dominator lite – it’s TEH LOGIKAL

Today I get this automated newsletter in my inbox:

Dear Kelly,

I can still remember how I felt as a child upon seeing the very first “back-to-school” advertisement on TV. While a bit sad over the fact that summer vacation was almost over, I always felt a strange sort of relief knowing that before long I’d be doing something more exciting.

Summer was fun at first, then it got really boring. Only as an adult have I learned that my parents actually planned it that way. Their idea was to create a two-part summer: Part one was filled with fun: fun that helped us recharge our batteries after a long, hard school year. Part two was filled with a good amount of boredom and plenty of chores: dull duties that helped us really look forward to being able to escape to school in the fall.

On the first day of school will your kids go into shock when they are expected to sit at their desks, listen to their teachers, and complete assignments? Or, will they experience a sense of relief, thinking, “Wow! This sure is easier and more fun than being at home!”

As the school year looms large, might it be wise to begin making your home more boring and more chore-laden? Wise teachers know that kids who are used to doing plenty of chores at home are far more likely to excel at doing plenty of work at school.

In his CD, Didn’t I Tell You To Take Out the Trash?!, my father, Jim Fay, teaches simple techniques for getting kids to do their chores without reminders and without pay. If you want a happier home, and happier, more responsible kids, this CD is a must.

Thanks for reading! Our goal is to help as many families as possible. If this is a benefit, forward it to a friend or visit to sign up.

Dr. Charles Fay

If you’ve read here long enough you might be able to predict a bit about how our autodidactic principles inform my response to such an email. My first thought was Wow, that’s a lot of work. “Let” your kids have a bunch of fun at the beginning of summer, but make sure toward the end to set the thumbscrews with “boredom” and “plenty of work” as to make enforced schooling look better. This is all so the kid will go to school with a willing heart and mind, not because they wholly look forward to school and want it with every fiber of their integrity, body and soul, but because you’ve made the environment in their own home an unappealing one. Bonus, you got them to do a bunch of the dreaded WORK around the house while you did it! Yessiree, it’s a lot to be the Grand Poobah Manipulator but as you can see, it pays off, especially how it can create a teetering facade of having “good” kids who are Hard Workers, a family that’s “in it together”, etc. etc.

My second series of thoughts and feelings involved my gratitude for the life my family leads; my kids get to daily “recharge their batteries” in the methods they chose which they themselves are most primed to intuit as necessary. Their education is self-obtained with my assistance and loving help (when it is needed). Summer is just as much fun as fall and learning happens willingly and all the time. These days work (not “chores”) are done with a deep sense of personal commitment and gladness and no small amount of humor at the everlasting natures of our Work*.

I’m glad I still get these email updates. The institution that sends them out and writes the books and sells the CDs and gives the talks and events and all that is very popular in my peer group. Not that long ago my husband and I sat in a class facilitated by this Parenting Expert school of thought and a lot of it made sense to us. There seemed so much right with what we were hearing at the time: kids shouldn’t be coddled; there are too many kids who don’t “grow up right” because their parents “do too much for them”. Children shouldn’t be allowed to be sneaky or rude or shirk on chores without consequence. You should be the boss (a loving boss, but still the boss), and maybe most selling to my vulnerable heart, making your kids do work in the home is the only way to prepare them for the Real World.

I am hardly the first person to expose in any way some of the underpinnings of yet another school of parenting strategies to provide simple, clear techniques for getting compliance from our children – while relying on dominating techniques to do so. Many leaders, child workers, psychologists, and qualified smarter-than-I individuals far more experienced than I have weighed in on the phenomenon. Writer Alfie Kohn calls such schools of thought with regards to education “Assertive Discipline, […] essentially a collection of bribes and threats whose purpose is to enforce rules that the teacher alone devises and imposes.”

When it comes to similar parenting techniques, here’s what Kohn has to say in Chapter Four of his book Unconditional Parenting:

A number of consultants, meanwhile, have responded to the understandable reluctance of many parents to use punitive tactics by repackaging them as “consequences.” In some cases, the change is purely semantic, the implication being that a friendlier name will make the same practices less offensive. But sometimes we’re told that if the punishments are less severe, or “logically” related to the misbehavior, or clearly spelled out in advance, then they’re okay to use-and, indeed, shouldn’t be considered punishments at all.

Kohn talks further about such techniques – which can have slippery names and terminology – and their listed principles and consequences in Chapter 4 of his book Beyond Discipline, a chapter called “Punishment Lite: ‘Consequences’ and Pseudochoice.”

Most parents I personally know employ various forms of Assertive Discipline.

I wish I could render artfully, dear reader, how carefully almost everyone I’ve talked to dances around the subjects of the domination and subjugation of children. It’s something I’ve only recently begun to notice. Since many American adults in my peer groups are squeamish about hitting children they have a separate category called “spanking”; it is elementally different, see, and apparently the ONLY way to make sure a toddler won’t run in front of an oncoming truck (much like the “ZOMG noisy children in restaurantz!!11!” example, this is often trotted out with no imagination or variance and often entirely hypothetical – very Weak Sauce, people). Parents who don’t spank and literally never hit or grab or forcibly pick up their children with semi- and unapologetic regularity employ more fascinating methods of manipulation and coercion. Immediately recognizable versions are “time outs” and “natural consequences” and stickers and rewards and charts* and “I’d love to help you but, sad, bummer – I can’t because blah-blah-blah” (my husband and I still employ this bit of douchery now and then – it’s hard to shake).

