Oh my. I have a friendship crush!
How Machiavelli Saved My Family by Suzanne Evans - WSJ.com
By SUZANNE EVANS
Ethan Pines for The Wall Street Journal Machiavellian mom Suzanne Evans, the author, at home with her children (from left) Teddy, Daniel, Trevor and Katie.
Newly married, my husband, Eric, and I moved to a new home with our kids. Now we would start trying to blend our families.
From the beginning, it was total chaos. There were endless chores, to say nothing of the logistics of caring for four kids under 8 (two from our previous marriages and two we'd had together). At the same time, I had just started a new full-time job writing legal briefs from home, and I was trying to finish a dissertation for my Ph.D. in history. All of which meant that I was trapped inside for days at a time with my kids, whose constant bickering was driving me nuts.
Like millions of other modern moms, I tried to change them by yelling and nagging. This, of course, only made their behavior worse. After one especially trying day, I stomped off to my home office. Too exhausted to work, I sat at my desk and stared at a dusty shelf of books. And there I saw it: an old copy of "The Prince."
Pulling it from the shelf, I studied its cover?a portrait of Niccol? Machiavelli. His determined eyes stared out humbly at me; his thin lips turned up in a slight, knowing smile; his stance, powerful and confident?everything that I was not at that point in my life.
I opened the book and began reading. Machiavelli's name is synonymous with duplicity, deceit and the cunning, ruthless use of power. But the more I read, the more excited I became.
Machiavelli began writing "The Prince" in the midst of his own crisis. Fired from his position in Florence as a high-ranking diplomat, he had been arrested, imprisoned and tortured for his alleged role in a conspiracy to assassinate Cardinal Giuliano de'Medici and seize the government by force. Upon his release, exiled to the Tuscan countryside, he resolved to write a primer on politics in hopes of gaining favor among the Medicis and obtaining a new government post. Thus was born "The Prince," the most revolutionary and widely maligned political tract of all time.
Machiavelli never wrote the infamous phrase often associated with him: "the ends justify the means." His methods weren't about acquiring power for its own sake. He saw power as a tool for securing the safety and stability of the state. He wanted to show princes how to ensure the happiness and well-being of their subjects.
A stable and safe home? Full of happy and prosperous subjects? It sounded like a worthy goal, not just for a prince but for a parent too. Maybe I could use Machiavelli's rules to help me reclaim my own kingdom.
Sean McCabe Niccol? Machiavelli
Being permissive and nice hadn't worked with my children. Begging, bartering, harassing and even politely asking hadn't worked either. But perhaps a pragmatic, tough-minded Machiavellian strategy would. With "The Prince" in hand, I set out to become a full-fledged Machiavellian mom. I was soon following several of the great political adviser's key maxims.
'Nothing wastes so rapidly as liberality, for even whilst you exercise it you lose the power to do so, and so become either poor or despised or, in avoiding poverty, rapacious and hated.'
Because men are fickle, hypocritical, greedy and deceitful, Machiavelli argues, their loyalties can be won and lost. To guard against shifting allegiances, he advises a prince to develop a reputation for generosity. He cautions, however, that an overly generous prince will quickly bankrupt the state and only increase his subjects' greed for largess.
I thought immediately of my kids.
Like all moms, I was struggling to meet their every material need. Yet as I read "The Prince," I realized that the more things I gave them, the more they expected and less grateful they became. So, on our next trip to Target, I applied Machiavelli's advice to my unsuspecting young subjects.
Sean McCabe Teddy: Had her eye on a new backpack, but too much liberality dissipates a ruler's power.
Usually, on such outings, they would greedily toss DVDs and dolls into our cart. If I insisted that they remove the booty, temper tantrums would ensue. This time I had a plan. Instead of waiting for disaster, I stopped at the entrance and handed each of them $10.
"What's this?" my 7-year-old daughter Teddy asked.
"It's a 10-dollar bill," I said. "And it's for you to use today, but that's all you're going to get, so use it wisely."
Once inside, my troops carefully examined the price of each item they liked. "What? $29?!" Teddy protested upon discovering the price of a Justin Bieber backpack. "Well, that's just ridiculous," she mumbled as she put it back on the shelf. "It's not worth that much!"
Our shopping trip went much more smoothly than in the past, my kids were more appreciative, and they learned the value of money.
'A Captain ought?[to] endeavor with every art to divide the forces of the enemy, either by making him suspicious of his men?or by giving him cause?to separate his forces and, because of this, become weaker.'
Sean McCabe Daniel: Wasn't making the grade, until mom decided to divide and conquer.
I was already familiar with the strategy of "divide and conquer"; our kids are masters at pitting my husband and me against each other to get what they want. I decided it was time to use this maxim to my own advantage.
To that end, I "divided" Teddy and my 8-year-old stepson Daniel by pitting them against each other in a not-so-friendly competition over who could do better in school.
