Book Review: The Parenting Breakthrough

Book Cover
You just gotta love any book that has a picture of a seven-year-old boy cleaning a toilet on the cover.

Merrilee Browne Boyack’s new book The Parenting Breakthrough: A Real-Life Plan to Teach Your Kids to Work, Save Money, and Be Truly Independent focuses on teaching real-life skills, particularly those relating to personal finance. I probably don’t need to say that many LDS parents seem to be doing a poor job in this department. I’ve been in the home of an LDS teen who, despite not having a job, had fifty-one (yes, I counted) Clinique lipsticks on the bathroom counter. I’ve known returned missionaries who have been tempted to steal toilet paper rolls from the Institute building because of the financial pressure caused by credit card debt. So I’m pleased that Boyack, a mother of four almost-grown sons and an estate attorney with a degree in Finance, has put together a plan for teaching basic personal management skills to kids.

Her idea is simple but profound. In a nutshell, here it is: sit down with your spouse and write a list of all of the skills necessary for independent living. Then, assign each task to an age and be sure that your child learns that skill at that age. She provides a sample chart in the book, and while I’d quibble with some of her specifics (What’s the point of teaching a nine-year-old to pump gas? And don’t wait until sixteen to teach a child how to understand advertising!), the idea is sound and should prevent the proverbial scene of a mother teaching her son to iron the night before he leaves for the MTC. She write, “the real problem with doing everything ourselves is that we end up always doing everything ourselves. And our children don’t grow up; they just get bigger.”

Boyack’s emphasis on training children to be self-sufficient also provides an important theoretical underpinning to counter the tendency for LDS moms to want to do everything for their children as a mark of their devotion. That alone makes this a worthwhile read for anyone who is buffeted on one side by the current push toward hypermothering and on the other side by the sad current in LDS culture to be the perfect Mormon mom, evidenced by having a countless multitude of startched, shiny, smily–and did I mention quiet–kids in the pew next to you. Boyack strongly argues that it is better to have self-sufficient, long-haired, and fiscally responsible kids than to present the perfect public image by having assembled the children yourself. Her story of allowing her three-year-old to make a PB & J on the floor while the other members of the Relief Society Presidency (whom she’d nicknamed Martha Stewart I and Martha Stewart II) watched in horror is a worthy tale indeed.

In addition to strongly making the point that parents should teach their children the basics of independent living, she provides practical hints for accomplishing this. I can’t wait until my sons are a little older. The first time one of them lusts over a big-ticket item, I’m going to suggest that he take out a loan from the First National Bank of Smith. We’ll follow Boyack’s suggestion and agree to a contract with a 20% interest rate and collateral. When my sweet boy falls behind in his payments, I’ll sell his collateral on ebay. I’d rather he learn that lesson on a 300$ stereo as a teen than a 30,000$ car when he’s trying to support a family.

I also appreciated her gender-neutral approach to teaching children: she emphasizes that both sons and daughters need to think about the impact that their career choices will have on their familes and that both need to learn to save. (I sometimes feel that this is only emphasized for the young men for their missions.) She earns high marks in my book for castigating a father who didn’t want to teach his daughter how to change the oil in her car. She also recommends that fathers teach some ‘girl things’ and mothers some ‘guy things.’

But when Boyack covers spirituality and discipline, the book loses its luster. While her information is good, there’s nothing that’s new if you’ve read a few of the more popular parenting books. Because the previous chapters do cover topics that are rarely discussed and have innovative suggestions, it makes these ones all the more disappointing by contrast. And I object to her ‘because I’m the Mom, that’s why’ approach; I’ve had quite a bit of success with children obeying freely when they understand the reason behind my request.

I have to admit that I found her chummy tone offputting at times. She introduces herself this way:

I’m also an attorney. I heard that–you just went, “euuwww.” I knew you would. But I run my law practice part-time from my home, and in the meantime I do lots of stuff just like you. I’m not a psychologist or anything like that.

I’m not entirely sure what tone I want a parenting book to take; I don’t want to hear the disembodied voice of unquestionable authority, but I don’t want to be chatting on the playground, either. Boyack veers a little too much to the latter, but it isn’t insufferable. Her tone does get her into trouble, however, by creating a climate where humor can run amok. Sometimes she’s spot-on (I won’t try to recount the story of the woman who dabbed at her tears in sacrament meeting with a feminine hygiene product; you’ll need to read that one for yourself for full effect, but I will tell you that I admire anyone who describes a large fight erupting during Family Home Evening as “the activity portion of our home evening”), but other times it borders on the blasphemous (I don’t think the Lord does anything to us for “sheer entertainment effect”). At its worst, it mocks:

Another preparation tactic is as follows: We see people doing horrendously menial work (like holding up a sign on the road for construction workers) and we say, “Gee, no one could make him go to college!”

Yikes. For someone who is very, very convincing when she writes about the ability of parents to shape their children’s behaviors, she seems unaware of the message that comment will send her children. (How much better it would be if she handed her kid the classifieds and said, “Pretend you have a GED and are looking for a job. What can you do and how much will you make? Now pretend you have an MS in Electrical Engineering. What jobs are available and how much will you make?”)

