We should not be coercing our partners either

Sandy K.

From the archives: Posted on 27th June, 1995

A poster wrote:

“Children see things as they are. Psychologically children are far more advanced than adults in that they lack conditioning and thus can see things as they are. Adults impose their idea of what things are supposed to be. Children have no choice, ‘being intellectually inferior’, but to take in the conditioning and become blind like adults. This is what is referred to as psychological development.”

A second poster wrote:

“This is true. I think of an ‘emotionally mature’ person as someone who instinctively knows and understands that it’s wrong to hate people because they are poor or gay or Hispanic, etc. and do mean things to hurt people. Since young children don’t hate on these bases or willfully set out to hurt others until they are mal-conditioned by adults, do you think that people are born emotionally mature and then have their emotional maturity whittled away by parents similarly damaged by their own upbringing? Hmmm. Now I’m going off on a tangent. But it’s true, there is much to learn by listening to and observing children.”

This is really an interesting question. I can think of lots of examples of emotional immaturity but I’m hard-pressed to come up with a quick and simple definition of emotional maturity.

I’m not so sure that children “know and understand” that it’s wrong to hate people because they are poor or gay or Hispanic etc. but think that it’s more likely a case of simply trusting the world to be a friendly place until something happens to indicate otherwise. Certainly the attitudes of people in one’s family and the way those closest to a young child treat her are instrumental in determining what that child’s early impressions of the world are, and how those in the child’s inner circle treat or speak of poor or gay or Hispanics or whoever will influence how a child will adjust her frame of reference to reflect her immediate society. 

The question of how much of our own emotional baggage will get in the way of our children’s emotional health/maturity is a valid one. Most of the people who contribute here regularly seem willing to be continually questioning not just societal norms, but our own values as well. I feel hopeful for our kids in spite of us.

I think that one of the factors which is far more damaging to kids than some of the mistakes we as parents will inevitably make is the fact that the vast majority of kids are abandoned to large groups of same-age peers at the tender young age of 4 or 5 when they are extremely vulnerable to the influences of those they spend the most time with. Children need to see adults interacting with each other and with other children as well in a variety of real life situations so they have some kind of real idea of how the world works. The fact that they are segregated in age ghettos in the schools with the only adult in sight very much an authority figure, no matter how kind and caring, is not, IMHO, helping matters much. Whatever natural process takes place developmentally in reaching “emotional maturity”, I can’t see but that school would warp this (or at the very least slow it down considerably). 

The second poster wrote:

“Abusive to treat children like miniature adults. I think the way this was best made clear to me was when I read Thomas Gordon’s book Parent Effectiveness Training; he has this drawing of two circles, a big one and a little one, to represent the difference in psychological size between children and adults. If I get angry at my husband, I’m freer to speak in a sharper tone of voice and use stronger language than with my child because I know his skin is thick enough to take it, whereas my little girl would be heartbroken and filled with despair, because words uttered by adults hit harder with a child, and adults need to be careful and take this into consideration.”

Of course, I don’t know you or your husband, but I take as much care to communicate my anger or disagreement to my husband as I do to my kids. The fact that someone has reached adulthood doesn’t necessarily mean that their skin is as tough as it looks. Besides, my kids deserve to see the care my partner and I take with each other even when we are angry if we want them to appreciate that expressions of strong feeling don’t necessarily mean a lessening of love or caring.

The second poster wrote:

“I still have memories of feeling crushed by mean things my mother and father said to me, how about you?”

How do you feel when your husband speaks to you in a sharper tone of voice or uses stronger language than he would with someone else?

The second poster wrote:

“Or, if I apply the same standards and expectations of behavior to my child that I do my husband, my child will be struggling to conform and frustrated and filled with despair at being pushed and pressured and not being able to ‘measure up’. It’s just not fair.”

Maybe you could try being as empathetic towards your husband as you seem to be to your child. I’m not meaning to be judgmental here, I’m just trying to picture what you describe, and can’t help but feel that somehow, somewhere somebody in this family is getting shortchanged. I’m not for a minute suggesting that I think anyone should sugar-coat anger or resentment, and I absolutely agree that frustration should be dealt with and expressed, but I’m having a hard time seeing why you think it’s alright to treat your partner with less care than you treat your child, unless you really don’t much like him.

The second poster wrote:

“I don’t use different words (like ‘go potty’ for ‘use the toilet’) or talk baby talk to my child, but I am also more conscientious about how I’m coming across with her – I try to talk in a more friendly-, patient-, and cheerful-sounding voice, which I wouldn’t worry so much about when talking to adults. I don’t scold her for spilling flour on the floor when we’re baking – I might my husband if I thought it was plain carelessness! I am willing to give her more time to complete a task without saying ‘Hurry up, will ya?’ than I would my husband, etc. I hope this helps clarify what I mean by children shouldn’t be regarded as miniature adults.”

I’m still not sure what you mean, unless you are saying that you feel it’s acceptable to be careless in the way we speak to other adults, and that by treating children like little adults that we would be giving them less than they deserve.

See also:

Sandy K., 1995, ‘We should not be coercing our partners either’, https://takingchildrenseriously.com/we-should-not-be-coercing-our-partners-either/