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Sonny, May I?

I love the Internet. It’s given me amazing friends around the world and the ability to buy books I’ve wanted to read for decades in a matter of seconds. But one of the downsides of the Internet is that it documents whatever silly idea flits into people’s minds. Forever.

You know, those notions you used to ponder when you were young and inexperienced that seemed outstanding but then you came to find out days or weeks or years later that it actually didn’t work in real life and you really should have listened to your mother? There are many things you can do now, you can even be at the office and watching your kids at the same time with a spy camera. Thanks to the Internet you can post those half-baked ideas online immediately via social media and they will be there snickering at you until the end of time.

A young mom by the name of Nisha Moodley recently posted on Instagram that she asks her son’s consent before picking him up. Her son is a 6 month old baby, and so since he cannot consent verbally, according to her, she “feels for his yes” before taking him into her arms, because rape culture, and individual sovereignty, and stuff. https://heatst.com/world/trendy-moms-are-asking-their-babies-permission-to-pick-them-up-so-they-dont-turn-into-rapists/

This is precisely the kind of idea I had, quite frequently, as a new mom, back when I believed that children were actually very small androids that I could program into perfection with my superior parenting skillz. “I’m going to do THIS! This thing I just thought up and no one else does for some reason! And because I did THAT, I will therefore insure my son grows up to be perfectly perfect in every way, and not all screwed up like I am!” Because new parents truly believe that – they believe that there is no such thing as an insignificant parenting decision and that they can literally turn their child into a rapist or not by the manner in which they pick them up as a newborn.

Luckily for me, the Internet barely existed when my poor, long-suffering, first darling boy was born and endured my lame and sadly oft-repeated attempts at child perfectionizing, so my goofy parenting theories did not go viral like Nisha Moodley’s have. They were just thoughts that I thunk and tried to implement and failed at spectacularly because they were stupid. Real life soon demonstrated to me that there were actually reasons why people tend to do things in the way that they do them. Even the things that others did that I judged viciously and found to be misguided, lazy, ignorant, and borderline emotionally abusive (I was a bit prone to melodrama back in the day), nearly always had an internal logic to them that I hadn’t understood since I had never raised a child before.

Somehow, despite my many exceptional failures during the Great Parenting Experiment of 1991, my son managed to emerge relatively unscathed from the experience and turned into a pretty cool individual, almost as if by magic. My unfortunate attempts at Offspring Programming 1.0 had made no difference. I know this because I had 4 more children after that and raised them without the cray new-mom theories and they also turned out to be pretty cool individuals.  It all worked out not because of my crazy notions, but in spite of them.

What Nisha Moodley is about to find out is that the nice thing about a baby that is less than 6 months old is that they cannot escape. They are contained in a body that is largely immobile and cannot run into traffic or get into the drain cleaner or refuse to eat their strained peas. They are also in that golden period of infancy where they love their mommies and daddies like nobody’s business and want them pretty much all of the time. So when you “feel for a yes” you’re nearly always gonna get one because babies just really, really like you.I recommend checking http://pinokyo.co.il/ site where you will find many great accessories for babies. Soon, little Raven (that’s her son’s name, Raven) will be 9 months old and then 18 months and then 2. Things are gonna change and soon. Raven is going to start implementing his own ideas and some of those ideas are going to be diametrically opposed to Mommy’s parenting theories. Asking a two year old for consent before stopping him from sticking a fork into the light socket or begging his pardon before removing a Lego from his mouth before it blocks his airway would be wasting valuable seconds you will soon need to perform CPR.

In the real world, parenting involves at least some measure of force. Force is a strong word with a lot of negative connotations, but if one defines force broadly enough to include things like picking up a fussy baby as Nisha Moodley apparently does, then parenting most certainly involves force. You can’t parent without it. Sometimes you actually have to physically prevent a child from doing things that are dangerous, or make them do things that are good for them, with or without their consent. Using this broad definition of “force”, parenting techniques that are not strictly physical, like time outs and taking away privileges, also violate the concept of consent. Children, even very sweet and well-behaved children, don’t willingly consent to punishment.  Things that aren’t punishments at all like dental care and vaccinations violate the concept of consent. No child in their right mind will endure a shot or having their teeth cleaned without some level of compulsion.