Despite the flaws, the practical suggestions for teaching personal responsibility make this book a worthwhile read for LDS parents who want their children to move out of the basement someday.

37 comments for “Book Review: The Parenting Breakthrough

  1. August 19, 2005 at 9:10 am

    I like the idea of making a list.

  2. Seth Rogers
    August 19, 2005 at 10:14 am

    Aah, hyperparenting/micromanaging …

    You know, the open space at the back of the Relief Society room really ought to be free territory for the pre-nursery kids to crawl around. But just about every young mother looks at you in horror if you allow your child to get more than three feet away from you.

    In Elders Quorum we don’t care if the teacher has to step over the kid we’re watching. Just so long as she doesn’t eat the chalk …

  3. August 19, 2005 at 11:36 am

    That last quote about the construction workers is so chilling and borderline evil as to almost make me not want to read the book or support the author in any way at all.

    That may seem harsh on my part, but I hear comments like that too often. My dad owns a landscapin business, which I occasionally go back to Alaska during the summer and work for. It’s good money, but it is very, very menial many times. Funny thing is, I have a MA, my dad has an MA, and the other guy (Reuben Sherwood) who works for us is working on an MA.

    Yet we still occasionally overhear comments from those who see and/or employ us like that last one quoted above.

    Teaching kids fiscal responsibility is good. I wish my parents had taught me more – but they did teach me to work hard. My dad started the landscaping business not so much for the money, but so he could make sure his children learned the value of working hard (and that lesson has earned me more money than my college degree, since many people don’t seem to know how to work hard anymore).

  4. August 19, 2005 at 11:46 am

    I like the premise of this book. In fact, on your recommendation, I’m inclined to order it–but I wonder if Boyack’s practical hints for teaching these skills would extend to a parent of an ADHD child. Honestly, I spend a *lot* of time trying to keep my 7-year-old on task, once she’s begun a job like picking up her room or unloading the dishwasher.

    I’ve found that my kids are always willing to learn/talk about things the adults do (my daughter begs me to teach her how to drive, knows how to operate a sewing machine, comparative shops with me at the grocery store, etc.) In being willing and able to learn skills, she is beyond her years. But actually buckling down and doing work when she isn’t inclined–there’s the rub.

    Does this book provide advice/insight into this?

  5. August 19, 2005 at 1:47 pm

    Wow! I know Merilee. She lives in my old home ward. (They moved in while I was on my mission so I don’t know them that well but the rest of my family does.) The quotes you gave sound just like her — funny and brassy.

    I agree with your comments. Fiscal responsibility is a good thing (and too often left untaught or unlearned by parents). Sneering at blue-collar workers is a bad thing (it was a mistake for her to include that comment even if it was meant in jest).

  6. Rosalynde Welch
    August 19, 2005 at 2:33 pm

    Julie, what a great review. Your thoughts on parenting are always stimulating—in part because you’re so clearly a fantastic one, and in part because your style seems so very different from mine!

    You and I have already discussed our differing views on how philosophies of parenting ought to handle the physical care of the child, so I won’t repeat myself here (although I’m willing to bet that our practices aren’t nearly as different as our philosophies!). I’ll just note, however, that not all parents put such a high premium on their children’s independence, particularly at very young (single-digit) ages—and the author seems to take it for granted that all parents do or should.

    Still, though, financial independence in adult children is clearly a desirable outcome, and obviously some work has to be done earlier to achieve that outcome. And her approach is, I must admit, inexorably sensible and efficient—–and the very last thing in the world I’d ever do! I truly cannot imagine myself sitting down to make a list of qualities or behaviors I want my child to have, assigning an age-based schedule, and then proceeding to diligently install each item in my child. And I’m a (occasionally compulsive, though inconstant) list-maker to begin with! But I make lists of things that need fixing around the house, books I want to read, posts I want to write, items I need to purchase—in short, I make lists of things I can check off, and “check off” methods of parenting have always felt artifical to me (although I know a lot of terrific parents who use them).

    Furthermore, I am, as you know, something of a fatalist, and I can’t help feeling that the parents’ own behaviors, together with a child’s intrinsic temperament, will be the primary determining factors. My parents are frugal (to a fault, perhaps) in their own behaviors, but they never did much formal financial training with us kids. We never had allowances, were never encouraged to manage our money vigorously, aside from general instructions to tithe and save; we had bank accounts and, later, jobs, but never wrote checks or had ATM cards or used any of the financial instruments of the adult world. Of the adult children currently, most of us have become quite frugal like our parents, but with varying degrees of financial discipline that correspond precisely to the general level of discipline intrinsic to each personality. That is, even without a lot of formal ffinancial training, most of us have absorbed our parents’ values, and adapted them to our individual temperaments—precisely the outcome, I predict, that would have occurred even with a lot of formal training.

    I’m not arguing that parents needn’t do anything, of course; clearly they must. And for those parents who enjoy this sort of approach, this is probably a great catalyst. But for those of us who don’t…. I bet there’s still hope that we’ll get out kids out of the basement someday! (For now, I’d be thrilled to get my kids IN the basement, and OUT from under my feet when I’m making dinner or mopping the floor!)