In writing here I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad for how shitty they’re parenting.*** I am so NOT wanting to do that I’m going to leave these two sentences all by themselves.

I write because I’m sorting through this stuff – me. It’s my journey. I am not putting down parents. I am a parent! I am doing this work! I am failing, daily, in eschewing limited and harmful practices! I have at times resorted to every type of strategy I just wrote about – and a garden variety of other shittery I often detail here in this journal!

But I am in the position to improve and to do better; to resist the passed-down traditional tropes most people I know adhere to. I know some parents who are part-dead inside; that is, parenting is for them exhausting and kind of humorless and at times scary and “thankless”. But all parents I know, as far as I can tell, love their children deeply.  They are doing the best they know how, and they make mistakes, then they get back on the horse. Mistakes don’t concern me; we all make them. It’s the traditional parenting schemas that I question and anaylze – the secondary reason I write is to provide exposure to better ideas than the ones I (we) had the day before (the primary reason I write is to keep a personal journal).

And these traditional parenting/teaching strategies, most parents and carers literally think there is no better way, that any other approach is Impossible or Impractical or will result in the Village of the Damned Children. Sure, maybe some of the manipulations and hand-holding and Requisite Omnipresence and punitive measures don’t sit right or don’t feel quite right, and certainly with some parent-child combos the problems get worse and the punishments (whatever you choose to call them) become increasingly convoluted or tricky to employ or downright scarily-received, and sure your “well-behaved” child exhibits deep rages or sorrows and you wonder Where did this come from? But… these other ways this Kelly Hogaboom or whomever talks about, these are Silly or Hippie or Trashy or Elitist or Too Complex or Too Simplified or Too Lazy or Too Work-Intensive.

But: really? These ideas I’ve been studying and employing? They really have made things better in our family – in so many ways. And I write because I know I help make other people’s lives better.

And by the way? I always have to epilogue this: my kids are great. Not stellar human beings that make people fall to their knees weeping: just garden-variety Great Kids. They are not lazy. They are full of life, not cynicism and subtle cruelties. They so rarely say they are bored (I don’t know if Nels has ever said it). They are not unprepared. They handle the Real World better than many (adults and children) I meet. They are not more rude or Lord of the Flies or more “disrespectful” or “selfish” than other kids (in fact I frequently get compliments on their behavior).

Finally: get this. The book I cited, Beyond Discipline, was written in 1996. Six years before I squatted out my first child. And Kohn is talking to teachers – you know, people who have to round up a classroom full of all sorts of kids from all sorts of backgrounds, professionals who have many obstacles stacked against them to do their job (I think the teaching environment is harder than ever). Kohn is tackling ALL that, tackled it years ago – and here I am struggling with my little family, just getting up on the learning curve.

I feel humbled. And assy. Here I am just getting started on doing things a better way. For my own two kids.

What am I doing typing away here? Time to head to the library.

H/T to Scott Noelle for his phrase, “Dominator Lite”.

* I am still struggling with the nature of “chores” and will soon write about it.

** Note: having stickers in your home does not make you a jerk.

*** Hello! Yesterday I leaned down and whispered very mean words to my son – well I said I was very angry and he was being totally rude – at which point he curled up inside himself and stifled tears and started “behaving” better, and I immediately felt bad, but fortunately we both knew this, and he put his arms up and I held him and I said I’m sorry. I let myself and my kids down often, and I always apologize and, sadly, that’s my “good enough” some days, so don’t be coming to me claiming I think I’m some Awesome parent who’s “evolved” past whatever). Parents already feel shitty enough and beleaguered enough and I’m not setting myself up as Best Mom Ever, and never have.

28 thoughts on “dominator lite – it’s TEH LOGIKAL

  1. I agree. To me, the exciting points about this approach isn’t reaction to the ‘traditional tropes’ we got handed to subjugate kids, though. The exciting points are how much genuine joy I feel in family life these days.

    I used to get a stomach clench when we’d – yes, want to go to a restaurant. Now that’s replaced (mostly) with genuine joy at being around my kids, eating, sharing, talking. I see a person in development, glorious development, instead of thinking everything they do is a reflection on myself. There’s a lot of freedom there, open space I can fill with love and happiness.

    So, thank you for bringing new perspectives into my life with the kiddos. It’s a breath of fresh air.

  2. “I know some parents who are part-dead inside; that is, parenting is for them exhausting and kind of humorless and at times scary and “thankless”. – I see these parents so often that it scares me. They have that thousand yard stare.

    “…I said I was very angry and he was being totally rude…” – Interesting. I use the same approach but usually add, ‘I don’t play with rude kids, so you may want to go find something else to do.’ It always seems mean at the time, but I figure the alternative is me holding it in until I lose it and then go off on her. I think mildly mean is better than psycho dad any day of the week. Show me an always polite and happy parent and I’ll show you a medicine cabinet full of pills.

