If you are a grown-up, and you have children, you have probably assumed the position of authority in your family. You are bigger, richer, older, and can parallel park better than your children. If someone is going to be the authority around here, goddammit, it’s going to be you.
This seems like a natural order; it is how families have been organized for at least a week. Parents = bosses; children = not-bosses, underlings, interns, etc.
One may argue that children do have power in a family, and it’s true, they have power because we love them, and we have power. They have power because they pull at our heartstrings, and “make” us take them to the zoo, and play kickball with them, and do all kinds of other stuff we would normally never do.
But this is not real power or authority, and I am proposing that we entertain the idea of a different structure, a structure where it is not the adults who have power over the children, nor the children who have power over the adults, but a more balanced system.
Now, because I am a “doctor,” this would normally be the time to say, I have written an exciting hardcover book to help guide you in this process, but alas, I have been too busy writing my name on the snack sign-up sheet at preschool to write that book. However, no worries: there is already a book that has been written that can help you, and if you are a parent you have probably read it 600 times already. This book is P.D. Eastman’s classic, Go, Dog. Go!
I used to think Go, Dog. Go! was a genius book because of its structure, the way it zigs and zags in and out of all the basic prepositions without any real plot except the spectacle of movement itself, until at last there is the fabulous party, and then the happy wobble home. The only unfortunate part of the book is the annoying recurrent female bid for male approval.
But that is minor. In my latest 150 readings of the book, I have come to believe that its greatness is not in the structure after all: it’s in the dogs. This is a children’s book, not only with no children in it, but with no fake children in it—no bunny children or duck children or whatever-furry-animal being “a child.” It is so refreshing to read a children’s book that is not saddled with an adult idea of what a child is, i.e., a child in relation to an adult, walking around in an adult’s perception of what the world is.
In Go, Dog. Go! there are no adults and children. There are dogs. There are big dogs and little dogs, and the fact that little dogs are sometimes subjugated by big dogs is addressed in the very first pages of the book, in a two-page spread where a small dog, rolling his eyes in a way anyone who has ever made minimum wage will recognize, pulls a giant dog on his pillowed cart. Little dogs and big dogs co-exist, sometimes with difficulty, and all dogs play/work. The book traces the yin/yang patterns of dog movement—work/play; awake/asleep; up/down; in/out —without putting small and big dogs in human parent/child roles. It’s. All. Just. Dog. Go, Dog. Go! is a children’s book by way of a Tibetan mandala.
Go, Dog. Go! is a good place to go to guide you in trying to restructure the way power is distributed in your family system. You are trying to get to the place where you are not in that typical hierarchy. You are trying to get to the place where you are at the party at the top of the tree.
Now, this is tricky. I personally have not seen many treetops like that. But this image is something that we have to guide us, and this is where we will continue next time.