’12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos’ Jordan B Peterson – 5

Rule 5: Do not Let Your Children Do Anything That Makes You Dislike Them.

Chapter 5 is the one that Peterson thought he would get into the most trouble for writing. people say they never dislike their children, but as a clinical psychologist he has seen the full Freudian nightmare. ‘It is as if the family members are standing in a circle and each of them has their hands around each others neck, and they are all squeezing hard enough to strangle the other person in 20 years’. The idea that parents can’t dislike their children is naive. Jung’s idea of the shadow, the dark side of each individual and of humanity, is that its roots reach all the way to hell. He meant hell literally and metaphysically. If you were able to understand your dark side you would see in yourself a reflection of the behaviour that was present at Auschwitz for example. The reason that people don’t take the dark side of themselves seriously or even confront the fact that it exists is because no one wants to see that reflected within them. Jung also believed that the confrontation with the shadow was an inevitable barrier to enlightenment.


‘Pursue what’s meaningful and you will encounter that which you least want to encounter.’ said Jung. That’s the dragon that hoards gold, for example. The dragon is also something that lives inside you, and it’s not something that you take the encounter with lightly. There are very old stories about this. The god Horus for example, like an Egyptian saviour, when he encountered evil, even though he was a god, he lost an eye in the battle, torn out by Set, the precursor to Satan. So we all have this monster in us, and it manifests itself in families all the time. The terrible pathological familial drama can be dismal, brutal and awful. Freud brought our attention to it in great detail.

Peterson says ‘I already knew that I was a monster by the time I had kids and I thought I’d better not let that child do something that makes me angry. There was a woman who plunged her two year old daughter’s arms into boiling water. You think how in the world can that happen? Well, she’s probably hung over, she probably just lost her job, she’s probably desperate in six different ways, she probably didn’t have any decent disciplinary strategies for children, she probably didn’t have anyone helping her, she was bitter and resentful and angry, and the child misbehaved at exactly the wrong moment’. You’re going to be around your children a lot, so you might want to have it so that they don’t misbehave at exactly the wrong moment. It is easy for people to hate their children, and you don’t want to allow them to engage in the sort of hierarchical challenge that makes you irritable and resentful. And if the things they do make you dislike them, then the probability that the things they do will make other people dislike them is extraordinarily high.

You need to know what sort of monster you are if you are going to be a good parent. Your fundamental job as a parent is to make that child eminently desirable socially. Especially by the age of four. If they know how to play, everywhere they go other children like them and include them in their play, and so they develop. The literature is clear that if your child is an outcast by the age of four, the probability that you can do anything about that is almost zero. If you don’t allow your children to engage in dislikable behaviour then adults will like them. If they know to greet adults properly, like a puppy who wags his tail when they meet you, and not growl or go for your ankle, it will help them maintain the attractiveness they have as children.  Adults will then have genuine good will towards them, teach them things, and they can bring out the best in each other.

Although it is the case that most people who abuse their children were abused themselves by their parents, it is not true that most abused children go on to abuse their own children. Peterson tells a few stories of neglected children and shows that it is possible to break the cycle. Bad parenting also includes those who misguidedly believe children to be innocent in a Rousseau sense. ‘Even dogs must be socialised if they are to become acceptable members of the pack – and children are much more complex than dogs. This means that they are much more likely to go completely astray if they are not trained, disciplined, and properly encouraged. This means that it is not just wrong to attribute all violent tendencies of human beings to the pathologies of social structure. It’s wrong enough to be virtually backward.’

I like this chapter. Peterson advises: Limit the rules. Use the least force necessary to enforce those rules. Parents have a duty to act as proxies for the real world. ‘Clear rules and proper discipline help the child, and the family, and society, establish, maintain and expand the order that is all that protects us from chaos and the terrors of the underworld, where everything is uncertain, anxiety-provoking, hopeless and depressing.. There are no greater gifts that a committed and courageous parent can bestow.’

Yes please.

Chapter 6 tomorrow.