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?
Image by Jeanne Sager