"Excellent!" I praised Teddy when she brought home a nearly perfect second-grade report card. I then rewarded her with a celebratory family dinner at the restaurant of her choice. On the other front, Daniel, whose report card wasn't so stellar, got nothing, other than the shame of losing the competition?to his younger sister no less, as I reminded him.
But this defeat ignited his competitive spirit, and by the end of the school year, both Teddy and Daniel brought home outstanding report cards. Bottom line: By setting my kids against each other, I ultimately got what I wanted from them?and they both benefited.
'Those princes who have done great things have held good faith of little account, and have known how to circumvent the intellect of men by craft, and in the end have overcome those who have relied on their word.'
With that victory scored, I turned to the part of "The Prince" where Machiavelli shifts emphasis from dispensing concrete advice to describing the personality traits of a great leader. It is critical for a prince always to appear honorable, he writes, but he cautions that a prince shouldn't honor his word if doing so will threaten his rule. And since all men are dishonest, he adds, "a prince must be deceitful if it is to his advantage."
Sean McCabe Trevor: Never saw through the small lie that gave his parents a much-needed retreat.
This might make sense in politics, but I didn't know if it would be wise to apply at home. But then my husband and I were invited to a golfing event in Santa Barbara for the weekend.
All parents know that weekends are dictated by kid-centered events, from sports to birthday parties to play dates. This particular weekend was no different, and all my kids had multiple events that I was supposed to attend. But I desperately needed a break, and suitable child care could be arranged.
So, to minimize resistance and feelings of unnecessary abandonment ("You're going golfing? Can we come?!"), I told my kids that their dad and I were going away for the weekend on a business trip. And I didn't feel a bit guilty about it. The result: When I returned home, I was well-rested and relaxed, and my kids, who had worn out their grandparents, were thrilled to have me and their dad back home.
In other words: Don't feel guilty for lying to your kids if it makes you happy and relaxed?because having a happy, relaxed mom always benefits a child.
'A prince, so long as he keeps his subjects united and loyal?will be more merciful than those who, through too much mercy, allow disorders to arise.'
I admit to pausing when I encountered Machiavelli's advice that "good laws follow from good arms" and that the very legitimacy of law rests upon the threat of coercive force. I should make it clear that I do not, as a rule, believe in spanking a child of any age. But this issue came into play when Katie, then 5, tried to escape from our house one day when she thought I wasn't watching.
Sean McCabe Katie: Kept running away, until mom switched from mercy to gentle coercion.
The Saturday Essay
Katie has Down syndrome and is happiness personified, but she can also be stubborn and defiant. Some of her misdeeds include dumping a full bottle of water on my laptop and frequently escaping from home and school. On this particular day, I gave her a quick pat on the behind.
Katie's eyes opened wide with surprise, but she didn't let out so much as a whimper or whine, much less a cry. When she tried to pull the same trick the next day, I gave her another quick pat that was met with a slight grimace?followed by a wide, defiant grin. Clearly, this strategy wasn't only ineffective, it was aggravating the situation.
I scoured "The Prince" and stumbled upon his maxim that "when princes have thought more of ease than of arms they have lost their states." A few days later, Katie sneaked outside again and tried to hide in the backyard. This time, I led her straight up to her room.
"You know you're not supposed to leave the house without asking," I said sternly. She nodded in acknowledgment. "Then you're getting a half-hour timeout in your room," I announced. "And from now on, whenever you choose to break this rule, that is what you will get. Every. Single. Time." Then I slowly closed the door and walked away.
That might seem extreme, especially if you are not familiar with the unique challenges of disciplining a special-needs child. But when it comes to parenting and politics, context is everything. And if that kind of pragmatic and tough-minded Machiavellian strategy was what it was going to take to keep my sweet, spirited, stubborn young daughter safe and sound then, in my mind, it was in her best interest.
When I walked into her room a half-hour later, she was sitting on her bed flipping through a picture book. When she looked up, she sheepishly smiled.
"You ready to come out now and behave?" I asked.
"Yeah!" she giggled and clapped.
'In the actions of all men, and especially of princes?one judges by the result.'
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.
Sean McCabe Eric: Wanted another child, but received a tough ultimatum instead.
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.
?Ms. Evans is the author of "Machiavelli for Moms: Maxims on the Effective Governance of Children," to be published by Simon and Schuster/Touchstone on April 9.
I think I am in love and have to write my book. Holy moly, I am for sure not an AP mom.
Last edited by bunnyfufu; 05-09-2013 at 01:20 AM.
I do all that AP stuff with my babies, its simply intuitive. Hold them? Wear them? Nurse them? Sleep with them so you get more sleep? Start solids as late as possible because cleaning up carrot mush sucks donkey balls? They were like all big DUH's to me, I didn't know that was supposed to be part of some AP movement until I was knee deep into what simply made sense.
As a Mom (or as parents) I'm totally Machiavelli. I never understood parents who create their own worst nightmares and then wonder why they don't enjoy parenting or are stressed out all the time. My kids thrive on knowing clear boundaries and I like them to the moon and back.
