As promised, I am circling back to a post from last week about enduring a week of “say nothing, do nothing” parenting.
I pledged to try out the approach put forth by parent educator Vicki Hoefle in her new book “Duct Tape Parenting: A Less Is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible, and Resilient Kids,” (Bibliomotion.) She suggests parents try to go for five days without speaking as much as possible, or not micromanaging children or responding cheetah-like to their non-emergency needs.
The point is to help free a family from whining, foot dragging and nagging as children learn that without a parent’s constant input, they can do it themselves.
It all sounded so glorious when I first read about it. Hoefle seemed to be talking about my family when she described mornings filled with inane fights over which shoes to wear and whether the fruit was eaten before or after the oatmeal.
So five days in, how’d I do?
Utter and complete failure.
I avoided the actual use of duct tape, which Hoefle herself used in her very first DIY challenge.
I now see that this was my first crucial error.
On the first morning I found myself quibbling with my three-year-old over her choice of sock length.
The second I found myself setting down the newspaper to prepare a fourth course to the girls’ breakfast when they asked for more. About a half hour later, when it was time to leave for school, I stood at the front door and barked “Go, Go, Go.”
By day three I lost count of how may times I intervened when the girls were annoying each other (and me.)
Later that evening, I even heard myself talking to my husband like he was one of the kids. “And what’s your responsibility tomorrow?” I asked leadingly.
On that one I caught myself. “Sorry,” I said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
Hoefle did. She laughed when I called her to tell her about what a mess I’d made of her advice.
“What’s happening to you happens to everybody,” she said. “You start to realize you are the nut case in the house.”
So that was the point.
Parents who try it, she said, start to realize “it has nothing to do with the kids. All the mischief, all the struggles, all the power struggles, are because of us.”
Hoefle’s theory is that modern parents are too often bringing their professional goals into the home, trying to prepare for the day like we would a project meeting — micromanaging all the details and getting caught up in the minutiae. We forget, she said, that were are not producing a product, but raising a child to take care of himself.
That last bit is the most crucial.
Kids cannot learn to take care of themselves or solve their own problems if somebody double their size keeps acting as their personal director. They might say dictator.
“Stepping back gives you that metaview of the child. You get to know what kinds of situations trip my child up and you can help her come up with her own strategies to deal with them.
“Imagine how many less neurotic kids we would have if parents raised them to be self-sufficient and then when it was time to move out said, ‘Go, go.’ ”
The route to this finish line, she said, is to play dumb: I don’t know which tights would be best. I don’t know what’s left to eat for breakfast. I have no idea where to find your cleats. Do you?
Hoefle said, “I want my kids to think they’re smarter than I am. I know I can solve all the problems, but do I really need to show off for my kids? [If I do,] I’m showing off for other parents and it’s at the expense of my kids feeling like rock stars.”
Regardless — or maybe because of — my failure, I’m not doomed, she said. “You recognized what was coming out of your mouth.”
Now, she said, it’s time to write down one thing that I’ll work on changing this week. Maybe try nagging less.
Next week, try interfering less.
The week after that, pull back from the short-order cook role.
One thing not to do: Use duct tape repeatedly.
On the third day of Hoefle’s personal challenge, the tape removal left her without a patch if skin on her lip. Now, despite her book’s title, she recommends surgical tape.