    It IS always nice to hear parents that we look up to fail once in a while. It reminds us that parenting is a struggle for everyone. Why is it that we compare ourselves (and our children) to each other so often? It’s like the worst habit ever and I can’t seem to shake it.

  3. …and that letter is crazy. It makes me sad that I would have considered his advice 5 years ago.

  4. @Kidsync

    “I think mildly mean is better than psycho dad any day of the week. Show me an always polite and happy parent and I’ll show you a medicine cabinet full of pills.”

    First of all, total agreement on that first sentence. Secondly, LULZ on that second one!

    You know, on retrospect, I don’t think the words I said were all that mean. My vitriolic anger was the problem. I was really pissed when I said it. My kids can tell when I’m really angry, poisonously-so, and when I’m Mama-who’s-annoyed. I’m OK with being the latter. I’m OK with even getting really angry now and then. I’m not OK with how often I’ve scared them in my tenure of parenthood. Just because I don’t look like a Monster to your average viewer doesn’t mean I am not occasionally monstrous.

    Thanks for helping me clarify. I truly do not want to sound like I think any particular WORDS said mean something about a parents’ character. There’s more to it than that.

  5. I appreciate this whole post, and seriously, that email you got made me cringe. I was ready to fire off about five blog posts of my own in response, but I think you’ve covered it. Whew!

    I appreciate, also, your clarification in the comments that sometimes what you say isn’t the point; it’s how monstrous you are. I had an incident the other day that still makes me ashamed of myself. There was a supermarket meltdown, and I won’t even try to figure out who or what was at fault there, if there is a scapegoat in all of it. The result was a kiddo screaming at the top of his lungs, me rushing through the shopping with gritted teeth, refusing to make eye contact with the other shoppers, and then we had a car ride home wherein my child screeched at me to listen to him and I just as obstinately refused to answer (because I’m soooo mature sometimes).

    Ok, that part’s bad enough, but when we got home, he asked where his ballet shoes were. We had bought new ballet shoes that day in anticipation of starting dance classes, and he was so proud and happy with them that he’d carried them into the store. I said, quite factually and so meanly, “You left them in the cart.” Because it was true. He had, and I had had to remember them there and pick them up and put them in the car to take home, all of which I had done. But I wanted him to feel bad, and the result was all my monster self could have hoped: Instant, sorrowful wailing. Because, clearly, I was saying that to imply his shoes were lost forever because he was bad. I had to rush to make it up to him and produce the shoes (no, no, don’t worry, they’re here), but wow — what a jerk I was. I can’t see his adorable little black slippers now without feeling a twinge of guilt.

    Sorry to use you as therapy. Apparently I had to get that off my chest.

    I just think you’ve really hit the nail on the head when you say you write (as one of the reasons) to resist the traditional schemas and suggest new ones. That’s what I try to do, in myself, each day, and my writing is an offshoot of that. I fail (boy howdy, do I fail), but the putting forward of better ideas — within my own family, within myself, and then out to others — seems like good work. And as you say, I like the results so far. I like who my child is; I like who I am (and who I’m becoming). One reason I so enjoy reading your posts is because of the way you challenge the accepted ways of looking at children and parenting. Changing how we parent ideally starts with changing how we think about parenting and about children and about what is necessary and right. Or at least, so it seems to me as I try to navigate it all.

  6. Just sneaking in to do another random comment post! Firstly, I was the child who wanted to go back to school. Not because I was at all bored or forced into some twisted mind fuck by my parents (creepy btw, also I hope for the writers sake that was all in his mind because more than likely they (his parents) had better things to do than devise a plan using their whole summer to trick their kids into going to school.) I simply, liked the change in atmosphere. Though I had the pleasure of having every house on the block with children my age. A very, come and go through houses. Escape into the “woods” or spend 8 hours at the bay trying to swim in poo water or catch fish or sunbath in the nude. But then, new teachers, new atmosphere, swim lessons, projects, roundball, sports and sleep overs. Change is good. And reguardless of the season, there was always work to do at home.

    Now I don’t remember anyone refering to them as “chores”. It was just the, “this is our house and its up to us to take care of it.” If I used a dish, why wouldn’t I wash that dish? I made it dirty. I wore my clothes and they needed to be washed, so I washed them. By the way, from the time I was 5. Not given allowance for doing them or yelled at for not doing them. It was the same response that my parents would give each other. “Please rinse the dish. You forgot to clean the lint trap” ect. I guess because we knew it was up to us we didn’t feel too pressured. As we got older our parents worked more and more and soon Joel and I took care of the house, he cooked, I cleaned. No one asked, it was just a job that needed doing so we stepped up. I am so glad we didnt go through all that “training” Like we were animals. Only in our teens was there any change. We were hormonal and busy and were quick to want to skip out on duties to go necking out at the bay. Which usually resulting in my dad saying,” I know you were hoping to get fresh later, but that does not mean there is not still things to do around the house. ” Classy move, right.