And the part about her husband then wanting another made me LOL. My DH is trying to pull the same stunt on me. No way! Constant vigilance
It's phrases like this...
...that make me think she was just being ridiculously permissive, and that was the source of her issues. You don't have to be Machiavelli just because you don't want to be a pushover. I'm not struggling to meet my kids' every material need, nor do I let them throw everything they want into a cart at Target. I'm not a toughie at all but I sure don't let my kids walk all over me. I don't think that's particularly Machiavellian.Like all moms, I was struggling to meet their every material need. Yet as I read "The Prince," I realized that the more things I gave them, the more they expected and less grateful they became. So, on our next trip to Target, I applied Machiavelli's advice to my unsuspecting young subjects.
I found her really annoying and long-winded.
CARRIE and DH 7/14/07
We have a huge struggle with this because DH is VERY inconsistent and permissive and does not discipline the kids. The older kids have told me that his late wife pretty much did all the discipline before she died. So if is very hard because now the discipline falls to me because he won't do it, so I get some resentment for the fact that I am their stepmother and the one doing most of the discipline. So it has been a struggle for me because I get it from both sides, my stepchildren think I discipline them too harshly because they haven't been disciplined, and my own children think I am harder on them because I have never let them behave that way so they know better. I would never allow my kids to behave that way and throw tantrums in the store, but my stepdaughter throws screaming fits because her dad would let her. Things are slowly getting better because they have learned that I won't put up with that kind of thing but it is a lot harder to deal with if you don't train them when they are young.
Mom to Lee, Jake, Brandon, Rocco
Stepmom to Ryan, Regan, Braden, Baley
Granddaughters Kylie 10/18/2010 & Aleya 4/22/2013
I never consider a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosopy, as a cause for withdrawing from a friend. --Thomas Jefferson
I sortov assumed that she inherited the behavior problems ~ she didn't come out and say it but I thought it was a little bit implied in the whole "start trying to blend our families" part. Maybe I'm wrong.
That is one reason I promised myself when single that I wouldn't date a man with children or adopt an adult dog. I just didn't want to inherit someone else's discipline problems. Kids are easy when they grow up with clear boundaries, trying to undo no boundaries or kids who simply can't control themselves or whatnot just isn't for the feint of heart and I am clearly feint of heart.
I just think stuff like this is why I don't read parenting articles or magazines or sites. There's nothing new in saying not to spoil your kids or give in to everything they ask for, and of course there are challenges like Gloria is facing that are very difficult, but people write these articles and give their "parenting style" a label and then the arguments begin....I just think it's all very silly. I don't think the issue of how to discipline kids is silly, especially kids who haven't had discipline before, but I think defining some new philosophy and writing a big article as if it's a revelation is silly.
Same thing for what you're saying about attachment parenting.
I don't parent by philosophy. Stuff comes up, we deal with it, we make mistakes or we don't, we learn, we try again. Getting strategies from other parents is definitely helpful but all this This Is My Style Of Parenting stuff just bores me.
This woman didn't practice Attachment Parenting. She practiced permissive, indulgent, offering-goods-instead-of-attention parenting. There is nothing in AP that says let your kids run all over you and demand everything in the store. AP is actually quite the opposite, and if she had followed the AP principles, she wouldn't have been in that situation to begin with. But then, of course, she couldn't have written a book about how she made all these improvements, either.
All eight AP principles of infanthood naturally segue into childhood. Preparation for & bonding at birth becomes preparing your child for & helping him bonding with siblings. Feed with love, respond with sensitivity, use nurturing touches, ensure safe sleep; those all grow up with your child. Provide consistent & loving care sounds like one she needed more work on. How the hell did she think she was going to be able to write a dissertation with FOUR kids running around the house? Positive discipline is another she seems to have no clue about. And finally, the one I think is most important, maintain balance, she clearly has no concept. But it makes a better headline than, "I finally got my head out of my *** and decided to actually parent my four children."
David Letterman is retiring. Such great memories of watching him over the past thirty-two years!
I really cannot stand when parents feel the need to label their parenting. It grates on me, like red hot pokers in my ears (or eyes if I am reading it) I have 4 different children, and not a single one would have fit into any parenting "style"
This author seems like she is struggling to blend a family, that is something I am very thankful I didnt have to do. But instead of studying Machiavelli she may be better served studying her children.
Molly, Morgan, Mia and Carson
I agree with that "labels" of parenting. AP, tiger parents, free range kids. It's so annoying. I did a lot of what they consider AP, co sleeping (did not intend on that at first!), nursing, picking them up when crying etc. It was what felt natural to me. I definitely think that when we try to force ourselves to do anything that doesn't feel natural it's going to make us resent it including parenting. Having a child with extra challenges has just made me do what I need to do. If I have to bring them to the store...they are allowed to use my phone for puzzles and youtube if they want to. If we are at Target I allow them to get a 1.00 toy from the 1.00 bin. That's it.
Mom to Elizabeth (6) and Corinne (4)