Inconclusive advice from the author of “Get Out of My Life” (not reviewed).
There are, according to Wolf, a “baby” self and a “mature” self. The baby self lives at home with its parents, feeling as free as a bird to torture them mercilessly. The mature self goes to school and on playdates, anywhere the parent (or anyone else particularly close to the little blighter) is not. The baby self acts like a stinker. The mature self does not. We all have been both, says this clinical psychologist, by way of explaining why we as grownups cannot act like adults around our own parents. But the existence of the baby self is a good thing, claims Wolf, or at least it usually works out okay in the end. For those who prefer not to live with that sort of behavior ad infinitum, he posits that guilt is more useful than punishment. “Teasing is something that Mommy feels is very bad,” the parent should say, playing on the affection that the child theoretically feels for her. It may work, it may not, admits the author, but it's better than punishment. And so we launch into an interminable series of just the kinds of conversations that readers picking up this book are presumably seeking to stop. Addressing the subject of How To Make Decisions, Wolf offers this riveting dialogue: “ ‘Mom, can I have another cookie?’ ‘No, Helena, two is enough.’ ‘But, please, Mommy, please. Just one more. Please.’ ” And so on, for a full page. For a full chapter. For most of the book. The trick, says our author, is to give her the damn thing immediately—or not—and then stop talking about it just as immediately. (It would be nice if he followed his own advice.) In other words, mean what you say and say what you mean.
And the secret of parenting is, um . . .