The Grumpy Gorilla: Ending the Patriarchal Tyranny of ‘Disciplining’ Children

When the researchers who discovered children’s “mental leaps,” which eventually got put into the book, The Wonder Weeks, did so, they found them because they watched as female primates pushed male primates away when their young started to act up. The males were grumpy and irritable around the boisterous young, and the females simply pushed them away. What the researchers discovered is that at predictable age-related times, the young primates went through mental “leaps.” This is a time when a young primate falls apart for some time, but on the other side of this period of disarray, they have an astonishing new skill set. While the young were going through this, the females pushed the males away to allow the young to act out and “misbehave” all they wanted, without interference from the male, who was otherwise irritated by the behavior. The researchers thought that maybe human babies went through these same leaps, and it turns out: they did. Their work documents 10 mental leaps through the first 18 months of life.

I propose all of our parenting is authoritarian and despotic–and society is severely broken–because we don’t understand this. We don’t understand children’s developmental stages, for one. But worse, and perhaps the root of this, is that we decided that when it comes to parenting, “Father knows best.” We decided that instead of letting the female push the male away, which is an enormous act of power, that this Grumpy Gorilla is actually the wise one. And because this Grumpy Gorilla has no biological instinct about how children develop, he decided this “misbehavior” is wrong and thus the goal of parenting is to “discipline” children to be calm and behave.

I can already tell this will raise the ire of people. So I will say, first: I have met some excellent fathers. They are typically “highly sensitive” men, which is proven to correlate to quality parenting. Highly sensitive people make up 20% of the population. It is as described in Dr. Elaine Aron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Person. Sensitivity is marked by processing events deeply. A sensitive parent responds to the cues of a young child, taking the child’s feedback into consideration. This is critical for quality parenting, although opposite of what current thought says is critical for parenting, which insists, indeed, on “discipline.” I have also met men who make pretty good fathers, even though they aren’t sensitive or naturals at it. I find they are ones who are willing to accept input from women on how to parent.

However, in that our society decided that men are better and should be in a position of power, this phenomena more than exists. Feminists have long written about it. We ubiquitously believe that men are wiser and that the natural path is for children to “break free” from otherwise smothering mothers. The issue is not that men are “bad.” I am perfectly willing to work around Grumpy Gorilla–or fully embrace Sensitive Gorilla–it’s that men, on a whole, have been blindly given power. The father runs the house. He commands the woman, who commands the children. This is completely backwards of what it needs to be. The older generation should act as servants to the younger ones, delicately handling them and nurturing them. And the issue isn’t entirely that men were given power. It’s that women were stripped of theirs.

I do age-related child development research. I also document these age-related times that children act up. My work starts at 18 months and currently goes up to 8 years. You can see it at the main page of this website. My work is used by tens of thousands every month, and, if notes to me and books sales are any indicator, this number is growing. I get several notes per week from mothers all over the world (it is, 100% of the time, mothers) who tell me how much it helps them. My book series on it is called, “Misbehavior is Growth.”

My argument is that these age-related stages are an instinctual call to adults. The child becomes outright demanding at these times. I say: go to them. They aren’t “being bad.” Don’t punish them. And don’t “ignore” them either. They need you. We are, after all, mammals. We are meant to be near our parents for some amount of time, in an attached relationship, as we learn necessary skills.

So, this interface is what matters. When children become irritating, it is in a woman’s instinct to go to the child. She sees it as something to console and deal with as she roots around to find out what’s going on. The Grumpy Gorilla, however, by biological instinct, does not see it this way. It just plain irritates him. He sees it as something to squash and repress. And this has been the advice for decades: “ignore” children’s stages. It is done not to bring calm to the situation but specifically so the child “learns.” Men, in general, want to conquer nature. They want to vanquish threats. This has its role in human survival. But not when it comes to child raising. This irritating behavior is something to lean into. Children are not manipulatively seeking “attention.” They are seeking rightful, sorely needed connection. Give it to them.

Molding the Breed

As Grumpy Gorilla is irritated by children, he invents this idea that children need to be “disciplined.” He feels entitled, by birthright, to a calm and pleasant environment. As he is in a fight with human nature, this has to be enacted through punishment. A distant relative in my family lineage, long ago, kept a belt in the front of his house. It was a constant reminder to everyone living there, including his wife. This “belt” is what gives Grumpy Gorilla his reign.

