David Altshuler, M.S.
(305) 978-8917 | david@davidaltshuler.com

“I vote ‘no,’ Mr. President.”

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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.



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