"Because I'm your mother and I say so, that's why."
As an explanation to settle domestic disputes, this has always struck Miss Manners as reasonable. Well, perhaps not always. It takes a certain amount of maturity to realize the value of a certain amount of maturity.
She would hate to think that a lack of this hard-earned quality is why so few mothers now use that triumphant argument on their children. Even if they insist on claiming that they are hardly old enough to possess said quality.
The traditional counterargument to the traditional maternal assertion of divine right was that Mother couldn't make the correct judgment because she was of a different era and out of step with the way things were done in the modern world.
"You better believe it," was her rejoinder.
But there are mothers loose in the world today who would rather be young than right. That this choice is not available to them does not seem to register. So you see why Miss Manners worries.
The argument that now prevails over maternal authority, that the world is ever changing, has always been true. It is also true that the young hear about certain social changes first, sometimes generations before the changes become generally accepted.
This is interesting information, if not wishful thinking, and the parent who listens will be entertained, if not enlightened. Nevertheless, it is raw material in need of being run through the perspective of wisdom and experience. Not all change is for the better, and high selectivity is required about what a sensible person should adopt.
Mothers who believe that they have no special advantage over their minor children in accomplishing this may, unfortunately, be right. Or they may only be unable to come up with the proper facial expression to accompany authority after their Botox injections.
Miss Manners does not truly believe that these are the only reasons that mothers -- and fathers, too, for that matter -- are more apt to discount their own judgment than they used to be. Many are modest about their own discernment, distrustful of anything smacking of authoritarianism, and acting in the belief that they are fostering the development of the child's independence.
Draconian though she admittedly is, Miss Manners does not really believe that parents should refuse to listen to dissent or to yield when they have been convinced. But she is seriously worried about the pride with which many declare themselves "non-judgmental" and the ease with which they accept the idea that their children know what is best for themselves.
Everyone does judge the world, of course, and many parents struggle valiantly to improve it for the benefit of their children. But deploring bad influences -- television, corporate morality, the personal behavior of athletes and politicians and such -- is not enough. It must be accompanied by confidence that one does not have to succumb to such influences. The opinionated parent offers a confident alternative to peer and cultural pressure.
And even if the child disagrees with every fiber of his being and never grows up to change his mind, she has given him something to work with -- or against. Miss Manners has never understood how the non-judgmentalists expect their children to develop judgment without having observed the process.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: How does one politely detach oneself from an acquaintance/friend who tends to whisper uncomfortably critical remarks about others?
GENTLE READER: By responding out loud to the whispered remarks:
"Why no, I don't think she looks terrible; I think she looks wonderful."
"He's not stupid; on the contrary, he's being subtle."
"They seem perfectly happily married to me."
In return for teaching this valuable technique, Miss Manners insists that you avoid identifying the target of the whispers, even by a stray glance. You must even allow your unpleasant acquaintance/friend to retreat by not contradicting any claim that it was not someone present who was under discussion.