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 www.loveandlogic.com/join 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.