A central problem with progressive parenting manuals is that far too many of them assume that children are little more than miniature adults. But this is manifestly not true. We undergo massive changes in our development that make us much more like butterflies than crocodiles. What do I mean by that? Well, baby crocodiles are ready to go on Day One. They are, quite literally, miniature versions of their parents. All of their proportions are the same as their parents, all of their instincts, everything. But butterflies start out as caterpillars. And caterpillars have a diet, motion, and morphology of their own. Eventually they go through a series of dramatic changes and become butterflies. And butterflies have a diet, motion, and morphology of their own.
It would be foolish to try to care for a caterpillar the way you’d care for the butterfly it’ll one day be. Likewise, it would be foolish to try to reason with a toddler the way you might reason with a friend. Children aren’t miniature adults. They’re cute little talking puppies. And, like puppies, there are times when they simply cannot be reasoned with. For instance, I knew a four-year-old boy who ran into traffic every chance he got. It was terrifying. And his mom was at her wit’s end. She tried everything: time-outs, taking away his toys, etc. She even went so far as to show him some roadkill (a squashed squirrel). Told him that this is what could happen to him! But to no avail, the little rascal kept on bolting into the street every chance he got. So, after yet another near-death experience, she whacked him in the ass. Hard. And guess what, the little monster never did it again. Not once. Ever.
When I recounted this story to a particularly judgy colleague, she launched into a long mommy-shaming diatribe about the rights of children (she doesn’t have kids, of course). I tried to defend the mother in question (a close relative of mine), but this only made my preachy coworker more mad. She stuck her finger in my face and asked me if I would slap my wife if she wasn’t doing what I wanted her to do. I laughed and said that comparing the use of corporal punishment on a fellow adult to the use of corporal punishment on a four-year-old was absurd. She looked puzzled.
“Because we’re butterflies. Not crocodiles.”
—John Faithful Hamer, The Goldfish (2016)