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Value-laden statements

My mother-in-law is married to a wonderful woman, P. P is 18 years older than my m-i-l and has lived an incredible life. She’s intensely grounded, so still inside her own skin that she’s like a boulder sitting on a shore. She was a child psychiatrist back in the 60s and has worked with wounded kids most of her life. She’s one of the few people I would call “wise”. So if she gave me child-rearing advice, I would listen.

Of course, she’s never given me advice before.

This weekend was the first time she said anything. The Child was on her third stop of a whirl-wind family visit (a very dense attempt to deal with that family calculus I’m always talking about) and she had had no nap to speak of. And yet she was happy, laughing, dealing well with all these strangers picking her up and getting in her face. She was listening to me when i asked her to stop pulling the kittens’ tails and being very well behaved.

So I did what I try to do a lot. I thanked her for her behavior. “You’re being very good. Thank you very much.”

And P said to me, and I’m getting the words not exactly right here, my memory for dialog fails me, “I wouldn’t say ‘good.’ Because if she’s a good girl, doens’t that mean she could be a bad girl?”

I blinked. “Yes, but I didn’t say she was a good girl. “I know I didn’t because the phrase ‘good girl’ makes me think of dogs and horses and I hate it with an irrational passion. “I said she was being good.”

“But the idea still exists,” P insisted. P never insists. Then she continued. “I would say ‘I like what you’re doing right now.’ I wouldn’t say ‘good’ or ‘bad’. You don’t want her to think she’s a bad girl, do you, when you aren’t say that she’s a good girl.”

The Husband popped in on the discussion. “That’s a false dichotomy.” Yes, I remember that he said that. “She could be being a neutral girl. Niether good nor bad.”

“A neutral girl…. still…” and she continued to insist on her point.

Now, like I said, this is a wise woman. A woman I love and respect. So I’ve spent a lot of time over the past two days thinking hard  about what she said. And tonight, I’ve decided she’s right… if I say ‘good’ then I’m implying that there’s a bad. And if I say her behavior is good then I leave open the possibility, if only by inference, that she could behave badly.

And I’m okay with that.

I get that back in the 60s the whole idea of moral relativism was huge and it was considered bad form to label behavior good or bad. “There are no bad kids.” That sort of thing. But I have met bad kids. I’ve known kids who pulled the wings off of dragonflies and tortured their kid sister’s pet hamster and slapped little girls because they knew they could. So I’m okay saying “good” and “bad.” It doesn’t bother me.

What does is that I finally get advice from this woman I respect and I’m disregarding that.  I feel bad about that. Still gonna do it, but I feel bad.

My sister-in-law, btw, pulled The Husband to one side and said, “You know, I had the same conversation with her about my first kid. Took it very seriously. Second kid? No where near so uptight.”

That puts it in a little perspective.

Categories: grandmothers, motherhood
  1. August 28, 2007 at 11:01 am

    Personally, I think you can worry too much about semantics. Sometimes all of the phrases Good Moms are supposed to use make my head spin. In the heat of the moment, I’m going to say what comes to mind. I agree with you 100% about good and bad–both WRT kids and behaviors,

  2. C'tina
    August 28, 2007 at 8:51 pm

    It’s great to have such a wise person in your life. It’s better to BE the wise mother of your child, able to put your own good judgement to use. Yes ‘JUDGEMENT’.

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