Even something as innocent as “babyproofing” is a kind of force when taken to extremes. It may not be outright conflict, but being up your kids’ butt enough to prevent them from ever doing or seeing or touching or tasting or experiencing anything potentially harmful to them, has gotta be like living under a totalitarian regime. It’s why preacher’s kids rebel, amirite?  Parenting by patrolling and controlling a child’s universe every second of every day to remove any potential for injury or mischief in advance is more invasive by far than taking a recalcitrant infant into your arms when he isn’t super into it. Because it is a kind of force that truly violates a child’s sense of self, that prevents them from doing the things that they need to do to grow. Kids need to explore and they need to test the rules and their physical limits and parents can either allow that and correct as needed (using force judiciously) or they can try to prevent the child from ever having those experiences by using a more insidious form of control, a preemptive strike that completely undermines the child’s autonomy and subverts his will. To ask a child for his or her “consent” in a situation when you have already pre-removed their ability to control their own bodies and lives is akin to asking a straitjacketed patient in a rubber room if they want tapioca or chocolate pudding for dessert.

You control your child’s life one way or the other. Overtly or covertly. If you didn’t, your child would not survive to adulthood. The world is a harsh and unforgiving place in which the demented forces of gravity and momentum constantly conspire against our fragile human skulls, and it is the job of a parent to protect a child from the laws of physics until such a time that they are able to protect themselves. There is no home babyproofed enough to completely stifle the suicidal tendencies of a 12-month-old boy.

The battle doesn’t stop when the child grows out of toddlerhood, either. The conflicts may appear less life and death once the preschool years begin, but they are just as ever-present. What if a child doesn’t consent to potty training? What if they don’t consent to wearing a winter coat or sunscreen? Or if they don’t consent to not hitting siblings or playmates or pets? What if a child only consents to eating junk food? Or if they do not consent to limitations on screen time? What if a child doesn’t consent to going to school or doing their homework? Or doesn’t consent to coming home at a reasonable time? Or if they don’t consent to attending that SAT prep course they need to get into an Ivy League college? What if a teen doesn’t consent to not smoking marijuana? Or doesn’t consent to not shoplifting? Or doesn’t consent to not driving drunk? See, these problems actually DO circle back around to life and death again. Asking for consent quickly becomes begging when you’re desperate enough.  Parenting is serious business.  You can lose your child if they don’t consent to follow reasonable rules, my husband and I encourage them to live a healthy live style all the time, we even show them our lumitea skinny we drink everyday so they know how beneficial taking care of their health is.

If “not raping” can be taught – and I’m not entirely convinced that it can be – I’m afraid I don’t think it follows that asking a child’s consent for the everyday things you must compel him to do as his parent would prevent rape culture. What happens when the boy in a family that has essentially asked his permission to parent him since day one, who has consistently, if indirectly, been told that he really never needs to do anything he doesn’t wanna, grows up to be a man? If he has grown accustomed to the most important authority figures in his life begging for his cooperation with even the most mundane of tasks, what then? Would he not come to expect similar treatment from all authority figures and indeed, all fellow humans? If you’ve never acquired the skill when young and malleable, how could you ever function in a society where people occasionally expect you to do things that you don’t particularly want to do? How could you attend school or hold a job? How could you have successful friendships or romantic relationships without learning to accommodate others when you weren’t especially in the mood? Through what manner of lens would you view rules and laws – as negotiable, or set in stone?

What happens when someone says “no, you can’t do that” to a man who has never had to take no for an answer?

Sometimes the lessons we teach are not the lessons we believe we are teaching.

A family is not a democracy. It doesn’t have to be a dictatorship, certainly, but a democracy it simply cannot be. Children don’t have the knowledge, self-control, forethought, and experience to decide what is best for them. A family is really more like a republic, wherein parents, by virtue of their superior experience and abilities, are in charge of all major, and many minor, decisions.  They try to govern wisely for the good of everyone involved because they truly love and care about their child. And the children, the citizens, are expected to be law-abiding contributors to the society of the family, and not tiny tyrannical God-Emperors who must always be placated. It is smart parenting to let your child control what they can control and to pick your battles instead of going to the mat over the 17th consecutive day of wearing the same Princess Elsa t-shirt. But this does not mean that making the best decisions for your child, and imposing them lovingly onto that child — sometimes while being pummeled by small and sticky fists — is in any way wrong or bad. It is a necessity.

