Some things shouldn’t be open to interpretation, but they are. When our boys fight–about 63 times a day during the summer–my wife and I present a united front. Firm guidelines, clear expectations. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” we say.
Not long after hearing this for the first time, our younger boy, four years old, formulated two devilishly self-serving versions of the rule:
1) Vengeance is mine! Struck by his older brother, he lunges to retaliate. I block him. He shouts, “Golden rule! Do unto others!” (As they have done unto you.)
2) I can do what I want! We say, “No, dear one, you may not swing an aluminum baseball bat inside the house.” His response: “Golden rule!!” plus more swinging. We don’t follow the logic. We yank the bat away.
He’s asleep now, and I am beginning to see the beauty of what he is doing. With all sorts of powers arrayed against him, he is demanding respect. His manifesto: enough preaching; it’s time for me to start making some rules.
I better get some rest. When the kids wake up, I’ll need my A game.
One of the best books I’ve read about parenting beautiful, smart, complicated boys is Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson. When it comes to the inadequacy of simplistic moral formulas, I’ve found Sartre’s classic essay on Existentialism, Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Ethics of Ambiguity,” and James Cone’s Black Theology and Black Power particularly useful in the classroom.