Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Family Life with the Prince




The Pop Parenting movement now has a new model: Machiavelli. Author Suzanne Evans, pictured above with her children, explains how old Niccolo helped her to stop worrying and love the power play in her new book Machiavelli for Moms: Maxims on the Effective Governance of Children. This sweet new style involves setting your children against one another, lying to them when convenient and some half-hearted physical discipline (it seems it's easier on her conscience to lie and manipulate than to give a spanking). Apparently, her methods work just as effectively on her husband as on their offspring.
As peace and predictability began to prevail at home, I turned to Machiavelli's most infamous advice. Though often mistakenly recalled as "the ends justify the means," what he really says is subtler: that others will ultimately judge actions by results. 
Either way, the maxim came in handy one night when my husband got into bed, pulled close to me and said, "You know, I'd really like to have another kid." To which I replied, "That's nice, honey, but what you're going to have instead is a vasectomy." 
With our four boisterous young kids finally coming under control, adding another to the mix—an obvious threat to my hard-won dominion—was a result that I could not accept. My husband resisted this edict at first, but when I told him that until he accepted it he shouldn't expect any affection in bed, he quickly agreed to an appointment with a doctor. 
There is nothing scheming or manipulative about following the path set down by Machiavelli. It is all about maintaining power and laying down the law with a firm hand. The great Florentine would be proud of his new disciple.

I don't know whether it's better to be feared than loved, but going by the emasculation of her husband and the hardened, despairing faces of the children, it doesn't take much educated guesswork to isolate which route Suzanne Evans has taken with her family.

14 comments:

Jenny said...

That's quite revolting.

But I do wonder if she is guilty of over-hyping. Confining a misbehaving child to her room is Machiavellian? I hope she just wants to sound meaner than she actually is.

MrsDarwin said...

I would have actually been very interested to read about the challenges of raising a blended family and a child with Down's Syndrome. However, I can't imagine that setting her child and step-child against each other by praising her and withholding affection from his is going to create family harmony, no matter what rationalization she gives for it. Kids have a funny knack for cutting through justifications and only looking at behavior.

Also, I will be curious to read a follow-up in about six years when her teenagers start lying to her about what they're doing on the weekend because it makes them feel happy and relaxed -- and having a happy, relaxed child always benefits a parent.

Jenny said...

You can definitely see that trainwreck coming. Pitting children against each other is never a good idea even when sorely tempted.

While it would be interesting to see what she has to say when her children start treating her in the manner they were raised, I am mostly curious about the location of her husband in six years. I suspect he will have moved on to a newer, nicer version.

geeklady said...

It is certainly a trainwreck in the making, but what struck me most is how most of these parenting problems seem self inflicted. And I don't mean by having the kids in the first place.

Kids always want stuff at the store. But my son is almost five and he's already learned 1) to ask and 2) no means no. He's not always happy, he might whine a little, but I haven't seen a temper tantrum over this subject in a good 2-3 years. However the $10 method of dealing with an existing problem was a good idea - something I would use in my own Mommy Judo if the problem ever comes up.

Her second problem is that the parents have let themselves be divided. While it might be especially common to 'blended' families, it doesn't have to be. A family down the block does an admirable job of preventing the step kids from dividing the parents. And her solution is divisive garbage. Even in my home, where there was intense competition between siblings for grades, we weren't pitted against each other by my parents, we were pitted against our past performance. (We could handle our own pitting against each other just fine.)

Weekends being dictated by kid-centered events is a self created problem. Our weekends, and especially our Sundays, are not. Lying to the kids is especially despicable.
...I'm not at my most objective on this one either, I can't imagine wanting to get away from my kids so badly I'd lie to them. The last time we left David with my mom for an overnight trip, we missed him so much we came home early.

In the 4th example, she suffers from a misapprehension about what exactly mercy and justice entail. There's nothing especially harsh or Machiavellian about a time out in a modern child's bedroom.
Also, doling out an effective punishment that produces a change in bad behavior over an ineffective punishment that does not is just a no-brainer. Sometimes it's a challenge to figure out what is effective for an individual child, but that's a different problem.

I have no words for that discussion with her husband. *shudder*

She seems pretty mentally lazy to me, actually.

BettyDuffy said...

Well, the woman definitely has a schtick, and it's not a very flattering one. But it will probably gin up lots of controversy and make her some money.

Darwin said...

While I get the basic "no bad publicity" concept, it flummoxes me that this kind of image sells books. Though I assume it does, or else people wouldn't do it.