    I offer little opinion not having children, but usually what I do have is a gift to still express what I responded to as a child, the recipient of parenting. Which is this: The more you let your children do for themselves the better. Trial and error are the best teachers. When they look to you for guidance, ask them what they think might work before spewing out advice, 90% of the time, they got it, they just need to know you have got their tiny backs. Do no try to dominate playtime, there is no proper way to play. Support and actually listening to your children is what they need from you. They know when you are being respectful or being dismissive. They are human. And usually more receptive to non-verbal signals than adults. All in all, people really do, I think, just try to do the best they can. Everyone can look back, or take a step back and say, I could have handled that better.” Um, it happens. I think we just need more support and trust in parents. There is so much parent hating out there. “Terrible mother, Deadbeat dad.” Sorry, its a tough gig. Give them the benefit of the doubt. I am sure you wanted it when for whatever reason your son broke a pickle bottle on the store and it sent him into an emotional meltdown. (Btw Kelly, exact thing happened to me in Hoquiam when I was Nels’s age. I begged the sore attendant to let me clean the mess myself) Support more, speculate less.

    Also I recently took a mini poll at my work about noisy kids I thought you may find interesting: Most ladies who were not mothers admitted it gave them anxiety, because they thought something may be wrong, and wanted to help. Non-parent males thought it was annoying but feel it’s not their place to say or do anything about it, mostly because they will look like an ass. Mothers working there are totally cool with the noise, some actually say it makes them miss having babies, or their babies at home. Men with children admit they cannot help ogling at the babies, and started going off about theirs. This came as a shock to me. Andy, actually cheers some fussy tots on as a way to let parents know, “Hey we have all been there, Enjoy it while it lasts.” About 3 people were the Take care of that thing mindset. Oddly enough, all ladies.

  7. @Lauren
    Thank you for your comment. I’m glad my writing is appreciated and helpful. Sometimes I get that whole, “you are too radical” bit or “you risk offending people”. Which is so frustrating when I’m like so many other parents, really. I’m exposing myself to knew ideas and wading through them; they’re grist for my mill and I write about them freely. If I didn’t do this regularly I wouldn’t be as good a parent as I am; I wouldn’t provide a body of work for others to consider new (to them) thoughts.

    I have been mean to my children in the ways you describe including not “rescuing” them or helping them from something it is totally my job to help them from if I have my wits about me (like helping a small child remember to bring home their shoes, which by the way the authors of my posted email would likely advise against because if you let them lose the shoes that means they will remember them next time). It’s just an example of a small “cruelty” no one would call an abuse but you and I know exactly how mean-spirited (and also human, and understandable, and Not The End of the World) we are in those interactions. Moments like this may look like small potatoes to others, but I’m guessing you’d join me in the assessment these moments define for us who we are in the face of certain adversities. If we aren’t honest with ourselves and to our supporters in exactly how these moments look we’ll never do better next time. So: thanks for sharing.

    I’m tired of parenting culture separating parents into the Horribles or the Smugly-Doing-It-All-Right. I know I’m a parenting mentor to many and if they are looking for Perfection they need to find a new blog. I will probably never let go of my fear/insecurity that there really ARE those “perfect” parents (mothers) out there and that I’ll never measure up to those people. I am not a Bad Person, just ill-equipped and working my hardest to get up on that learning curve.

    Also re: shopping trips. I’ve often thought if people-at-large looked more lovingly on children – because Hello, it is normal for a small child to have a meltdown – it would be easier to handle those situations without having to avoid eye contact at least. Heck, they might even try HELPING once in while by wheeling the cart or smiling at the mama or asking mama if they can offer the child a sweet or something. Anyway: I feel for you. I’ve been there. & I’m here for “therapy” (altho’ I’m not exactly qualified!) if you need it. 🙂

  8. @Jasmine
    Thanks for weighing in! ZOMG, “Support more, speculate less.” should be on a goddamned bumper sticker! It doesn’t just apply to parenting either. Well-said.

    Your informal poll gives me hope for the human race. My thoughts on noisy-restaurant-kids is largely internet-informed. I need to remember the anonymous nature of internetting can breed some diarrhetical hate. Thanks for doing some footwork re: Actual Living People You Know.

    Your words on chores/housework express how much better it is to have children doing things of their own volition than forcing them or coercing them.

    Oh and I always looked forward to school every fall and I can tell you it wasn’t because my parents built an elaborate circus of assery at home. In fact I can’t remember a year I didn’t feel SUPER-EXCITED about school.

    (I should ask Nels if he remembers breaking that pickle jar…)

  9. Many times I’ve noticed that if I look at a mom with crying/screaming kids she will grab them up or shush them or yell at them in response to my attention. I honestly don’t care one way or the other if a kid is noisy (unless I am at a movie, but I go completely crazy at every noise at a movie theater and if I ever mention that I want to go to one, someone should hit me). I just looked because when you hear someone scream or cry, it is an instinct to look! Then I feel really guilty because the mom got upset and the kid(s) got more upset because now the mom is more flustered. I don’t want to try and ignore it, because that is almost impossible. I don’t want to say anything, because it isn’t my business and it really isn’t in my nature to approach a stranger.

