Parents Take a Page From Barack Obama's Story to Teach Kids

Tammy Hagin, with husband Thomas, says "the reality of Obama" encourages their eighth-grade daughter, Amber.
Tammy Hagin, with husband Thomas, says "the reality of Obama" encourages their eighth-grade daughter, Amber. (By Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)
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By DeNeen L. Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sherry Jones was driving her 13-year-old son, Malcolm, to school the other morning when he mentioned something about some kid he didn't like.

Something about the kid being a jerk.

Jones told him that wasn't kind. When you speak of people, she said, always speak good of them.

"Look at Barack! . . . During the campaign, no matter what, Obama always took the high road," she told him. "During the debates when John McCain would say a dig, Barack would never react. . . . He was always positive."

Malcolm, who likes a good debate, was, for that moment, quiet.

In that silence, Jones realized that something about her spontaneous, trapped-in-the-car lecture was working. "If my son didn't agree, he would let me know," says Jones, an accountant who lives in Silver Spring. "He always has something else to say. . . . Usually, he will say, 'Yeah, but . . . ' When I use Barack Obama as an example, I can see him. He's quiet. He may sit up a little straighter.

"He hasn't gotten to the point where he says, 'You are right.' " But there is something to be said for him saying nothing.

Parenting can be like that. You take what you can get. Any acknowledgment of the parental lecture. Not getting the "yeah, but" can be the change a mother waits for, a silent proof that her nagging isn't going in one ear and out the other. Proof that some of the blah, blah, blah is sticking. So some parents have leaped from reviewing Obama's Cabinet choices to summoning him up at the breakfast table, invoking his name, words and accomplishments to motivate a dawdling, recalcitrant child.

You could call it Obama discipline or Obama etiquette, and it goes something like this:

Get up! Do you think Obama would have slept late and not made it to school on time?

Why don't you guys share? Don't you think Obama would want you to share?

How much did you read? Obama would have finished the book by now.

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