It might seem far-fetched to write about parenting from the perspective of tyranny. Tyranny seems to be a description more apt for a political science discussion, about how governments and countries can be overtaken by a leader or small group of people who rule in a severe and unjust manner. I just finished ON TYRANNY: TWENTY LESSONS FROM THE TWENTIETH CENTURY by Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder. I was struck that so many of his lessons are useful reminders of how parenting can go wrong and what can be done to correct it. Let’s look at a few of the lessons—
- DO NOT OBEY IN ADVANCE – “Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given…A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do.”
- Parenting should never be an exercise in power. Demanding blind obedience from your children without engaging in the issues at hand is a sure-fire way to be an ineffective parent. Conscious parenting requires an introspective approach that pauses, assesses and then chooses a reasonable response given the circumstances.
- REMEMBER PROFESSIONAL ETHICS – “When political leaders set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become more important.”
- When parents set negative examples, children learn similar lessons. We must always set the right example (using sound ethical principles) in our role as parents and similarly as citizens.
- STAND OUT – “Someone has to. It is easy to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without unease, there is no freedom…The moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow”
- Parents should “stand out” by accepting the discomfort that sometimes comes with making tough choices while also accepting that their choices could have been wrong. Be willing to review your responses and realize the unease that can come with such an approach.
- BE KIND TO OUR LANGUAGE – “Avoid pronouncing the phrases that everyone else does…Make an effort to separate yourself from the internet. Read books.”
- Children are sponges for the language of their parents. Parents need to fill the lives of their children with words and music. Talk, read and sing to provide the fodder needed for their early and continued brain development. Make these words and music unique and worthy of repeating. Remember, books build brains.
- BELIEVE IN TRUTH – “To abandon facts is to abandon freedom…If nothing is true, then all is spectacle.”
- Truth-telling in parenthood is mandatory. The trust that develops between people is always based on truth. When parents are truth tellers, the right example is set for the children. The truth can be discomforting at times and require some aplomb when dealing with children, but frank deception only serves to abandon the norms of personal and social behavior.
- MAKE EYE CONTACT AND SMALL TALK – “This is not just polite. It is part of being a citizen and a responsible member of society. It is also a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down social barriers, and understand whom you should and should not trust.”
- It is so important for parents to engage their children in social activities. Only then can they understand how to interact with others and become good citizens. Citizens care for each other, and they take care of each other. Your children need to see those interactions in a meaningful way.
- CONTRIBUTE TO GOOD CAUSES – “Be active in organizations, political or not, that express our own view of life. Pick a charity or two…then you will have made a free choice that supports civil society and helps others to do good.”
- Being active in our communities is crucial to our personal growth, the growth of our communities and the expanding opportunities for our children. These interactions provide the lessons of love for others and how to practice forgiveness.
Being a tyrant is the exact opposite of being a conscious parent that understands the give-and-take of effective parenting and is willing to adapt as needed to change. Tyranny has no place in society or in parenting. The lessons put forth by Professor Snyder are valuable reminders as we navigate the journey known as parenting.