“I vote ‘no,’ Mr. President.”

President Lincoln: How do you vote Mr. Seward?

William Seward: The Secretary of State of the United States votes "no."

President Lincoln: Thank you, Mr. Seward. Mr. Cameron, how do you vote?

Simon Cameron: The Secretary of War of the United States of America votes "no."

President Lincoln: Thank you, Mr. Cameron. What say you, Mr. Welles?

Gideon Welles: The Secretary of the Navy of the United States of America votes "no," unequivocally "no."

President Lincoln: Thank you, Mr. Welles. Mr. Smith, how do you vote?

Caleb Smith: The Secretary of the Interior of the United States votes most emphatically "no."

(President Lincoln polls the rest of his cabinet. Each member also votes "no.")

President Lincoln: There are eight "no" votes. I vote "aye."

(Lincoln pauses, looks each man in the eye before continuing.)

President Lincoln: The "ayes" have it.

I love this story. Although I don't know if there is an iota of truth to it. Remember that in 1861 there were no phone calls let alone calls recorded for quality assurance. My dad told me this story about Lincoln overriding the opinion of his cabinet members. My dad is gone but this story remains. I'm going to tell this story to my grandchildren.

Speaking of parents and children, there's another way to make determinations in families. You can solicit input, listen to opinions, evoke consensus. You can take into consideration what your children have to say. You don't have to disregard their votes like Lincoln ignored the input of his cabinet.

You just have to be willing to live or die with the ensuing decision.

My advice is not to ask a question if you're not prepared to live with the answer. "Do you want to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt?" is a reasonable inquiry for a second grader. "Do you want to play Parcheesi or would you prefer to take some benzodiazepines?" less so.

Where parents get into trouble is trying to have it both ways. If you're going to make the decision, fine. You can be Abe Lincoln in your own home. If you're going to let your child make the decision, that's okay too. Again, you just have to be willing to live with the resolution. What you can't say is, "I just don't see you in this dorm room, the ceiling is too low and you have a genetic preponderance for depression, don't forget my mom's sister and the path she had to walk after she was diagnosed with that anxiety disorder, plus there is a math requirement at this college and remember how you struggled with algebra two and I think you would be much happier at that college we toured the other day, there are just so many problems here, but of course the decision is yours."

If the decision does, in actuality, belong to the young person, then all the parent has communicated is anxiety. If the parent is going to decide which college the student is going to attend, then all the words aren't going to convince the student. Again, you can't have it both ways.

Can you think of a time when you have said, "Good point. I never thought of that. I've changed my mind"? Adolescents are even less likely to say, "Point taken, mom. I think you're right." To the contrary, folks of all ages fall in love with their positions. "No, I won't come in out of the rain, I'm quite comfortable here, thank you very much" being just one example.

I'm not advocating for a dictatorial parenting style. I am suggesting that if you do solicit the insights of your kids that you be willing to abide by the results. Even if--especially if--you don't like the resolution. As always, letting little ones make little decisions--even bad decisions--is a good predictor of older ones making good decisions. After all, President Lincoln determining that his country would go to war, was not the first hard decision that he had made.

2 thoughts on ““I vote ‘no,’ Mr. President.”

  1. Martin

    Seeing where this is going and I heartily concur Mr President.
    However, I have a not-so-inconsequential difference: I would not say that Lincoln
    disregarded the opinions of his Cabinet (voting would hardly be relevant, since
    they were advisors to him, serving a his pleasure). Rather that he considered their
    opinions, saw that they were unanimous, but chose based on his values and experience
    another course.

    Just so with parents and children. Children’s preferences and interests may and should be
    solicited. But the opinion of a three-year old that he is fully capable of crossing the street on
    his tricycle may be taken into account and the parent still judge that the three-year-old has
    much less experience judging the speeds of oncoming cars and of the ability of their drivers
    to see him. The same applies to those of some more years with regard to the choices they
    face (drugs, alcohol, hanging out with “adventurous” characters, and even your favorite, playing
    shooter computer games all day).

    Reply
  2. David Lerman

    I read them all even If I don’t comment on them all. All your points here are good. Your timing could be better with Trump in office. How about a column about Lies and Trust. When do you start doing the back channel verification of what your children tell you, What are the consequences of lying to your children.

    As an aside here is a true story. The step son at about age 10 gives me the fickle finger to which I ask does holding the middle digit of his hand like that have some special meaning? After a short discussion about the interpretation of gestures the conversation ends without any anger or resentment. The following week we are summoned to report to court to explain why our son is standing on the side of the road giving the finger to all passers by, one of whom decided to drive up the curb and try to run him down across the school yard.

    Reply

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