In my latest book, “Grandma Was Right After All!,” I take the top 25 parenting sayings of my youth and explain what they really meant.
The top prize goes to “Because I said so,” which when stated calmly and straightforwardly is nothing more harmful than an affirmation of the legitimacy of parental authority. The long form would be something along the lines of “I provide for your provision and protection; furthermore, I am not your peer. I am your superior in every sense of the term. Therefore, I am not required to, nor will I, justify my decisions and instructions to you. You will obey because that is what I determine will happen, and for no other reason.”
First runner-up goes to “Children should be seen but not heard,” which psychologists claimed reflected a generally negative attitude toward children (mind you, when the number of children per couple was significantly higher than it has been since). Wrong again! As the aphorism makes perfectly clear, the child in question could remain in the room and listen to adult conversation (be seen), but was expected not to interrupt (be heard) — a truly civilized understanding.
Second runner-up goes to “You made this bed, so you’re going to lie in it.” In other words, the child was going to accept complete responsibility for whatever delinquency he had perpetrated. Today, by way of contrast, it is common for the child to make the bed and his parents to lie in it. Or, expressed according to yet another old-fashioned parenting aphorism, today’s parents stew in their children’s “juices.” This flip-flop has occurred as parents have rallied to the idea that they should be “involved,” which is a euphemism for being in enabling, co-dependent relationships with their kids.
“You’re just a little fish in a big pond” was one of my mother’s favorites. I was, in other words, not the big deal I thought I was or should be. Being told you were a small fish went hand-in-hand with being informed that the world did not revolve around you and you were acting too big for your britches.
We 1950s kids did not like hearing these things, but then children do not know what they need (they only know what they want). I have yet, however, to meet someone my age who is not thankful for them today. Their restoration, along with the parenting point of view that they reflected, is badly needed by all concerned.
John Rosemond is a family psychologist and syndicated columnist.