I suspect that Nisha Moodley, one day, very soon, will come to learn that parenting only with the full consent of a child is an impossible task. Her little boy will soon be able to maneuver off his blankie and into mortal peril and she will find that online debates about parenting philosophy are all well and good, but when your most beloved one runs headlong into traffic you grab them first and ask questions later. It is part of the journey from new mom to just “mom”, that slow realization that things are not gonna be the way we thought they would be and some of the ideas we all had going in are not workable in the real world. Most of us were lucky enough not to have that journey documented on Instagram, so when we look back to laugh at ourselves it’s more of a private experience. But we’ve all been there, Nisha.  We feel ya. We get it. You love that little boy and you’re gonna do the best you can by him.  That’s what being a mom is about.  Doing your best.  Just don’t forget to leave yourself room to redefine what that means over the course of time.

Staff Writer
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Kristin is huge geek, a libertarian, and a mother of 4 sons and a daughter. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state and works with women around the world as a fertility counselor.

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39 thoughts on “Sonny, May I?

  1. I’m wondering how this fits in with what my mother tells me was a dominant idea when I was a baby – the idea of letting the infant “cry it out” (in other words, not picking them up).

    I can’t imagine my Silent Gen parents “feeling for a yes” before picking either of their children up when we were infants. I remember being told “No” an awful lot of the time once I got old enough to start laying down memories.

    I don’t have children. Part of that was lack of opportunity, part of that was the thought of being responsible for the survival of someone who basically hasn’t learned survival instincts yet terrified me.


    • …part of that was the thought of being responsible for the survival of someone who basically hasn’t learned survival instincts yet terrified me.

      Yep. That moment of stark terror with the first child when you realize that they’re about to send you home with a baby to raise. A friend who was a counselor once told us to remember that if you’re worrying about whether you’re screwing your kid up, then you almost certainly are not. It’s the people who have no doubts that are dangerous.


    • I was sort of conditioned to the Cry It Out by my mom telling me what she did, and by the fact that I have a really high cry-tolerance. My wife rejected it and also has a really low cry-tolerance. We kind of found something in between from some book. I can’t even remember the book, or what it said. I mostly remember that it gave us the illusion of feeling like we had a plan, and that itself helped a whole lot.


      • I had a long comment ranging from Cry It Out to the Millennial tendency toward the expectation of a participative leadership style and Victor Vroom’s normative decision model, but it got ate by the Big Monster of the Intertubes.
        Damn the Big Monster!

        Short version:
        Cry It Out has now been shown to foster attachment issues & insecurity.
        Proper management depends on flexibility of approach.
        Reliance on participative leadership, as well as expectation of it, is a recipe for disaster.

        Also, Damn the Big Monster!


  2. I had to teach my son one lesson over and over. Live and let live. As it had to do with a wood burning stove, or as it had to do with the occasional scorpion. What really brought it home I think is when he taste tested a bee on the front porch when mommy wasn’t looking.

    I must say parents have few tools in their tool box that rank right up there with formic acid, a little bit of that stuff imparts significant knowledge.

    Good stuff Kristin.


  3. Nice article. But I’m not convinced that we should take folks like Nisha Modley at all seriously. Dollars to donuts she is much more interested in internet-ing than she is in parenting. Giving out dumb, impossible to follow parenting advice is just a means to an end.


  4. I remember the days of “I am not gonna be the parent when let’s their kid eat in the car, or watch to much TV, or eat Mac & Cheese 3 nights running.

    Those were the days…

    I will say, the parents with the really goofy ideas who stick with them, those are the ones you read about in the news, because they are facing some kind of child endangerment investigation (like the vegan parents who wouldn’t breastfeed & fed their baby almond & soy milk).


  5. I think much of the source of crazy parenting ideas is a crazy idea that the extremes are the only possible choices, so you have to figure out which extreme is less bad. I see this with the Great Spanking Debate. I have a dark confession: I have spanked my children. Indeed, I have done it more than once–possibly as much as three times each! This has the salutary effect that they know the recurrence is a genuine possibility, though in truth they are both getting a bit old for that. I have a lot less trouble getting them to do (or not do) stuff than does my wife, who could never bring herself to spank them. The thing is, if I say “Yes, of course a parent should be prepared to spank his kid” a lot of people hear this as “Yes, of course a parent should routinely beat his kid with a clothes hanger.” In fairness, some guys who say what I said really do mean what those other people think. This woman, with her deeply silly ideas, is responding to some idea of extreme controlling parenting and resolving to go to the other extreme.