  10. It’s a hard thing to do the right thing, or even begin to know what that is in the every-little-second soup of parenting. I appreciate your words on this topic. I don’t want to manipulate, punish, force my child to do what I want every little second, yet the pressure (internal and external) and lack of thought and lack of ideas on what to do often lead to me being shitty to my kid.
    Especially when I am not at my best (tired, or in traffic or whatever my excuse is). I do apologize, and it doesn’t feel like enough.
    We have had this issue with Bootsy’s preschool – a new teacher, a girl teasing Boots and the teacher tells them to deal with it themselves, and he comes home feeling shitty and then starts to tease me. And it makes me angry, and I overreact. I have talked to the teacher more than once, talked to boots about being teased as well as teasing, but when he starts teasing me I whip out the angry-insane-mom thing, letting him down. Not to mention that if he acted like that to the girl at school he’d not likely be allowed to go there anymore. Nice.
    I forget to take the time to not react and think and such too much of the time, and it’s easy to parrot parenting advice, what friends say to their kids, etc. I wish I could slow down in those moments and not act shitty. I wish I could feel the time I have instead of jumping on my kid when I think his behavior isn’t “appropriate” for a certain place or time, so I could NOT act crappy and let him down over and over.
    No, I don’t mean I am all that terrible, just imperfect and confused at times, like everyone else.
    I don’t know. I am glad that you write what you do, it’s always a good reminder that I am not as alone as I feel sometimes in the parenting world. Most of my local peers seem to be fine with the normal kind of nicey-domination stuff, and invested in traditional schooling- I don’t think they’re bad/wrong etc, just that I don’t have anyone to talk to about this stuff on any kind of a regular basis, and reminders help a lot.

  11. @Amore
    I’ve had so many people look at my loud baby or toddler and then look at me and smile with their mouth and/or eyes and it really does change the moment entirely and yes, I am far less likely to respond in a reptilian fashion (shushing, grabbing, etc) and far more likely to respond in an intelligent, calm, and centered way. I think what you’re seeing there is just how much pressure moms (dads too but especially moms) are under with that whole “loud/disruptive” kid thing; many moms are gunshy. You might say you don’t care one way or another but lots of people sure do.

    As far as what you can/should do different, I know you are not likely to smile or say something and I understand you wouldn’t be comfortable with that. You can try to stretch yourself and do so (I have said something many times and seen the tension broken like glass), or send out a positive loving energy (no seriously), but also you can tell yourself you didn’t create this whole mess (because you didn’t). Just having an awareness of how tense lots of mothers with small children feel (and many have felt since the moment their children were born!) is far better than not knowing or not caring – a category I would put Jasmine’s above-reported “non-parent male” response in.

  12. @shelley

    “I do apologize, and it doesn’t feel like enough.”
    I relate to this. People tell me apologizing is good (and many people grew up without sincere apologies from parents/carers), and that at least kids know their parents are human. Yeah, fine. Still, repeating the same bad behaviors over and over really gets to me.

    “Most of my local peers seem to be fine with the normal kind of nicey-domination stuff, and invested in traditional schooling- I don’t think they’re bad/wrong etc, just that I don’t have anyone to talk to about this stuff on any kind of a regular basis, and reminders help a lot.”
    I relate to this also. I often feel kind of alone on some of my parenting stuff (although most of my peers are similar to us; lots of similar values and we all love our kids and love to share time together). Stil, for me, change comes with Good Ideas, lots of rumination, having the ovaries to put those ideas in place and see what happens. It’s hard to find mentors with better Ideas. Most of my mentors are online but I do know a person or two IRL and they are a huge help.

  13. this touches on something else for me — my personal experience of having grown up in an authoritarian household (and manipulation is just another and douchier form of domination) is that I have had to work HARD to learn to look within/to myself for feedback, instruction, instinct, etc rather than constantly needing instruction/approval/feedback from others/society.

    When there is yelling/hitting going on (no, I do not advocate this behavior, just hear this out for the sake of the argument, and also understand that I am speaking from my own experience), the kid knows that what is happening is not right (yes, i do realize — boy do I realize — how hard this can mess with a kid’s head as well). With the manipulation…the kid just gets *mindfucked*. And grows up to practice that sort of mindfuckery on everyone else (partners and future kids, employees, etc).

    Another thing: how insulting is this to the kid? Essentially, we are saying, when we practice this behavior, that we don’t think they are intellectually capable of sorting out the fact that they have been manipulated (although as a kid I remember having the experience of knowing that adults’ words and actions somehow didn’t match and being very upset by that, but not having the words or the authority — see above — to identify the behavior… there was just the icky feeling). I just don’t get how this sort of philosophy engenders any sort of trust or strength of relationship between the parent/caregiver and the child.

    Thanks for putting words to this. I have been having trouble with this style for some time and had trouble putting my finger on exactly why. I’ll definitely try to get my hands on the Kohn book as well.

  14. @christina
    I liked what you’ve written there. You could put the second paragraph in first person – in other words when YOU were a kid you experienced hitting and yelling as “wrong”, but the more subtle forms of domination/authoritarianism were more “mindfuck”-ing. Because I know not every child really knows it’s wrong for their parents to hit them.