Or, on the other hand: a book that sells a couple hundred thousand copies is a resounding success. Maybe there are that many people in the reading public who find this attractive and want to follow her example.

BettyDuffy said...

My guess is, more people will read it out of a sense of horror than out of admiration--like the Tiger Mother book.

And it may have cult appeal among Ayn Rand fans.

Crude said...

My husband resisted this edict at first, but when I told him that until he accepted it he shouldn't expect any affection in bed, he quickly agreed to an appointment with a doctor.

A serious question.

What should his response have been to this?

mrsdarwin said...

Crude,

It's a good question, and I have a lot of flippant answers, but I don't know if any of them would work if the man wants to preserve his marriage. How much he wants to preserve it, after that ugliness, is another question.

I bet he'll think twice about pulling her close anymore, though.

Darwin said...

My first thought is along the lines of: "He'd be a fool to give up his reproductive capabilities now when his next wife might want them available."

But of course, that's in part because the sentiment she expresses is so immediately repulsive that it's hard to think about the situation (as described) as being a real one.

In reality, I suppose that she's describing the situation in exaggerated terms in order to fit with her tough-guy Machiavellian image. And one would hope that they talked enough about their attitudes about reproduction before they got married that this would not come as a surprise.

However, there are real people who have real moral objections to sterilization and contraception who do have spouses who strongly want to assure they don't have any more children. When we're talking about real people with real marriages they're trying to save, the kind of snark reply that springs to minds obviously isn't the way to go.

Crude said...

mrsdarwin,

It's a good question, and I have a lot of flippant answers, but I don't know if any of them would work if the man wants to preserve his marriage. How much he wants to preserve it, after that ugliness, is another question.

Well, I'm going to figure the problem is a lot more severe from the Catholic point of view, where getting a divorce just isn't as live of an option for him. Or at least, not divorce and remarrying.

I also know it's not a question with an easy answer - it's why I asked it, because to me it is a definite puzzle. Contra Darwin, I'm not so sure it's an exaggerated situation. I mean, you'd hope so, right? You'd hope the whole thing was basically pulled straight from the Onion. But 'no more sex until you get a vasectomy' does not strike me as a fanciful situation.

Jenny said...

I have to agree with Crude here. I didn't think the situation was that far-fetched. We are pretty much told in our society that wanting more than a couple of kids is deranged and you had better get fixed.

The other day I was at the (non-OB) doctor. He was remarking that he couldn't remember some minor annoyance about his wife's pregnancy. He was surprised he forgot so quickly because his son is only five weeks old. I told him the reason you forget is so you will do it again. At that point, he started telling me about his urologist.

Darwin said...

I agree that one spouse asking the other to get sterilized is pretty common these days. What I was finding hard to imagine being literal is sterilization being brought up for the first time as a complete "Do it before you expect to ever get any sex again" ultimatum when the husband approached the wife in bed.

I would imagine that such a conversation would start out more along the lines of, "You know, dear, I'd really like this baby to be our last. We should talk about how to accomplish that."

Now, if the spouse being told that is a believing Catholic and thus has objections to sterilization or contraception, that's going to be a hard conversation, but it's at least being had on terms that suggest a mutual relationship. The way the anecdote is related in the article, it's deliberately antagonistic.

Further, I would assume that a couple like this would be used to using birth control regularly, so the wife suddenly announcing that he'll never touch her again till he gets a vasectomy seems like a "I won't go out of my way to do anything to achieve may objective, you go do something to your body instead because right now I reject it."

Crude said...

What I was finding hard to imagine being literal is sterilization being brought up for the first time as a complete "Do it before you expect to ever get any sex again" ultimatum when the husband approached the wife in bed.

Maybe. The woman is sitting around talking about the benefit of her literally Machiavellian approach to her marriage and family life, so I'm not as prepared to think she was kidding. Especially when her reason for wanting this child to be her last is that it would threaten the power balance she had orchestrated. "An obvious threat to my hard-won dominion."? Presenting this as an "edict"?

But sure, maybe there's some exaggeration in there. I'm pretty sure the great Florentine couldn't care less about some petty person's decision to be domineering in a relationship. That said - even with Catholicism set aside - I'm left asking, what should he do? What do you do if your wife says 'sterilize yourself, or no more sex'? Because I can think of a variety of justified actions to take in response, but their Catholicity is a bit thin.

I suppose the best option would be to go, alright - well, no more sex ever again, I suppose. Maybe that's a submerged lesson in a story like this - one more reason to tame one's appetites.