  6. The phenomenon where “I’m going to do it like *THIS*” evolves into “doing it like *THIS* is the moral way to do it and we should remold society to reflect that” is one that shows up in the weirdest places.


    • Do we have any evidence that this is a real phenomenon? By that I mean does anyone know anyone in real life who both subscribes and strictly adheres to some extreme parenting paradigm and isn’t also blogging about it?

      The only people that I’ve ever come across who do are people who are following religious beliefs and maybe the odd hippy.


  7. What parents need is one of these.

    I have a friend who had a tendency to be a know-it-all when it comes to general how-to-live-your-life stuff. I became a father about a year earlier than he did, and whenever we got together, he had plenty of parenting “advice” for me, that generally had the overtones of “this is the only right way to do things, you’re screwing it up, my kid is/will be awesome due to my awesome parenting”. This lasted up until his child turned 18 months or so, where he started to see it all go horribly off script. After that our conversations shifted more to common challenges, and it was easier to spend time with him.


    • I’ve got a long rant about how we all need to cool out a bit and stop the parent wars and support one another. I should write it down. Maybe call it, “You’re all doing it wrong.”


      • Based on some recent studies showing relatively weak correlations between parenting decisions and child outcomes, i guess you could add “and it doesn’t matter much anyway”.


        • Absolutely. I mean look at human history. Babies have survived and thrived through the Stone age, the Mediterranean Antiquity and the fishing Victorian era (now there was some people with screwy childrearing ideas). Compared to that the stuff we’re arguing over is really trivial. Babies are evolutionarily designed to be resilient.


        • I’d like to see those studies.

          If by “outcomes” we’re linking at a single spectrum ranging between All-Star and Awful, I buy the correlation is weak.

          But if we’re looking at more specific metrics, I’d be there are certain practices that are more likely to yield certain outcomes.

          Of course, a major caveat is that parents are only one part of a dynamic. We aren’t parenting rocks but other humans rife with all their own humanity.


            • Thanks, .

              Having just skimmed the article (sorry, it’s early… and I have ready many similar articles before… at some point I want to dive into the research itself), this stands out:

              “Based on the results of classical twin studies, it just doesn’t appear that parenting—whether mom and dad are permissive or not, read to their kid or not, or whatever else—impacts development as much as we might like to think.”

              So the real takeaway isn’t that parenting doesn’t/parents don’t matter, but that parenting/parents impact less than we tend to think. Which I would wholly agree with.

              As I said above (briefly, from mobile), I think the idea that “Parent Action X” guarantees “Super Star Child” is pretty silly. But I think looking on smaller scales, you can probably find many “Parent Action Xs” are more likely to yield to “Child Action Y”. You’re not going to approach correlations of 1 (unless we’re talking about like, not feeding an infant and how that’ll guarantee death, but I assume we all agree on at least feeding the child… hopefully?). But I think you will find some correlations that are strong enough to consider altering parent behavior (on the individual level) with the necessary cost-benefit analysis of whether the alterations and potential benefits are worth the effort.

              Whether talking to parents or teachers (I am increasingly involved in teacher training), I am often asked, “What is the right way to approach X?” And I often respond with, “Well, what are you trying to accomplish?” Which frustrates alot of people. They want there to be a ONE RIGHT ANSWER which will guarantee the ONE TRUE OUTCOME. Nonsense.

              “Should I let my child eat in front of the TV or insist they eat screen free?”
              “Well, what are your goals for food and meal time?”
              That questions feels like it has an obvious “correct” answer but… it doesn’t. And the answer today may be different than the answer next year because the goals may shift.

              We also have to recognize how much we influence our children without realizing it. Yes, there are the things we do very intentionally and with clear purpose and planning. And then there are all the ways we just exist in the world. Children grow up in a context… first within the family unit and then ever-increasing concentric circles of culture and society. There are actually really interesting studies on all sorts of little social norms that we rarely if ever consciously teach but nonetheless are passed down. One of the ones I find most fascinating has to do with personal space. What is consider “appropriate personal space” varies from culture to culture worldwide… and sometimes even city to city. And while we’ll usually give young children basic guidelines about personal space, we don’t typically tell them that X number of inches is the goal. It just… happens. Through modeling, through the way we organize our world, etc.

