Seventh Way for Dads to Change the World: Give your child choices

By Jeremy Adam Smith

I think you should know that conservatives think you’re a terrible parent. I know that it might hurt to hear this. But just listen to what they have to say with an open mind, OK?

Take talk-radio host Mike Gallagher. When he sees a kid pitch a fit in a restaurant and the parents (“well-heeled, well-dressed”) give in, there’s only one possible conclusion: the parents are liberals! Worse, they’re raising a liberal!

Such permissiveness will set that child up for a lifetime of disappointment and misery. Children want to be taught to do the right thing; they expect us to be in charge. Little Henry is going to grow into a person who figures that if he screams loudly enough, he’ll always get his way. He’ll develop into a person with an overwhelming sense of entitlement.

In other words, he’ll become a liberal.

Hearing from parents on my radio show all the time, there’s a clear distinction between conservative parents and liberal ones. Conservatives believe in the power of spanking…. Liberals seem afraid to spank their children… I’ll bet anything that Henry’s parents were a couple of liberal New York Democrats.

Later on in his book, Surrounded by Idiots—I think he’s referring to his listeners, but that’s speculation on my part—Gallagher strikes out at “wacky mothers… who flaunt breast-feeding in crowded places, like restaurants, shopping malls or department stores.”

I wonder if breasts are intrinsically liberal? If so, I’m glad Mike is doing something about them. Mike’s got the breast-beat covered for the conservative movement. He’s their breast man.

Betsy Hart, who has breasts but still boasts back-cover quotes from rock-hard conservatives like William J. Bennett and Laura Schlessinger, takes on the whole “parenting culture,” in which “parents are essentially encouraged to idolize their children, to marvel at their inherent wisdom and goodness…and that’s just for starters.”

In her book It Takes a Parent (as opposed to a village—villages are for liberals!), Hart attacks parents who give their kids choices. Choices are liberal and liberal, as we have established, is bad.

“Children learn to make wise choices by having wise choices made for them,” she writes. She talks about just ordering food on behalf of all four of her kids in restaurants—no perusing the menu for them! Letting your kids pick items on the menu is liberal, and remember, liberal is bad. She spends a lot of time in her book criticizing bad parents who let their kids pick their own sno-cone flavors.

What’s a conservative parent to do when kids keep insisting on making their own choices? For anyone who reads the Bible literally, that’s an easy question to answer. You beat them.

Let’s say, for example, that your two year old insists on getting out of bed after you’ve told him to stay put.

“The youngster should be placed in bed and given a speech,” writes Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, one of the country’s most influential conservatives. “Then when (the child’s) feet touch the floor, give him one swat on the legs with a switch. Put the switch where he can see it, and promise more if he gets up again.”

In some cases, a switch might be too Rockefeller Republican, if you know what I mean. With especially liberal children, you’ll need to head down to Home Depot and buy some quarter-inch plumbing supply line or PVC pipe.

“If you want a child who will integrate into the New World Order and wait his turn in line for condoms, a government funded abortion, sexually transmitted disease treatment, psychological evaluation and a mark on the forehead,” writes pastor Michael Pearl in his book To Train Up a Child, “then follow the popular guidelines in education, entertainment and discipline, but if you want a son or daughter of God, you will have to do it God’s way.”

Though PVC pipe is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, Pearl recommends such “chastisement instruments” as excellent expressions of the Lord’s will.

Too extreme? Not with immortal souls at stake. Children, like liberals, are born demons. “Your child came into the world with an insatiable faculty for evil,” writes Pastor John MacArthur in his 2000 book, What the Bible Says About Parenting. “Even before birth, your baby’s little heart was already programmed for sin and selfishness.”

In other words, your child is a liberal. That’s why you have to beat the little bastards. Keep hitting the rebellious brats until they vote Republican!

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Wait…what’s that you say? You don’t want to raise a Republican?

Oh. Well, in that case, try giving your child choices. They may still grow up to vote Republican, but they’re more likely to at least be emotionally healthy Republicans. The psychological research is overwhelmingly clear: If you involve children in the decisions that affect their lives; if discipline is supportive, not punitive; and  if parents are responsive to children’s needs and thoughts–they’ll grow up being better able to think and feel for themselves. Psychologist Diana Baumrind describes this approach as authoritative parenting.

That’s different from permissive or neglectful parenting, which is what Mike Gallagher thinks he sees in action in that Manhattan restaurant. Authoritative parenting is also quite different from authoritarian parenting—prescribed by Hart, Dobson, Pearl, and MacArthur—which denies choices to children and expects them to obey without question, a style that research has shown contributes to lower self-esteem, poorer social skills, and more feelings of depression.

None of what I’m saying here should be construed as anti-Christian. These folks are right-wing activists who happen to be Christians; I’m not willing to say that they are less Christian than their progressive counterparts, but I do think that their childrearing advice is shaped more by their political beliefs than by the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Indeed, these conservative parenting gurus seem to think authoritarian parenting really will help their kids to grow up conservative. I’m actually not sure if that’s true, but I know I like to have choices, and I think my son grows just up just a little bit every time I help him to pick his own sno-cone flavor.