Sunday, May 27, 2012

Two Rules

I’m related to lawyers. Oh, yeah, I admit it. My father, my brother, my father-in-law, and various other folks that probably fall in to the “kissing cousins” category.

The rest of my family? They just like to argue debate so much that they don’t need to get paid for it.

Therefore, I grew up with two basic rules embedded in my psyche—two basic rules that have been a HUGE asset in parenting. So, here we go…

No Ad Personem Arguments:
Don’t be frightened—the Latin words come in peace. They mean you no harm. “Ad personem” means “to the person.” If you make a point about the person you’re arguing debating with, it doesn’t count. You need to discuss the issue at hand. We all instinctively know this, right?

“You’re a poopy butt.” (Won’t win argument.)
“You’ve had the purple crayon for five minutes. It’s my turn now.” (Score! That’s a winner.)

How does this help me?

Well, when your four-year-old is a volatile cocktail of developing self-expression, overwhelming emotions, and exploration of the power of language, a simple argument discussion about why we can’t wear the shirt that he just spilled lunch all over quickly devolves into


For the record,
  • We don’t say “hate” in our house—no idea where he got it. Well, yeah, I do know.
  • We don’t give him any attention for this behavior. This is rumored to end the behavior after three or four centuries.
  • We do offer socially acceptable alternatives for self-expression…at times when he might actually listen.
  • And I know darn well that arguments discussions with my kids are not something I need to ‘win.’

But when I hear


It feels really good to think to myself, “Oh, yeah? Well, ad personem arguments don’t count, Mr. Poopy Butt!”

The Question Rule
Don’t ask a question unless you know the answer. I know what you’re thinking: Say Whattt????

Think about it. Attorneys never want to face an unpleasant surprise in court, not if they can help it.

Parents never want to face—oh, come on, do I really need to spell it out for you? We get enough unpleasant shit (pun intended) dumped on us. Why make it worse? Don’t ask a question if you might not like the answer you get.

Here’s a perfect example.

The other day, the stars aligned, the magnetic poles reversed, and the solar eclipse shorted out somebody’s brains, because S. and A. agreed to clean up A.’s toy heap room together. They did. I complimented them. (I am a good mom, really.)

S., in that lovely penetrating voice second-grade girls use, informed me that she had really done it all because A. had only picked up W, while she had cleaned up not only X, Y, and Z, but also Q through V.

I pointed out that she and her brother were a team and the team had succeeded. And here’s where the Question Rule saved me.

I almost drew a stunningly age-appropriate and educational analogy to her kickball games at school by asking her if, when her team wins a game, the whole team wins or some people win more than others. But the Question Rule popped into my head.

I figured that the odds were about 75:1 against a thoughtful answer like, “The whole team wins, Mommy.” That left way too much room for an answer listing the “batting” averages all the kids she plays with, the fielding strengths and weaknesses of said kids, the score and stats of the latest game, and a definitive, black-and-white assessment of who could take credit for the latest win.

I didn’t ask.

The jury is still out on whether S. and Little A. take after the argue debate-for-hire side of the family or the argue debate-for-free side.

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