An article titled 'Your kids should not be the most important in the family' written by family psychologist John Rosemond has been doing the rounds on social media.
The article was published on January 1 in the Naples Daily News and has gone viral after it was posted on Facebook by a social media user. The crux of the article is this: children should not be considered the most important people in the family because they are dependent on their parents for their survival and parents should reclaim their status as boss of the family.
Like many other articles currently in vogue on social media, Rosemond’s viral piece takes the stance that many of the current generation’s problems come from liberal ideas taken too far. In this case, he argues, it’s put children on a pedestal and 'spoiled" them by making them too important within the family.
Reading this as an Indian parent, I was a bit amused, because in India, you are considered a "family" only if you have children – otherwise, you are a "selfish" person who has done nothing to propel the human race towards towards the future (abyss, I want to say, but let's leave that aside). So, logically speaking, in India, children should indeed be the boss of the family because the family didn't exist in the eyes of society before they got there.
But setting that aside, I was gobsmacked by the tone of the article which equates the parent in the family to the teacher in the classroom, the CEO in the corporation and even the General in the army. Of course, parenting comes with authority – who'd eat spinach over chocolate ice-cream otherwise? But, should the primary identity of a parent be that of a supreme lord?
If anything, in India, obedience in children is a highly overrated quality. We're taught to be obedient to elders only because they are elders – however bigoted and prejudiced their views might be. Questioning your parents (forget grandparents) is "talking back" and you can't even express a divergent view on a family WhatsApp group without being called "disrespectful".
Developing independent thought and having belief systems and moral values different from that of the elders in the family is not something we encourage. So, even as adults, many of us continue to struggle to hold an opinion that goes against the general consensus in the room. Even if we vehemently disagree within.
The question itself – who are the most important people in the family? – that Rosemond goes around asking families, is rather ridiculous. What do we even mean by this? Is an "important" person the one who makes all the decisions? The person whose interests are put above everyone else's? Considering we live in a world that's almost universally patriarchal, the response to the question, if fairly answered and not with an indulgent simper, would be the man of the house.
And how do we assume that adults who're in this position of importance automatically know what's good for their child? Because we don't – we do what we think is best for the child, bumbling and fumbling along the way. You don't need to be especially smart, kind or responsible to be a parent and that's the reason I say obedience is overrated.
Including children in the family's decision making process for issues that have a direct impact on their lives is only fair. And, if anything, it teaches them responsibility – to acknowledge the choices they have made and to live with them even if things don't go as smoothly as planned. This doesn't have to happen at the cost of putting yourself, the parent, in a position of discomfort or inconvenience. As tempting as it sounds to imagine yourself as a General, most of us lead banal lives where these decisions are not really a do-or-die situation.
The article also speaks of parents giving less importance to their marriage than to the child, and how it was different earlier. This strikes me as a curiously male complaint - what's different now is that more of us live in nuclear set-ups where mothers have little to no help to take care of their children and have to juggle a lot more at the same time.
If fathers do not contribute equally to housework and childcare (and most don't), the marriage is not going to be great because there's only so much a woman can do. Remember, the work that goes into rearing a child has remained the same from then to now, though diapers have helped.
Rosemond might like to make this the easy answer for the increase in divorce rates too. But there are many factors involved in the increase in divorce rates, including the fact that greater economic freedom for women means that they're less compelled to put up with a relationship that doesn't offer them what they want out of their lives.
Showing love to your child and treating him/her as a valued member of the family makes him/her a self-respecting individual, not an entitled jerk. Teaching him/her that all members of the family, from the helpless baby to the wheelchair-bound grandmother, are equally important, but not equally powerful physically or otherwise, is vital if he/she is to understand how privilege works.
I, of course, am not a family psychologist like Rosemond is. So, as evidence, I can only offer the fact that most of us grew up in an era where parents called the shots, "disciplined" us at the drop of a hat, and we were indeed the second class citizens Rosemond says children should be.
And where did we reach with all that military parenting? Did we become the sensitive people through whom community and society were strengthened as Rosemond promises? If anything, we saw adulthood as an opportunity to finally bully those less powerful than us. Perhaps Rosemond should stop asking "Who are the most important people in your family?" and instead ask, "Who are the people who do the most work in your family?" and he might understand why the marriage is failing and the kids are out of control.