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Monday, April 12, 2010

Who's in Charge?

I got an email this morning from a reader who wanted to leave a comment, but somehow wasn't able to because of poor internet access and getting cut off in the middle of composing it. I'm going to copy a part of what she had to say here:

I also wondered how Bow sees himself in the family dynamic. For instance, he said to you, "Let them play", from a position of authority, as if it was up to him to give the children permission to play, and he seemed to be telling you that as if you were his second in command, so you could carry out his orders by telling the girls to go play. Or did he mean to play with him?
Bow often does seem to think that he's the boss here. He tells me that he is the man of the house. He wants to control the situation. Even though he defers to me in many ways, he also lets me know that I can't order him around with impunity. He's only nice when he chooses to be. I can't make him.

Really, every struggle between any two people is about who has control. Don't you think? Most disagreements are not due to misunderstanding. They are caused by a conflict of interest.

Sometimes when I have to leave the pen for a moment, I explain to Bow why. For instance, I say: "I have to put dinner in the oven now, Bow. If I don't, dinner won't be ready on time. So I'm going to leave you for a couple of minutes to do that. Okay?"

He answers "Okay" or "Yes". And if I have taken the trouble to explain it to him, he will usually behave while I am gone. Now, I wasn't actually asking for permission to leave by saying "Okay." I was explaining it to him and wanting to make sure he understood before I left. But he may see the whole thing quite differently!


  1. Hmmm, so Bow believes that he is the person in charge. Is he also awared that the person in charge in the family is usually expected to be the breadwinner? Money=Power. :)

  2. Good point! Yes, I've been trying to explain the concept of breadwinner to him, but he despises work. He told me feels sorry for people who work.

  3. I'm with him!

    I saw a study once (a video) that showed that people are more likely to comply with any request if you give any reason, even if it is not a very good one. In one example, a girl walked up to a man making copies and said, "Can I interrupt you and make some copies right now because I really need to?" and he said, "OK!" and gathered up his stuff and let her copy.

    In other situations, people with obvious reasons for hurrying or being given a break (screaming babies and such) asked for help or a favor without stating a reason and were denied.

    Maybe the same holds true for chimpanzees. As long as you are polite enough to give a reason, the reason is accepted.

  4. Suzanne, thanks for taking a positive view of this. I found that explaining things to Bow works, so I do it. ;->

    In an emergency, however,when there isn't time to explain, this policy might not work as well.