    I do know what you mean though – or rather, I relate personally. There have been wrongs committed against me I knew were wrong, so even though they hurt badly I at least had that kernel of self-worth. The more gaslighting behaviors of more subtle manipulations have been more invasive and harder to rid myself of their effects.

  15. Yeah, sorry. I was trying to get across that that had been my experience and that of some I had spoken to, but certainly didn’t apply to all. Wasn’t so clear on that.

  16. @Kelly

    “Because I know not every child really knows it’s wrong for their parents to hit them.”

    I have been really struggling with this lately. I have literally smacked my daughter on the butt and told her not to hit. More than once. I started out my parenting journey telling myself I would never ever hit my kid. I remembered “the wooden spoon” from my childhood, and felt it was all kinds of wrong, and “acceptable” abuse. But I do it. My 3-year-old, as of late, has begun to talk back, stick her tongue out at me, hit me (yeah, I know, jeez…I wonder where she learned that), and she does horrible things to our poor kitten. She has these monstrous streaks where I just lose all ability to think clearly, and react poorly. But I don’t know how to get my point across that it is not OK to sass your mom.

    I have been wanting to write about this in my own blog, but I’m fearful of what people might think. I feel terrible. Every time I hit my kid (and yes, it does feel better to say “spank” instead of “hit”) I feel awful, and am wracked with guilt. I tell myself I won’t do it anymore, and then I tell my kid “no” and she starts in on her almost flamboyant show of what she thinks about me telling her “no.”

    And with the manipulation, I often feel like I am being played with. A fit, a few tears, a plead, or even screaming in the grocery store are all ways for them to get what they want. There are days that I am worn out from this, a little too much. I wonder if she’s saying she wants another book read to her because she wants me there, or she just doesn’t want to go to bed? Then, I feel bad that she cries when I leave the room, but satisfied when she is OUT not even ten minutes later.

    It’s hard to stay a few steps ahead, or even one. But man, that tongue coming out…I have no idea how to discipline that one…other than a swat on the butt…because it’s the only thing that has worked.

  17. @christina
    If I had a dime for every time I didn’t quite write what I meant I’d be rolling on hundred dollar bills like that barfy scene in the Demi Moore/Woody Harrellson movie. Anyway, I understood exactly what you meant but I wanted to qualify the “first person” bit in case anyone reading/commenting had a different experience of hitting-abuse. Abuse is a hard subject.

    This is a safe place to admit you’ve hit your child. I will not tolerate any commentator who tries any hate-speech on others here (this has not yet happened), although disagreement is fine. I trust the discussion here to take place in good faith.

    Also: many, many parents either hit their child (or “spank” them), grab their child, or perform the various other kinds of manipulations of Might=Right that are only cosmetically different than physical force (in other words they involve pain – physical and/or mental and/or emotional, humiliation, and domination). If you are going to feel bad about your parenting strategies that’s one thing; but if you think you are the only one – you’re not.

    I couldn’t tolerate being “underground” about my bad parenting show which is one reason I write openly here. This has helped me do better.

    One avenue that may help is to stop disciplining and stop thinking about discipline. This is very hard for most parents today, however. I have done much hard work in reading the books and articles from Sanda Dodd and Naomi Aldort and many other authors detailing concepts of and strategies for gentle parenting and consensual living. These principles are put in place of rules and discipline, better tactics that serve parents/carers and children. As a result of this work the “bad behaviors” of my children have actually gone down, drastically, in my home (so have the bad behaviors of Ralph and myself, ha!). Many people believe if you don’t “discipline” a child the child’s behavior will get worse or run over the top of you (and everyone else) or lack self-discipline, yadda yadda. I have seen this is not the case in our life or those I know who effectively employ these principles.

    Also, the manipulation bit. Well, when we decide we’re going to be the Boss, we are deciding we require only total capitulation OR direct flaunting of our “authority” OR “manipulation”. So really it is we, the parent, who have started down that path – I’m not saying this is wrong but rather all sorts of problems tend to present themselves. The child’s responsive strategies are the best they can do (yes, including sticking out their tongue). I won’t lie to you: many people do not want to see their parenting relationships that way. But for me it has been an a-ha moment that has revolutionized my relationships with my children and husband.

    For instance does it really matter if Mia wants you, or wants the book, or isn’t sure but is advocating whatever she can to have you close to her? You should stay with her if you can; if you must leave, because you cannot stay, you should do so with love and compassion but not a judgment on her motives. It’s not easy to be a parent/carer/mother and certainly not a single mom.

    Your feelings of being manipulated likely run deep. Mine (towards my children) certainly did – because I was raised in a family that had the “manipulative child” schema. In fact the subject is big enough it warrants its own post and I am certainly open to an email exchange if you like. Suffice to say as a child who, when young, was told I was “manipulative”, “bossy”, and “selfish”, this did not help me in any way nor did it result in better behavior for my parents. It was quite damaging for me personally, it is part of the reason I – a very gentle person before I had children – have parented violently. It has caused my children and I much pain. I’m still recovering and still committing to doing better.

    Go gentle on yourself because you are doing the hard work. Parenting young kiddos is hard even in the best circumstances with good resources. Having a bad day or our rent money getting eaten up or whatever? That makes it a lot harder.

