Mad Scientist Grandparenting (Part 2 of Grandparenting Etiquette)

March 24, 2008

Mad Scientist Parenting

As young parents, my wife and I developed our own style of what I call “mad scientist parenting.” For example, I was impressed by B. F. Skinner’s emphasis on using positive reinforcement rather than punishment as a way of shaping a child’s behavior. 

I was impressed by Haim Ginott’s suggestion that adults should be polite and respectful to their children.

Here is a concise modern-day summary of his principles from a private elementary school in Ontario, Canada.

I was impressed with Fritz Perl’s suggestions that mental health comes from accepting and integrating the warring tendencies in our personalities rather than trying to deny and suppress those parts of our selves that make us feel uncomfortable.

We tried to raise a child who would be polite and respectful but also independent and able to stand her ground on matters of principle and values. I am fairly comfortable with how she has demonstrated those values and behaviors as an adult.

We tried to raise a child who was not afraid to speak frankly (though politely) to her parents. I am not going to complain a whole lot when I find I succeeded.

Next Generation Mad Scientist Parenting

Our daughter and her partner have developed their own style of “mad scientist parenting.” It’s not the same as ours. We don’t necessarily agree with everything they do, but there’s nothing in their approach to parenting that strikes us as dangerous or harmful. If we detected such tendencies, we would be in a difficult situation.

For example, I know someone (no relation) who believes that her daughter’s boyfriend is molesting her grandchildren. I try not to learn any more about this situation than I have already learned.

In my extended family (my side–not my wife’s) there were unpleasant incidents. For example, one of my sisters became pregnant as a result of statutory rape by a much older man. In my opinion, my parents were grievously at fault for allowing this to happen. This is not the entire story of unhappy incidents in my family. I’m not going there any further.

Words cannot express how grateful I am that my granddaughter with two mommies is being raised in a safe and sensible manner.

My wife and I are immensely grateful that we and Mama and Mommy seem to be in agreement on essential beliefs and values in regard to “family values.”

Parenting is a mysterious and difficult process; I don’t think anybody has the perfect formula or an impeccable understanding of how to do it “correctly.”

Our basic principles as grandparents are:

  • Don’t contradict Random Granddaughter’s parents in front of her.
  • Follow their expressed wishes on how to interact with RG.
  • Don’t argue with RG’s parents on non-critical issues that are essentially matters of style and opinion.
  • Treat RG’s parents in a polite and respectful manner.

It is obvious that they have thought a lot about their ideas of child rearing, and some of their ideas reflect changes in today’s zeitgeist of thoughts on child development and child rearing.

For example, Skinner’s ideas of positive reinforcement are now considered crude and dangerous. The book, Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes argues persuasively for encouraging positive behavior based on internal motivation rather than external bribes. Behaviorist psychologists (followers of Skinner) often used M&Ms to reward children in the same way as Skinner rewarded pigeons or rats with food in his operant conditioning experiments.

M&Ms don’t provide very good nutrition for a child anyway. (However, I don’t care if you feed M&Ms to your rats and pigeons.)

Mama and Mommy have asked us not to say things to our granddaughter such as, “You’re such a good girl.” As I understand their thinking: careful praise for specific behaviors is appropriate; general praise about a person’s character and nature can be dangerous and harmful. This web page conveys some of this thinking.

In some areas, we are in general agreement already with Mommy and Mama. When our daughter was small, we did not own a television. They are continuing that tradition and do not watch live television in their house and have asked relatives and preschools not to let RG watch television. As I mentioned a while back, on a recent visit (Christmas time) RG watched her first television show (on videotape): The Grinch.

That struck us as appropriate. The idea is not to keep her from ever watching television, or to turn it into a “forbidden delight” that other children get to have and she doesn’t and then becomes immensely attractive. The intent is for it to become a part of life that she can partake of sensibly with self-control.

We tried to feed our daughter a good diet and encourage her to develop healthful eating habits; RG’s mommies are doing the same. Again, she gets a sweet and a “goodie” from time to time so sweets do not become a “forbidden” goodie.

Other areas are really a matter of respect. As I mentioned once, they expressed discomfort with reading the The Cat in the Hat to a child her age. It’s not a matter of concern to us if she waits a few years before she encounters that book. My daughter’s small cat Sylvie provides enough of examples of both good and bad feline behavior to educate her about cats for now.

If my daughter doesn’t want me to do comedy skits for preschoolers with green eggs and ham or holding up PLEASE and THANK YOU flash cards, I will respect her wishes on it. I think being respectful of their preferences is simply respectful grandparenting.


7 Responses to “Mad Scientist Grandparenting (Part 2 of Grandparenting Etiquette)”

  1. Moongirl Says:

    Hi, Mr. Random! How I have missed your beautifully brilliant posts. This is a long one and all I can say is that I shook my head yes to just about every paragraph and only had to look up one word, “zeitgeist”; and, I still do not have a clear understanding of it. I tried to raise my boys with a blend of yours and Mrs. Randoms and the mommies ideals. It is not easy, but nothing as important as child rearing is easy, is it. Our problem is that my hubby and I do not subscribe to some of the same things, thus, I am “out-voted”. At 16, my boys appear to be well-balanced, courteous, intelligent, and self-disciplined young men who are very motivated do “succeed” in life. We have many conversations about the true definition of “success”. I do feel comforted knowing that they “get it”, but will probably apply “it” later on after their testosterone levels balance out (girls, cars, winning games, etc.). I would like to apply to your Mad Scientist Parenting group for membership.
    Have a beautiful week, FTL, jen

  2. Average Jane Says:

    I am getting very tired of standing up and applauding again and again.

  3. janie Says:

    I like your grandparenting guidelines very much. I try to follow similar ones myself. Everyone is happier that way, even me! Like you, I have been blessed with thoughtful, reasonable children who are careful, loving, sensible parents. Mommy and Mama are doing a great job.

  4. Cameron Says:

    Good stuff, as usual.

  5. modestypress Says:


    You are a Charter Member. I would happily let you babysit RG any time. As far as being “outvoted,” I’m up against Mrs. R, RD, OP, and RG herself. What chance do I have?


    Take a break. Sit down and applaud. Seriously, I value and appreciate your approbation quite highly.


    Similar to you. The Janes are on a hot roll today.


    Thank you.

  6. Pete Says:

    I’m with Moorgirl on the “zeitgeist” word. Your use of it in a sentence made it easy to guess what it might mean, even though I’m still not entirely sure either.)I am going to have to practice that one and find an opportunity to use it on someone…anyone!

    Since you are clearly outvoted 3-1 (4-1 including RG) I really think you should do the green eggs and ham thing. (I can understand mommies not wanting flash cards) I say cook ’em up green for yourself. This is one of those situations where its easier to ask forgiveness than permission.

  7. modestypress Says:


    I’m in trouble at work. Now you want to get me in trouble at home…

    We’ll see…

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