Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Your Toddler is a Sociopath, and Other True Statements that Piss People Off

You know that feeling you get when you see a dog or cat owner talk to their pet using complete sentences chock-full of adjectives and clauses?  That painful, pulsating, sense of wrongness that results from watching someone act in a manner completely estranged from reality?

That's basically how I feel whenever I interact with the parents of young children.

I recently became friends with a single mother who has a two year old daughter.  Through our interactions I have learned two valuable lessons:

1)  I think two year olds are awesome.
2)  Parents of toddlers are insufferable.

This is the problem I have:  In the same way that dog owners anthropomorphize their canine, parents of toddlers anthropomorphize their kids.  They posit a wealth of meaning, intent, and psychological nuance onto the child that just plain isn't fuck there.  And when I point this out to them, they get pissed off.  Because the parent thinks of its two year old as a quirky adolescent with a speech impediment, and I think of their toddler as...basically a high-functioning African Grey Parrot that shits in its own pants.

Because that's what it is.

Relevant story time:  My friend wants to enter her daughter in a child beauty pageant in order to boost the child's self esteem, so she asked me what I thought.  Now, for the moment, let's ignore the whole 'beauty pageant' problem to focus upon the larger issue:

Two Year Olds Do Not Have Low Self Esteem

In fact, toddlers can't have low self esteem; it is psychologically impossible.  The mental faculties required to have low self esteem, to feel inferior to other people, do not yet exist.  This because, to your toddler, there are no other people.  A toddler is mentally incapable of thinking that other human beings have intent, desires, wills of their own.  A two year old can have a kind of inferiority resulting from an inability to accomplish a particular task, but she doesn't feel the way you and I did in high school when we realized we weren't the cool kids.

Now, to me, this would be a relief for a parent.  They can cast aside the concern for enhancing their child's sense of self (because it doesn't yet have a self), and focus instead on making sure it doesn't choke on LEGOs.  But, no.  When I say, "You know...your daughter can't have low self esteem.  At this stage, she's functionally a sociopath." the mother gets pissed off.

Why?  I am not sure.

But it's really fucking frustrating to cite Erik Erikson's eight stages of psychosocial development, and be rebuffed with "Well, I'm a mom."

Because, for one thing, that is not an argument.  It is simply an indication that you haven't quite figured out birth control.

Now, the two year old, herself?  She's great.  Because she makes sense to me.  We get on swimmingly.

But fuck if I can figure out what the hell is wrong with the mom.

Cause here's the thing:  If you honestly give a shit about your child's well being, then you ought to engage with the child as it is.  Understand the toddler's psychological state, and act accordingly.  Just like if you want to behoove your dog, then understand what it is, and act accordingly.

Your dog doesn't understand the subjunctive mood, and your toddler doesn't understand modus ponens.

Seems to me that pretending they do just causes problems.


Caleb said...

Would you be willing to grant that the term "sociopath" has certain, negative connotations?

_J_ said...

Well, sure. But on this side of the fence we ignore social connotations and simply engage with strict descriptive definitions.

Caleb said...

Somewhere across the Internet:

My daughter and I recently made friends with an ABD grad student. Now, she and he get along swimmingly. But, fuck if I can figure out what the hell is wrong with him. The other day, he said she was a sociopath.

J, I daresay, there's a shock artist locked away in your mind, searching desperately for an honest day's work.

Roscoe said...

Nah. It fears honesty. I mean, it's a part of J, after all.

Craves it? Sure. But FEARS it, too. Like all forbidden fruit.

Roscoe said...

Honest question? Is this - "Cause here's the thing: If you honestly give a shit about your child's well being, then you ought to engage with the child as it is. Understand the toddler's psychological state, and act accordingly. Just like if you want to behoove your dog, then understand what it is, and act accordingly." - possible?

I mean... We don't engage with our PEERS as they are. We sure as shit don't engage with our superiors, nor our inferiors as they are. We only EVER so rarely engage with ourselves as we are, and even then, most of us are SURE we're just putting up another, trickier layer of bullshit.

You're suggesting disassociation between a child and parent, for.. you know.. fairly reasonable reasons. But.. When put in those terms? Is it reasonable to assume such a thing might actually happen?

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