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Joseph W. Gauld Headshot

There's a Perfectly Good Reason Why Parents Think Their '3-Year-Olds are A**Holes'

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After reading Sarah Fader's recent HuffPost blog, "3-Year-Olds are A**Holes," I felt compelled to respond.

The fact that a third of a million Americans "liked" this article, as well as it garnering hundreds of comments generally slamming children, speak to the child-adult discords we have in our homes and schools today.

Children don't listen to what we say; they read our hearts. They don't have to read this article to feel they are being disrespected by these adults. Since children learn by imitation, they simply disrespect themselves and adults in response.

I have devoted 62 years of my life to teaching kids, 40 of them working intimately with parents. Many of those parents initially felt like this author -- that the problems they were having was their child's fault. They instead felt empowerment once they realized their own parenting was the key to the solution.

Like bosses who blame workers for a company's poor performance, it's easy for parents to blame children for their problems. However, if in fact the real problem is our parenting, then it means we ourselves are capable of solving the problem!

With that thought in mind, let me explain a big parenting mistake -- we have one concept of love; our children have a different one. So if we can learn to love children their way, the power struggle ends.

Here is how children learn to love:

The first thing infants experience at birth is fear of abandonment -- if someone doesn't take care of them, they will die. So they seek the love of their caretakers by imitating them, feeling if they are like their caretakers, the caretakers will love them, and always be there for them when they need help.

This imitation process establishes the parent-child relationship. It is how our children internalize their character, values and sense of purpose. Unfortunately, since we parents are imperfect, they also imitate our shortcomings.

The author complains that her children broke all the rules by pouring syrup over her father's TV set. However she broke all the rules with her article. Her children are simply imitating her spirit.

Following that logic, the article blaming children for problems in the home is generally supported by almost 1/3 of a million readers. By imitation, aren't their children generally learning to blame someone else for problems they cause?

So children's love for us is centered first on how well we take care of their survival, which, as they grow, unconsciously morphs into how well we are preparing them for life. I had a strained relationship with my step-father who was very strict and very much unlike me. But I trusted him because I knew he was committed to preparing me for life.

I looked like my biological father and shared his personality, but I shared the character and values of my step-father and love him as my father.

Sometimes parents want a relationship with their child involving their concept of love. The child will generally resist this, since we are wanting something from them, instead of keeping our focus on their growth -- their concept of love. In fact, they may manipulate our love to have life more on their terms, even though they know this is wrong for both of us.

I believe parenting is the ultimate human challenge; even when we do it right, we often end up feeling like a sucked lemon. But it brings out our best. I founded a network of seven schools, but the most important thing I've done is helping my wife raise three children to be better people than their parents, and then assisting them do the same with their nine children.

Humility is central in effective parenting; as Kahlil Gibran says in The Prophet:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of life longing for itself.
They come through you, but not from you,
And though they are with you, they belong not to you....

So when we have child rearing concerns, we should always first consider our parenting. Two and three year olds are naturally beginning to express their potentials. If we don't like how they are doing it, we might first ask, Have we been giving them more freedom and responsibility than they can handle? Have we made discipline and structure too loose? Do we need to be better models of growth?

I find parents who have the humility to deal with such questions are much more successful in raising children.