by Jeanne Sager
You know, I was all ready to get on board with the Machiavelli Mom. Trying to blend a family of kids and stepkids after a marriage, Suzanne Evans decided she needed some out-of-the-box thinking. So she turned to Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince for ideas. She was doing fine until she decided to apply the scheming Italian politician's divide and conquer theory to parenting ... and then things went off the rails.
In an article in the Wall Street Journal meant to promote her new parenting book, the Machiavelli Mom admitted she pitted at least two of her kids against each other in a competition over who could fare better in school.
Daughter Teddy brought home a "nearly perfect" second-grade report card and was rewarded with a celebratory family dinner at the restaurant of her choice. Stepson Daniel, on the other hand, came home with some lackluster grades, and here's how Evans dealt with it:
[He] got nothing, other than the shame of losing the competition—to his younger sister no less, as I reminded him.
Ah yes, nothing like making a kid feel like he's not as good as his sibling and shaming him over poor grades to breed contempt.
Evans insists the trick worked; Daniel's next report card showed improvement. But what she doesn't address is how her divide and conquer theory affected the kids' psyches and relationship.
The danger of this kind of comparison between two kids' grades is two-fold. You set the kids against each other, which is hardly the notion of what a family is all about. Siblings are supposed to support each other. Second, you signal that YOU, the parent, who is supposed to have each child's back, thinks differently about them. When one kid is labeled as the "bad" kid or the "dumb" kid, it could drive competition ... or it could just as easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Parents need to realize that two siblings are not the same kid. Each has their own strengths and their own weaknesses. Expecting them to be the same kid isn't fair to either.
On the other hand, treating your kids as individuals has been shown to reduce sibling rivalry and result in overall better self-esteem for each child.
Maybe the Machiavelli Mom would have less struggles blending a new family if she put down the book and tried looking to some real parenting experts for advice.
Do you pit your kids against each other to drive competition?
How has it worked out for you?
by cjsmom1April 10, 2013 at 12:18 PMThat's horrible! I only have one child so this isn't an issue.
When I was growing up I was always praised for my good grades, good behavior, etc. My siblings weren't as good in school or as well behaved. It caused them to hate me. Whenever I messed up (like getting pregnant at 16) it was thrown in my face.
I agree those kids are going to have some big problems with each other & their Mom as adults!
OMG!!! NO! Never! My kids have their own learning styles, their own pace, and they are BEST friends! If they were pitted against one another, they would grow apart, IMO. Yikes! I'd hate to see the therapy bills later in life.
by lucschApril 10, 2013 at 1:02 PM
No, I have not. They are all very different, and I try to encourage each one to develop his/her own natural skills. They are all internally driven students, so I've never had to get after them to do well in school (I only homeschool my youngest). Some need more guidance than others, but I see absolutely no need to "pit them against each other." Wow, what a way to create an unhappy family!
by CatFishMomApril 10, 2013 at 1:24 PM
Never, not like that. Friendly board games, races, crap like that, of course because a little bit of competition is healthy, but I would never do something like that. And it would never be 'you lost to your little sister so be ashamed'. There is no shame at losing because just because you lost at 'x' doesnt mean you won't win at 'y'. Every child has his/her own strengths and somewhere they will find the thing to make them shine. My job as a parent isnt to make them feel crappy about themselves, or not good enough-it's to hold them up and support them so they can find that one thing!
I would never do that. My 6 year old asked me this morning when she learned to write her name and I said 3.5. She said so I beat Phoenix? I said yeah but it is ok because he is learning at his own pace and you are working at yours. She said yeah he is doing great. I teach my kids that everyone works at thier own pace and sometimes kids who are many years older than them can just be learning to read, sometimes kids a few years younger than them can read better than them and that is ok. Everyone is different.