  18. @Kelly.

    Thank you. I was told my whole life that I was a “drama queen.” My Mom told me I used to gag myself in my crib to get her attention to the point of throwing up.

    I have always been the one to read one more book or whatever, but if I did that all the time, my kid would never get to bed! I discovered, being a single mom, that I really need to set up boundaries with her, or my energy supply goes down dramatically. (A lot of the reason why I stopped co-sleeping and weaned at 1 1/2.) (I should also add that I’m saying “No” to one more book after we’ve been reading for an hour.)

    I have told her she’s being bossy–like when she throws her juice cup down on the floor in front of me and says “I need juice!” I’ve even told her she’s acting like a brat. Most of the time, I correct her, gently, and say “Ask nicely, please,” but it’s always that ONE TIME that she gets me at the right moment and…ugh.

    I try to level with her. I try to communicate with her, or get her to communicate with me. I ask her WHY she’s so mad, and it’s usually because I’ve told her she can’t have something. My last boyfriend bought her everything she wanted (as he was severely going into debt), and now I don’t have the money, and I’m having the hardest time explaining that to her. So now, I tell her “No” and the tongue comes out.

    The spanking is like an awful reflex. Whenever I am away from her, I think to myself, “How could I have handled this situation differently? What could I have done to prevent her total meltdown?”

    My kid’s been through a lot. With me. She will continue to go through a lot the rest of her life, being shuffled back and forth between her dad’s house and mine, each containing different sets of rules and schedules. (I talked to him the other day and he still won’t respect her bedtime, and insists she can be tired when she’s with me.)

    I’m hoping her recent “taking it up a notch” in temper-tantrums are because of her age, and this, too, shall pass. I’m getting worn thin–both from financial stress, single mom stress, and working as a maid stress, and soon going to school full-time on top of all this stress. If I don’t get just an hour to myself at night, I start fading fast.

    Thank you for being a safe place to talk about this. I would email, but I’m hoping other parents benefit from hearing about my struggles as well. I know I appreciate hearing that my kid isn’t the only one.

  19. @Stephanie
    First of all, I’m sorry you were told you were a “drama queen” (sounds like more than once). I’d venture your familial history is one reason you see those tendencies in Mia, judge them as bad and manipulative, and are responding poorly to them. That was certainly true of me and my 2-year old daughter. It was like all these very bad instincts came out of nowhere. If you ever want to email chat about it I’m happy to do so.

    Secondly that’s pretty awesome you nursed for 1 1/2 years; you and your daughter are fortunate!

    If you’d like a different take on managing your daughter’s “tantrums” (which aren’t going to be “grown out of” necessarily) I’d read Naomi Aldort’s Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves. I’m going to tell you right off her approach is challenging for most parents. I had to read and re-read.

    I no longer prompt for manners (“ask nicely please”). I should say, I usually don’t altho’ sometimes they slip out. Kids take years to grow into manners unless you force them; forcing manners has many negative aspects. I don’t like to be douched out by my kids either. Usually I let them be assy (when they are, which is rare enough) and then later when we’re at a point of connection I say Hey… It hurt my feelings you said that to me, or whatever (only if it DID hurt my feelings). Usually they say, “Yes mama” and almost always apologize. I don’t think that sort of connection happens in the heat of the moment for most child/parent pairs.

    If you end up uninterested in the challenging and very different (but, IMO, excellent) teachings of Aldort & co., I will share something from my life in counseling. My counselor said hitting or other parental violence (such as verbal, emotional, etc) have two components; the stresses dwelling underneath that you’re living with – these could be dissatisfaction with one’s job, or marriage problems, or financial problems, or feelings of fear or low self-worth, etc etc, depending on who we are and what our circumstances are) and then the reflexive action of hitting/yelling whatever. My counselor advised me to work on both separately, and this helped. In other words if I could just bite my tongue or not grab or hit or whatever, I could wait it out and handle things better (the whole thing happens FAST – it’s no easy trick for parents with violent behaviors to stop). Then I could ruminate on the bad feelings that were brewing deep within. Usually I lash out at my kids when it’s OTHER stuff I’ve got going on.

    Thank you for sharing and I too hope others reading here find help. If they’re still reading this far! 😉

  20. Wow. So many things to say here. I could talk for hours…but I’ll try not to. 🙂


    “…she does horrible things to our poor kitten.”

    My daughter is 5 and has been mean to one of our cats relentlessly for about two years. In her defense, the cat keeps coming back for more. They even sleep side-by-side. It’s a love/hate relationship I guess.

    I’m not sure what “horrible things” you are referring to, but hers include smacking the cat in the head, tail/leg pulling, laying on her as if she were a body-pillow, rubbing her violently, pulling fur, etc.

    I could be wrong, but I think my daughter is simply trying to exercise authority over the cat. She knows that ultimately mom, dad and even her older sister call the shots in our house. Our cat Molly is someone that she can be in charge of (much to Molly’s dismay). Since she can’t exercise her authority verbally with a cat, she uses physical force. I’m doing my best to show her that it isn’t necessary, but it takes time.