This view ultimately stems from our relationship to emotions. When children act out, they are highly “emotional.” All the emotions: anger, fear, sensitivity, silliness, and indeed cleverness, cheekiness, and joy. But, in the eyes of an authoritarian, these are things to dominate and control. Hence you have the idea, from virtually all patriarchal thinkers, that emotions are to be “programmed.” This stems from the idea that our emotions are willy nilly things not to be trusted. Emotions, to them, at the very least are given second class status. This is why I wrote Towards Liberalism: A Challenge to Objectivist Ethics. Objectivism, a 20th century philosophy started by Ayn Rand, a woman who calls herself a “male chauvinist,” is based on this very idea that our whims are unreliable, that our emotions need to be “programmed” (the idea of tabula rasa, blank slate theory itself), and that we need a civilizing ethics, because, indeed, our emotions might guide us all wrong. I argue emotions are not programmable, and our emotions can guide us well, if we take care of ourselves. Emotions just are. They are prewired. They are in fact feedback; just as children’s highly demanding, highly emotional age-related stages are feedback. The only way to force emotions to do what you want them to is through some kind of abuse to your inner core -or- punishment to yourself or others.

This is why I write so passionately about this topic. I think deep views on emotions and human nature must be challenged in order for us to stop trying to “discipline” children. Children are already designed well. We nurture them and mentor them, but they do not fundamentally need altered into anything different. And it’s the exact view of tabula rasa that leads to this idea of transformation. This is Leonard Peikoff, Rand’s “intellectual heir,” stating exactly what tabula rasa (blank slate theory) does:

“The idea of education is to take a tabula rasa (someone born blank) and transform him, through a systematic process across years, into a being with the skills and aptitudes necessary to fit him for adult life. (2)”

It’s not in cultivating the best within a child that I take issue with: something that requires a lot of education, mentoring, story telling, experiences, challenges, etc. It’s in the altering, the “disciplining,” of a child that I take issue with: making them sit still, “behave,” don’t be so troublesome, “transforming” them into something else. Instead of this transformation, let’s start studying the actual timeline of child development, which my work is about. Let’s start talking more about educating, mentoring, actualizing, connecting, and having fun with children, and less about “boundaries,” “discipline,” “transforming,” and “making sure children hear ‘no.'”

The Effects of Grumpy Gorilla

Modern day Grumpy Gorillas no longer have that “belt.” But they do have many weapons. As Lundy Bancroft, a male abuse counselor, says, abuse is still with us, it’s just not talked about openly anymore in a “nyuk nyuk” way. Modern men still control women through shame. We are judged constantly. We are judged for how we look, act, how many friends we have, etc. We get scowls. We’re not supported in what we do. We’re denied any real community. It’s assumed we will follow the husband’s career and agenda. His forms of fun, such as football or the TV shows he watches, are somehow considered more superior and more “rational.” Husbands stomp off in anger when we just had babies and can’t have sex, moaning “the baby comes before me!” I tell men who do this: go have sex with another woman. Let’s put this in perspective of who’s going through what. Ultimately, sexual access to the female is what Grumpy Gorilla cares about.

The effect of Grumpy Gorilla unfortunately are that men lay down tyranny and punishment, but women have to enact it. Grumpy Gorilla expects the female to keep children in line. Instead of pushing him away temporarily, she is expected to push the children away–somehow–but you can’t, so children are expected to “be seen and not heard.” The woman is judged by how well she can do this. As such, the source of this tyranny is male, but the face is female.

Peikoff again: children should be “seen and not hear.” Why is it mostly men who dominate education?

This quote should terrify a person

As he is in a position of power, it’s difficult if not impossible to confront Grumpy Gorilla. As such, the female takes it out on others, including her children. I would venture to guess that the level to which a mother is irate and angry is the degree to which she is upset with, under supported, and judged by her husband. If there is one positive thing you can do, it is to not take out the politics of this out on children, even if you can’t escape your current Grumpy Gorilla. I know it is maddening. And you really can’t, nor shouldn’t have to, live like this.

When I talk to women about this, they describe how they have learned to be “smart” with their husband. They might have “learned to make him think things are his idea.” We really shouldn’t have to do this. I find it’s like the Leaning Tower of Pisa: it works for a bit. You shouldn’t have to be “smart” with your husband. We shouldn’t have to gently and cleverly handle him. All of that energy is wasted in what could have been doing much more and better for your children. Grumpy Gorilla needs confronted.

Confronting Grumpy Gorilla

So, I am going to be blunt: this is a power change, and power changes don’t go smoothly. In this inherent power structure, women are all but voiceless. To raise your voice, in and of itself, is a violation of the “rules.” Go ahead and confront Grumpy Gorilla in any of his forms, anywhere. Watch how quickly he pulls the “rules” card. You are, as always, in violation.

I’m pretty tired of people explaining “conflict resolution” tools in marriage. If you see any article telling you “5 Tips for Your Marriage,” or whatever (I made that up), you are sure to get every conflict resolution, highly emotionally intelligent tool in the book. Ok. These are all lovely. I’ve used many to my advantage many, many times. But all the Microsoft Excel sheets in the world about how to manage housework don’t matter if Grumpy Gorilla won’t look at them. And nor is he really designed to. Frankly, a 2-parent family is not the norm in human child raising. The norm looks more like a web of women with men coming around occasionally to playfully mentor children. We’re in compete defiance of the natural order of things.

