6 Ways Parenting Is Really Lawyering

by Brooke Kravitz
Originally Published: 
1. The Voir Dire Process

Have you ever interviewed potential babysitters? Asked them about their background? Whether they have any biases against kids who insist on only eating yellow foods and acting out Frozen during every waking moment? That’s essentially the voir dire process used to select jurors. Unfortunately, like jury selection, it really just comes down to weeding out potential nightmares rather than selecting the best candidate. Which is why I’m grateful for websites where potential sitters can upload profile pictures—it would be so much easier if I could strike jurors that take selfies while operating a car, or think it’s appropriate to apply for a childcare position when their profile picture shows them holding a beer and grinning like an underage spring breaker.

2. Cross Examination

The hallmark of any good parent is their ability to extract information from uncooperative children, like when you ask your child what they did at school that day, and they say, “Nothing.” Or when you ask your children what happened to the broken vase, and they respond, “I dunno.”

The key to a good cross-examination is to ask leading questions that must be answered with a “yes” or “no.” “You had math today, right? Did you get your test back today?” This is essential when trying to obtain a confession. “The ink on the wall is purple, correct? And you have a purple marker in your hand, correct? At the very least, ask a leading question that will narrow the possible answer: “Is the person who broke the vase inside this room or outside the room?”

I can’t promise the child will crack and yell, “You can’t handle the truth!” because kids are really good at evading questions. I’ve spent hundreds of hours cross-examining witnesses. Witnesses have cried and lost their cool. But not one has come close to being as frustrating as one of my children under questioning. Probably because judges don’t let witnesses counter my questions with “why,” “huh” and “nuh-uh.”

Impeachment is another essential cross-examination tool for parents. One of the easiest ways of invalidating a child’s argument is to impeach them with a Prior Inconsistent Statement (which basically means you’re confronting them with their lie). It goes something like this:

“You hate tomato soup? Do you remember being at Trader Joe’s last week? You tasted the tomato soup and loved it, remember that? You begged me to buy it, correct? So you do not hate tomato soup!”

3. Objections

If you’ve ever engaged in a heated debate with a 3-year-old over why she cannot have pink hair, I bet you have felt the overwhelming urge to cut the argument short by yelling “Objection!” The bulk of arguments with children consists of more objections than you’ll see on a bar exam. Though I bite my tongue to not lodge all of my objections, the ones I use most frequently are:

Hearsay: I invoke this when one of my kids tells me something that someone else (likely another child) told them: “No, really, Matt said his parents will be home.” If your kid tells you what some kid heard from a third kid (basically once-removed bullshit): “Jason’s cousin Eric said that Ted is a totally appropriate movie for me to see …”), it’s double hearsay.

Relevance: If your child tries to argue that they should be allowed to do something because everyone else is doing it, your retort that their argument is irrelevant, and must be disregarded, is totally legit.

Non-Responsive: This comes in handy when you ask your son if he made his bed, and he replies, “I’m about to break my high score in Madden.

Badgering: Let me give you two hints: “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” and “Can I? Can I? Can I? Can I?”

You get the idea.

4. Negotiations

I know, a perfect parent doesn’t negotiate with their child. Eff that. As a not-so-perfect-parent, I do this. And you do it any time you strike a deal with your child, like letting them watch cartoons so that you can get another hour’s sleep. You promised them an iPhone if they brought home a report card with all As? Well done. Now hop off the judgment train.

5. Sentencing

When sentencing (aka punishing) children, consideration is often given to mitigating circumstances (the kid they pushed at the playground really was being an asshole) and aggravating factors (they bullied another child). Experienced parents aren’t swayed by a child who tries to work an insanity plea. This generally occurs post-meltdown, when the now-calm child realizes their favorite doll will be taken for a week.

6. The Appellate Process

Finally, parents are constantly battling the threat of an appeal—when your child decides to take a decision they disagree with to a “higher” authority. One parent tells a child no more cookies before dinner, so the child moves on to the other parent with the same request, often failing to disclose the previous decision. The slickest kids proceed directly to the highest court: When you’ve said no to the Bratz doll, the child asks their grandmother for one for their birthday. Stand firm on your ground—let them know there is no right to an appeal of a parental decision.

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