              So… parenting in all its forms undoubtedly impacts children. But children aren’t machines or experiments with direct cause-effect dynamics or input-output guarantees.

              One day I’ll write my rant… which is really not about scolding anyone for how they parent but scolding pretty much all of us for how we tend to talk about parenting.


  8. Kristin – just wanted to chime in and say this was a great essay. I found myself nodding along the whole way, but I frequently feel like an outsider to modern parenting. I became a dad at 19 and found that because society set the bar so incredibly low for me, if I simply showed up no one questioned anything else. So I had the freedom to parent almost entirely by impulse, and not through the expectations of my friends (because none of them had kids or opinions about how to raise them). So all-told it was pretty awesome and I think my daughter turned out relatively well.

    I can’t imagine parenting young kids today. It seriously seems awful given our culture of Me.


    • The best bit of parenting advice I ever heard goes like this:

      The first child, you’ll take him to the doctor over the merest hint of a sniffle.
      The second child, you’ll take him if he’s stuffy and you can’t figure out what’s wrong.
      The third child, you’ll take him only if he’s bleeding and it’s not a head wound.

      And all three kids will turn out alright.


  9. I read this morning that teenage pregnancy rates have continued to drop, and the rates for 2016 were lower than they have been for decades. I have also read that use of alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco are declining among teenagers. We must not be too bad at parenting.
    Of course, none of what I have said contradicts that the upcoming generation is the worst ever, and civilization is about to collapse.


    • But aren’t the rates for meth and heroin up?

      I don’t think civilization is collapsing, but I do think these kids are going to have some trouble in the adult world. I see it at my job already with our youngest employees.


      • Mike,
        Of course civilization is collapsing, haven’t you heard of Donald Trump?
        No, I’m not serious.

        How much of the earth has to be rendered uninhabitable before Civilization Has Collapsed? How much international shipping has to stop?


        • You may be entirely correct. I’m not familiar with the breakdown by age group. All-in-all, if my two daughters are a representative sample, these kids are pretty un-interested in a lot of the stuff that seemed edgy when we were younger. I just worry about how well their peers will do when their boss yells at them. It’s the coping skills that I think they lack because their parents have nerfed the world for them.


          • It’s surprisingly hard to find recent data (well, with about five minutes of Google searching…) but this WaPo article seems to suggest 25 to 44 is the biggest-using age group.

            Which seems to fit with the narrative I’ve seen: “rural white males in lower SES areas who don’t have many job prospects” seem to be the group most strongly hit.

            It is kind of horrifying when you read the stories about things like morgues running out of room for all the ODs…..though some of those are probably “dirty” drugs cut with something toxic. (which is not a new thing: I have a relative who was a chemist for the Illinois Bureau of Investigations back in the early 2000s who saw cases of heroin addicts who died from, I think it was, fentanyl-laced heroin)

            I dunno. I might be less resistant to the idea of recreational pot legalization if the end result was that it made drug-taking seem hopelessly uncool….


      • Sure, just like every generation has issues coming into the adult world. Then, they change the adult world to suit them. I mean, thirty years ago, just the concept of not wearing a suit ‘n’ tie to a white collar job was a front page story.

        Now, it’s not even a question outside of a relatively small percentage of white collar jobs, unless you’re customer facing.


        • I’m talking more about their basic sense of entitlement. The analogy we frequently make at work is that while the rest of us understood that a career meant starting at the bottom of the mountain and seeing how far up you could go, the Millennials seem to think a college degree means they will get a helicopter to drop them off halfway up the mountain. More than one has expressed to me that his high school guidance counselor led him to believe there would be a lot more opportunity if he went to college. When I reminded him we work for a Top 50 Fortune 500 company and over 75% of our management is scheduled to retire in the next 5 years he said, “But I have bills to pay now.” Never mind that he graduated and immediately got married, bought a house and had two kids. And I don’t think his story is unusual.


          • – Eh, every generation seems to be entitled to the generation previous. I mean, you never went and fought actual Nazi’s, did you? I’m being somewhat hyperbolic, but the truth is, you probably seemed a bit entitled to many of the older people at your company despite just acting as how society told them to do.

            In thirty years, there will be Millenials at your job complaining about the upcoming generation, assuming we’re not all scavenging for food because of a nuclear war started by a tweet.


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