s an important lesson.  But let’s not get hung up on our children being grateful to us.  It’s a trap.

9.  Children have the right to learn early in their lives that obedience to legitimate authority is not optional, that there are consequences for disobedience, and that said consequences are memorable and, therefore, persuasive.

True, though I think this could have been worded so much better.  Our children will grow up (hopefully) watching parents obey the laws of the land.  Parents will drive the speed limit, parents will pay taxes, etc.  I think it’s also healthful to discuss when parents don’t agree with laws (but follow them anyway).  Parents and children should discuss (when age-appropriate) what kinds of action can be taken to peacefully bring change when such a thing is desired.  We are not trying to raise automatons.  We are trying to raise thinking human beings who are free to question, but who obey the law.  Now… I think this “right” was also meant to state that just like the law of the land, parents are an absolute authority.  I think the key here is respect and trust.  If we manage to raise trusting and respectful kids, hopefully they will obey us because we have set out boundaries reasonably, and not capriciously.  There should be clear reasons why rules exist and we should be able to state those.  If we can’t, why are we making the rule?  Ostensibly, every rule that we make should proceed from love.  We love our children, therefore we want them to look both ways before crossing the road so they don’t get hit by a car.  We love our children, therefore we want them to get some sleep because sleep-deprivation can make people sick and unhappy.  If our rules don’t proceed from love, are they really necessary?  Structure and discipline are great, but it should all make sense.

10.  Every child has the right to parents who love him/her enough to make sure he/she enjoys all of the above rights.

Lord help us.  All children have the right to be loved and cherished for the wonderful gifts to us that they are, even when they’re driving us crazy, or making us re-think ourselves.

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3 Comments on “Children’s Bill of Rights – a Refutation”

  1. Galit Breen Says:

    Venus! I’m so, so excited for you and am looking forward to reading and learning with you! XO

    Reply

  2. Necessity is the Mother of Invention Says:

    Venus,

    A great set of responses to self-important and self-righteous parenting “advice.” Truly, the writer of the advice seems not to like or enjoy his children much. I have two five year olds, and they are a challenging, frustrating, loving, adorable, selfish, selfless, an amazing all the time. The pieces of the parenting puzzle are too hard to be put into a list of musts.

    When I saw the title, I thought it would really be about the rights of children, not an apology for narrow and thoughtless parenting.

    Reply

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