And when Powerful Female Gorilla sees that males are becoming too irritated with children, she doesn’t appeal to their reason. She just pushes them away. No family meetings, no date nights, no counseling. Just sit over here for a while during this developmental stage. This simple act was an act of power and it wasn’t a big deal. But, now, doing any such thing would undoubtedly get you called a b—-.

But I propose this is how we have to be. It is a wordless, uncompromising act of power. During one of the riots during the lockdown/police brutality issues of 2020, a female cop approached a male cop, scolding him for pushing a protester, a black woman, down to her knees via her head. This is the female cop doing this. This is how we have to be. Krystle Smith:

I’m just going to say it: the look of dumb on his face!

Dealing with Shame

This should be a lot easier than it is. It should be just a matter of scolding the male or pushing him away occasionally; something of which I suspect most men would even find funny. As we are under the tyranny of patriarchal ideas, it will require a shift of power, and shifts of power never go well. It will involve offending Grumpy Gorilla and enduring the resulting shame that comes.

Women are held in place by an almost unspeakable veil of shame. It is indeed so unspeakable that it isn’t spoken of. But try to break it in the least. Watch how much shame comes your way. In my healing, from an emotionally abusive childhood, it was very enlightening to me to realize how much shame from my father affected me. You don’t think about it as a grown woman. But I lost most feeling in my belly as a result, and the only way I get feeling in my belly back is if I am in a flight or fight response to a male’s abuse or attempting to shame me. (It’s where I carry all my weight too.) When I was a teenager and this happened, I went to my room, opened the window, and forced myself to be cold, as a sort of punishment. Learning how to effectively endure this shame is something that has to happen to confront Grumpy Gorilla.

Once I noticed the shame I had, I started to deal with it. I now “Sleep off Shame.” Sincerely, this is the defining characteristic of a kind- or mean-spirited culture. When someone does something “bad,” do we punish and scold them, or do we lovingly guide them? Because I’ve certainly made hella many mistakes, and I don’t think I should live in shame over them. I now in fact have an inner well now that can never be shaken this way. This is one of the things I write about in Towards Liberalism. Happiness is not an “achievement,” as Rand writes, and so many believe. Happiness is primal; it’s core to who you are; it’s naturally given. It’s the very thing that gives your resilience when life gets stormy. It reminds you that you are worthy and you are worthy of TLC. This one quote blasts to hell all “achievement’ oriented paradigms, such as Rand’s, that say you don’t deserve love or happiness until you’ve “achieved moral perfection” (Rand’s words).

And TLC, and lots of it, is what you need if you are dealing with shame. That younger self of mine exposed herself to violent elements when in shame. I now do the exact opposite. First, as noted, I take a hard nap. If that doesn’t work, I take a hot bath. I wrap myself in the “womb,” the “mother,” I didn’t have. It helps.

The Talk about Shame

I think one of the most important things you can do if dealing with a Grumpy Gorilla is have a talk about shame itself.

This is a very, very difficult conversation to have. It will probably be several conversations. It means you are going up against a person you love and are possibly dependent on, possibly your own husband, and telling him what he is and is not allowed to bully you around about. It might mean telling him that he is not entitled to you sexually. It might mean telling him that his scowls, swearing, or other does in fact affect you personally and you see it as a personal attack on you. If truly this relationship is worth saving, he will listen and update his behavior. If so, you have a winner who was simply a bit clouded by past toxic influences. If there is no change … well, I have thoughts on that but I don’t know everyone’s situation to give out any advice. This is abuse, and it has all the problems that come with abuse. Victims can’t just magically leave. But one way or another, I think the most important thing to say to Grumpy Gorilla are these exact words:

“I am no longer accepting shame.”

Refusing to accept shame is the kindest thing you can do for yourself and the best thing you can do for your health. It deals directly with the politics of what is going on. When toxic men see they can no longer shame us, judge us, tell us we aren’t pretty, tell us how to manage children, etc., it will have a huge effect on the relationship. If many, many women start doing it, it will change the culture. And it’s the nicest thing you can do for yourself.

I’m sure I could go on, but I feel I should wrap this up. Grumpy Gorilla -> Children don’t need “civilized” -> No longer accept shame. If you know of any woman struggling who might benefit, please send her this. Or maybe if you know men open to hearing this. Please check out my book series, Misbehavior is Growth. More than anything, my work on child development has driven people to tell me how much it helps them stay patient with their children–and sometimes even their husbands, too. And please also check out Towards Liberalism: A Challenge to Objectivist Ethics, a deep philosophical challenge to long standing views on human nature that I sincerely hope will clean up abuse, prompt people towards a caregiving ethics, and put people in touch with their natural strength. See my Facebook page, “The Observant Mom” too.

Amber is a former software test engineer who now stays at home to homeschool her 3 children. She is most known for her child development research on the age-related staged children go through. See her work at www.theobservantmom.com

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