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Playing Mother May I in a Dog Eat Dog World

Children Pursuing Happiness

Cartoon by "Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction" from

Cartoon by "Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction" from

Mother May I?

I used to play a game called "Mother, May I" when I was a child, and many of you may have played it too.

First we chose a Mother and made her (or him) stand on the other side of the lawn, or room if we were indoors. Then we would all line up, and would take turns asking permission to move towards the other side of the lawn. The request would provide details on exactly how we were going to move forward. Whoever was playing The Mother would answer us, either giving permission or not, or changing our request into something different. If she told us to do something different, we would have to acknowledge by repeating what she told us as a request. The catch was that we always had to start our request with the phrase "Mother, May I?"

If we forgot, we would lose our turn.

When Mother Changes the Request

Children quickly learn to keep The Mother happy, since she can control your progress in the game. She can control the fairness of the opportunities that the children ask for. If the first child in the game asks to take ten giant steps forward in hopes of being the first to reach The Mother, then The Mother can say "No, you can take one baby-step forward." If the player does not repeat this suggestion with the phrase "Mother, May I", the player goes nowhere at all. The Mother controls the game. But that is OK; the lesson learned from the game is about something much more than just winning. The lesson of the game is educational, children must learn to ask permission and obey the rules. Children must also learn that mother knows best. That is how the game is played.

Changing Mothers

In the game, reaching The Mother is the goal, and if you win, you get to become The Mother. That is the only way to change who is playing The Mother.

The other way to change The Mother is to simply get tired of playing the game for the day. Remember back at the start of this article, where we said "First we choose A Mother" That’s the other way to change The Mother, stop playing for the day, and elect a New Mother when you start up the next day, or next week, or next time you have enough children all together in one place to play the game. After the selection you get to start over with a New Mother, who may have a totally different internalization of the rules she regards as fair as the game is played.

Lessons Learned from "Mother May I"

The game had several objectives that were really good for young children growing up. The first was - ask permission. The second was - do not ask for too much. The third was - if you break the rules, you make no progress. The last was - The Mother controls the game.

Let me state those objectives again in a different and perhaps more mature way.

The first objective taught us to always check to make sure that what we wanted to do was acceptable.

The second and third objectives taught us consequences at two levels. If we sought to do too much, then The Mother might suggest an alternative that was more acceptable. If we went ahead and did what we wanted to without that check for acceptability, then we would lose our turn.

The last objective taught us that by being The Mother we got to make the rules. If we wanted to play the game differently we first had to play the game the way it was long enough and well enough to win.

Mothers Protect Their Own

In a real world, with real mothers, and with real children, the maternal instinct is for The Mother to favor her own children. That is just the way it is. We all play favorites and we favor our own.

The other thing that happens in the real world is that people tend to become cliquish, that is, different groups of folks like to hang out with each other to the exclusion of other folks that the group does not like. Sometimes the separation is based on location, sometimes it is based on hobbies, sometimes it is based on church, sometimes it is based on bigotry, and sometimes it is based on politics. For whatever reason groups of people get comfortable being around each other and are not always initially friendly to newcomers. Sometimes this level of group comfort extends to downright dislike or hatred of those outside the group. This can be labelled the "dog-eat-dog" influence.

Dog Eat Dog

"Dog Eat Dog" by artist etourist on

"Dog Eat Dog" by artist etourist on

Dog-Eat-Dog World

The phrase "It is a dog eat dog world" describes a mentality or an approach to life in which people fight among themselves to try to gain the best advantages for themselves. It come from the "me first" mentality of self-preservation that begins with "I need to take care of myself before I can help you can take care of yourself." It is that base survival instinct, sometimes expressed in animalistic terms "Dog-eat-dog".

As something to think about, consider what would happen if two different groups that do not like each other play "Mother May I", in the same game. The first step is to select a Mother. At this step the larger group will have the majority and will select the Mother from their group.

Next step is to start taking turns trying to advance to the goal. As before, players ask for permission, and as before The Mother either grants the permission or not, or suggests an alternate step. But this time The Mother will take subtle actions to favor those who are part of her group over those who are part of the other group. The game is still played by the rules, but her group has the advantage. (Some of our readers might be reminded of the IRS asking selected folks extra questions.) The Mother might even rephrase the players request in the following way: "If you know what is good for you, you would ask permission before sneezing, but don’t forget to fill out the forms to ask permission to cover your mouth before sneezing, or you will go back two steps. So on this turn, I suggest you ask permission to cover your mouth, and you can ask to sneeze on your next turn." Of course the totally befuddled player might scratch his head and say to himself: "I though I was asking to take a baby step forward". The player is totally forgetting that The Mother still has her view of the rules and fairness, but she does not have to tell you what those rules are. The Mother can also change those rules again before it is your next turn (after you have filled out the forms).

I digress, but you get the idea, the game is not fun anymore, and the values it teaches become totally different from what the game was supposed to teach.

The life lessons learned are different from the lessons intended for the child. Players still check to make sure that what they wanted to do was acceptable. Requests still have consequences. If we ask too much, then The Mother might suggest an alternative. But now The Mother might suggest a disagreeable alternative simply because you are part of the wrong group. If you go ahead and do what you want anyway, you will still lose your turn, or go back to the start. The last objective now teaches that if you want to be The Mother, you have to please The Mother.

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The game becomes even more interesting if it has multiple Mothers who all have the option of asking the player to rephrase his request, and even more interesting when all the Mothers are part of one group, with most of the players in the other group.

Mother Mayhem

"Mother Mayhem" by artist EnfantDeriviere on

"Mother Mayhem" by artist EnfantDeriviere on

Mothers in Government

It is really tempting to conjecture what might happen if someone who plays The Mother grows up and gets elected to Congress and starts making laws for us to abide by. It is also really tempting to conjecture what might happen if someone who plays The Mother grows up and is employed by the Government to help run Health Care. Even worse, what would happen to us if someone who plays The Mother becomes President. But, I will look forward to that discussion in the comments.

In the meantime please consider the following hypothesis: Our United States Government has become a collection of misguided Dog-Eat-Dog Mothers who are still playing Mother May I.

Your taxes pay for this.


FitnezzJim (author) from Fredericksburg, Virginia on April 20, 2015:

Interesting. What are the rules for that game? What lessons does it teach?

peachy from Home Sweet Home on April 20, 2015:

interesting game. Here we never had play Mother May I but lots of kids play Eagle and the chicks. Mother hen has to protect the chicks. Now that is difficult if you have more than 4 players!

FitnezzJim (author) from Fredericksburg, Virginia on August 28, 2014:

Hey Angela, I am way late, but thank you.

And Thank you Frank.

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on August 27, 2014:

a clever way hub my friend very clever

Angela Blair from Central Texas on June 17, 2013:

Excellent example/analogy -- and that's exactly where this country is right now. Seems to this old lady it's time for a new mutha -- er, excuse me -- Mother! Best/Sis

FitnezzJim (author) from Fredericksburg, Virginia on June 17, 2013:

Thank you Old Poolman, and thank you BreakfastPop. Can anybody say 'King of the Hill'?

breakfastpop on June 17, 2013:

I agree. I also think they are playing hide n Seek when it comes to leadership. Oh, then there is Blind Man's Bluff which is how they enact legislation! Up, interesting and awesome!

Old Poolman on June 16, 2013:

Jim, A very interesting way of making your point, and you are so very correct. I had never thought about it exactly like this, but you nailed it with this on.

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