December 11, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Kids say the darndest things, and one of the most timeless and universal -- and least likely to elicit an "aww" from any adult -- is the phrase, "You're not the boss of me."
In terms of parental unpopularity, this declaration of defiance rates right up there with "No!" and "You can't make me!"
Granted, a drive for self-reliance is hard-wired into human DNA, meaning annoying and crazy-making behaviours are part of normal child development.
But Kathy Buckworth thinks that in their quest to always be diplomatic and democratic -- and to ensure that their offspring are happy and love them 100 per cent of the time -- parents are in effect letting the inmates run the asylum.
In her latest book, the parenting author and humorist makes the case for a domestic regime change to put the grown-ups back in the driver's seat. In other words, autocratic parenting.
Here's an autocratic response to the abovementioned kiddie cri de coeur:
"Oh yes, my little friend, I am! I am the boss of you, in every imaginable way," Buckworth writes in I Am So the Boss of You: An Eight-Step Guide to Giving Your Family the Business ($20, McClelland & Stewart).
"Physically, mentally, financially, parents rule -- basically, we're at the top of the food chain. We get to tell our children when to go to bed and we get to choose their mealtimes and what is served at those meal. We select their extracurricular activities, and, for a (ridiculously) short stretch of time, we even get to pick what they wear. Perhaps this generation of parents needs to take a moment to remind itself that we really are The Boss, Il Presidente, Le Grand Fromage."
Buckworth, a former Winnipegger and mother of four, isn't suggesting that parents rule with an iron fist. But she does think that they're so busy and overwhelmed these days trying to figure out the perfect way to parent that they've overlooked an obvious model -- "one that operates efficiently, effectively and economically and one that millions of people the world over are already employing."
Move over, Tiger Mother. Au revoir, superior French parents. Stop hovering, helicopter moms and dads.
If you want to rear responsible, well-adjusted children who will be able to make their way out in the real world, let the boardroom be your guide.
The idea came to her in the middle of a two-hour business meeting, says Buckworth, who spent 18 years working in corporate marketing before becoming a stay-at-home mom after the birth of her fourth child. She wrote her first of six parenting humour books, The Secret Life of Supermom, in 2005.
"It occurred to me at work one day that there are huge parallels between running a business and running a household," says the former marketing director of a large Canadian bank over morning coffee in a downtown Winnipeg café. She resides in Mississauga, Ont., and was in town on a book tour.
From accounting to public relations, human resources to quality control, the corporate structure can be easily applied to life with kids, says Buckworth, whose own offspring are 21, 19, 14 and 11.
Having applied her management skills with her own kids, she says, she found that things that worked well at the office -- goal and priority setting, budgeting, resource allocation -- could work well at home, too.
"And underlying all that are rules and policies that you don't argue about. 'Because I said so,' is a perfectly valid explanation in the workplace and at home," says Buckworth.
Readers should keep in mind that the author is a humorist, and so her tongue is planted firmly in her cheek when she suggests "branding" your family or giving your husband and kids a performance review.
But she's dead serious about parents taking back their power.
Just as every job comes with boring, tedious or unpleasant tasks, so does being a member of a household involve doing things you'd rather not do.
Too many parents, she says, are allowing their kids too much input and voting power on decisions where the boss simply knows best. The "trophy generation" is the result of this child-centred parenting.
"We're seeing this generation of kids who get a trophy just for turning up for a sport. They're told their whole lives they're wonderful at everything. They boss their parents around," Buckworth says. "So when they get to the work world, they're not used to being criticized or told that they're not wonderful all the time, or taking responsibility."
Buckworth recalls attending a parent orientation at the university one of her kids would be attending and listening as the parents were warned that they would not be contacted if their child didn't show up for class.
"They had to tell us this?" she says with disbelief.
She also recalls being baffled upon hearing her 21-year-old daughter, head counsellor at a youth camp, tell of interviewing 16- and 17-year-olds for junior camp counsellor positions, only to have the applicants bring their parents along to the interview.
While Buckworth concedes that she's "old-school" when it comes to parenting, which is the way she was raised, she acknowledges the value of giving children age-appropriate input into decisions that affect them.
The key, she says, is getting kids to understand what are the "non-negotiables" -- bedtime, getting to school on time, eating what's put in front of them.
"Those are things we're not going to have a discussion about," Buckworth says. "But once you set those rules, it gives you time and opportunity to have discussions around the negotiable things," like how old you should be to use Facebook, wearing certain items of clothing or signing up for an extra sport.
Being a humour writer, she wants to entertain, of course, but Buckworth says she ultimately wants to make things easier for parents, who often inadvertently make things harder for themselves and their kids by not owning their role as family CEO.
"I want moms to feel successful," she says. "That was a missing link for me, too. At work, I could feel quite accomplished; I knew what my goals and priorities were, and if I did a good job, I got a bonus.
"At home, however, you're never sure what the end game is. What are the goal and priorities? When do I get to check off 'raised a successful child?' Never."
HOLLYWOOD apparently sees the humour potential in using the corporate boardroom as a model for raising kids.
Warner Bros. Television has purchased the rights to Kathy Buckworth's book, I Am So the Boss of You, for possible development as a sitcom.
"The vice-president of comedy development contacted me before Christmas. She said the book spoke to her as a mom and a comedy executive," says the author, a former Winnipegger who was in town recently to promote her sixth parenting humour book.
Buckworth, a former marketing executive who left the corporate world to be a stay-at-home mom in 2005 (her kids are 21, 19, 14 and 11) says she's hoping for something with the comedic tone of The Middle, Modern Family or maybe the now-defunct Malcolm in the Middle. (The latter show's theme song was You're Not the Boss of Me, by the band They May Be Giants.)
DEMOCRATIC parenting is technically the opposite of autocratic parenting, but many people misunderstand the concept, says Terry Carson, a Toronto certified parenting coach and educator.
Children in a democratic home are given choices, but they are held responsible for those choices. And they are definitely not in charge, she says.
"A family is not a democracy. Parents are definitely the bosses, the ones in control of the major choices and decisions regarding their children," says Carson, who runs a workshop called You're Not the Boss of Me.
Where children do get more input in a democratic framework is usually when it's connected to power struggles, she says.
Asking a child whether he wants to put his mittens on or take a bath, for example, is not an example of democratic parenting, but rather "permissive" parenting.
If a parent tells the child to do either of the above and he says "no" repeatedly, that's a power struggle, Carson says. A democratic parent would offer the child choices related directly to the misbehaviour and intended to reduce the power struggle.
"He doesn't have a choice whether he gets into the tub; you have a bath every night, that's a family rule. But the choice might be to get into the tub hopping like a bunny or slithering like a snake."
And the kid who chooses neither A nor B?
"In my household, he gets a quick and dirty two-minute bath, no toys, no cajoling, no nothing," Carson says.
"Parents tend to talk too much and try to explain their behaviour."
The bottom line, she says, is the democratic parenting model is a very firm one, not a "nicey-nicey" model.
"You are the boss and you are in control, but that doesn't mean you have to flip into the authoritarian realm."
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 23, 2013 C3