    I think much of this is primarily due to the fact that I was very authoritative (not sure that’s the right word) with my oldest daughter. I don’t think I have ever spanked my youngest (I will use the word spank because hitting represents an entirely different universe to me) but I did spank my oldest, though it was rare. Usually a threat of a spanking would do the trick. Mostly I yelled a lot and used a lot of colorful language. But yelling is abuse too, I just figured I was choosing the lesser of two evils.

    Anyway, getting back to my point, I basically conditioned both my oldest daughter and my wife to discipline in this same tough manner. So even though I am making the transition from that style to a more positive style, they are both having trouble following my lead. Almost daily, I cringe when I hear my old words coming out of their mouths to discipline my youngest. We truly do reap what we sow.

    I know it’s tough to watch her “torture” the kitten, but I don’t think you need to worry about it too much. In the last few months my daughter has become increasingly gentle with the cat. Don’t get me wrong. She still torments her, but she seems to be balancing it out with some gentle love (brushing, hugging, gentle petting). I think they will work it out within the next year or so. We have also recently added a puppy to the family (she is very gentle with him so far), so I’m hoping this will help curb her attacks on Molly.

    Perhaps you can try giving your daughter some responsibility for the kitten (feeding, watering, etc), with your help if she needs it. I missed this idea completely with our cat, but I think it is working with the puppy. I think the responsibility gives her constructive control over the pet. Three may be too young to understand, but you know her best.

    As for the rest of your situation, it is certainly loaded with intricate complexities. Some of it sounds very familiar to me, but it would be foolish of me to even attempt specific advice (especially unsolicited). I think your best bet is to read as much as you can on subjects related to the many aspects of your life and parenting. Books like the one Kelly recommended give you time to consider the advice given without dealing with direct judgment from a third party (unless the author is a tactless brute).

    I don’t know how much you enjoy reading, but it makes my day when I get that eureka feeling of a new idea that I can try out. Identifying with the author’s anecdotes is a morale booster too, as Kelly has proven time and again.

  21. …and sorry about the quotes around the word “torture”. I wasn’t trying to quote you. That’s just what we call it at home and I have lousy grammar.

  22. @Kidsync

    The “torturing” word may have been a bit much. She pulls on his tail, lifts him up by the head, holds him down to watch a movie. I try to teach her empathy, like, “how would you feel if I held you down?” and stuff like that. But then she always PURPOSEFULLY steps on his tail whenever she walks by him and stuff like that. I can totally see what you’re saying, though, that he is “below” her and she is projecting her need for authority on him. She does fill his water dish, and I should let her feed him or something.


    Last night, Mia went to sleep in a play tent that I’d bought at a consignment store a month or so ago, and it dawned on me: she doesn’t have her own room! (We share a two-room apartment.) So tonight she helped me build her own “room” by sheeting off the space under her bed. (It’s like half a bunk bed.) She loved it! She went to bed SO willingly, and was sleeping soundly in her tent by eight. (And this morning she slept in until almost 9!) I think a lot of parenting is being creative with your children’s needs. I totally had a “eureka” moment today (@Kidsync) when I realized that she needed her own space in our tiny apartment. Why didn’t I think of this before??

    Parenting is so hard! I can’t emphasize that enough. Whether you’re pulling out your hair or getting tears in your eyes from how wonderful a moment is, it’s all so. fucking. hard. But I love every second. I just hope MY kid won’t need the years of counseling that I did as an adult, you know?

  23. @Kidsync
    Thanks for your comments, really every word of them. I have some awesome commenters/readers.

    I realize I didn’t address the kitten thing at all but thinking about it now this reminds me of some potentially-relevant words for Stephanie. Nels used to be horrid to our kitten Harris a few years ago. I remember episodes like giving the cat a bath in the toilet, administering whisker-cuts, and a variety of other weirdness. Yeah. So anyway you’re either thinking A. I’m a terrible pet-owner (I hope not… seriously I do my best!), or B. I am offering those “morale booster” anecdotes that might help give you a laugh if nothing else. Harris survived, AND he loves Nels and used to sleep with him every night during all this (he’s upgraydded to sleeping on the neighbor’s porch, they bought him a cat bed, this is another story).

    Also: when my son is rude to the new kittens NOW, it is almost ALWAYS when he is under-attended and seeking attention. I know how to better handle this scenario, for our family, for my child. Thanks for the story here to reaffirm my commitment to our pets.

    It isn’t easy to watch my child be rough to our pets (oddly Nels is never crappy to the chickens). My goal is to intervene firmly but gently but also understand little kids sometimes are rather cruel to kids which isn’t necessarily totally reflective on any human being’s personal Character. If they aren’t causing permanent damage you have to ask yourself if the pet is in a better scenario than it otherwise would have been; for our four (rescued) felines the answer is a resounding YES.

    If you truly believe you can’t provide a reasonably safe home for an animal, whatever the circumstances, finding another home is an option. But like Kidsync says, I wouldn’t worry too much about it from what I can intuit, although gentle but firm intervention when you have the energy for this is never a bad thing.

  24. “…upgraydded…”

    I totally love that movie. The fact that you slipped it into your comment proves that you are a true master.

    “Man, I could really go for a Starbucks, you know?”

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