  7. JKS
    August 19, 2005 at 6:10 pm

    I just let my daughter clean her first toilet this afternoon. I’m well on my way!
    I like the premise of this book, and would like to read it. It would be interesting to look at the list. I think too often we forget that a child is old enough to learn something and so we don’t get around to teaching them. Kids/teenagers/adults DO get upset when they feel that their parents didn’t prepare them for life in some basic way. (My friend’s first grader was upset for a long time that her mother hadn’t told her that the middle finger was a swear word–she was told at school and went home and who did she blame? Mom, of course).

  8. Kristy
    August 19, 2005 at 7:19 pm

    It just so happens I bought this very book last weekend. (Yes, it was probably the picture, and the fact that I needed a good pep-talk with 3 weeks of summer left.) The review is dead-on. Many good insights, tone is a bit much. In her introduction, the author thanked her editor for encouraging her to include her own voice in the book; probably the editor should have held back a little, and so therefore shares some of the blame there.

    My son (12) is AD/HD, and so I can address that a bit. I’m only half-way through, and I doubt she’ll mention it specifically. Still, her ideas will be very, very helpful to anyone with a space-cadet kid, because she reminds us of what should be obvious- kids need a training period and a practice period when they learn to do something. She outlines a very sensible approach that when you teach a new skill, first you let them observe you a few times and you talk about what you are doing, then you have several “training sessions” where you supervise them, then you let them practice it on their own for a period of time and you check up and give more training as needed. She reminds us that it takes kids an average of 7 or 8 times doing something before they learn to do it. She does give some tips on how to motivate your kid to do a good job that I think would work fine on an AD/HD child. Overall, her book reminded me that AD/HD should not hold me back from helping my son learn to do as much as he can at any given age. In short, no specific mention of AD/HD, but her tips and “Plan” will be especially helpful to those of us whose kids don’t pick things up by osmosis, and therefore need a plan.

  9. Lisa B.
    August 19, 2005 at 7:35 pm

    Hey Kristy–get offline so I can call you!

  10. Seth Rogers
    August 19, 2005 at 8:00 pm

    Hey Kristy, you might be making a missing something when you describe your son as a “space-cadet.” I have ADD myself (not the hyperactivity part though). I often got described as a kid as inattentive, spacy … whatever.

    I’m not bitter about that or anything. My actions definitely made it reasonable for others to honestly believe nothing was sinking in. But it wasn’t really true.

    I noticed just about everything. I was attentive. Hyper-attentive you might say.

    The problem was that I just couldn’t (not “wouldn’t,” “couldn’t”) bring myself to mentally process stuff I considered stupid. A lecture from my father for example, or a boring elementary school teacher. While I couldn’t process a lecture, I did however, notice just about everything my fellow students were doing, and every other detail of the classroom. My attention was pretty good. It was just not too discriminating.

    Just thought I’d throw that in.

  11. Lisa B.
    August 20, 2005 at 8:12 am

    Seth #2 — I love it. I wish moms (me included) could be more trusting that their kids can turn out okay even without micromanaging. I wonder if some of the apparent differences between the approach mothers and fathers take has to do with societal messages about the huge impact mothers make in the early years, and reproaches mothers automatically get if children misbehave in the slightest degree vs fathers (not much impact noted unless the kid REALLY goes off the deep end–like shoots someone–and they have been openly physically abusive).

    I haven’t read the book, but I have to agree with Rosalynde here that U.S. parents already push their kids towards independence–even from infancy (let them cry–they’ll learn not to, make them sleep in their own bed and own room–they’ll get used to it…) and I think to an emotionally dangerous degree. Yes, we want our children to be able to manage their own lives and become productive members of society by the time they are adults. I believe children push for their own independence when we let them. I see myself limiting my children’s independence/ testing of abilities/ growth almost subconsciously. Doesn’t real independence and ability to act come from the security of being loved and appreciated? I am not saying this author (or Julie, or anyone else here) are proposing that we push our children away by trying to systematically teach them life skills they need. Just the potential for that in this kind of approach.

  12. Seth Rogers
    August 20, 2005 at 10:44 am

    Parents who make a big fuss over everything their child does remove the focus from what the child did, and onto themselves. This can take several forms:

    1. Kid paints a picture. Mom makes a bunch of high-pitched fuss over it, extravagently praising him, etc.

    Result? The kid’s acheivment is lost because everyone is too interested in watching mom’s little praising song and dance. The message is that the only thing of any worth that happened just now was mom’s approval (because that’s what she and everyone else is focusing on).

    2. Child trips and falls at the playground, mom comes rushing over, picks the kid up and starts fussing over the injuries.

    Same result. The kid isn’t half as important in this picture as mom’s performance as a parent.

    3. Child is shyly clinging to dad at the same playground but seems to be considering playing on the slide with the other kids. Dad notices and makes a big production out of encouraging the child to go play with the others.

    Result is that the kid eventually gets the idea that he can’t even blow his nose without approval and support from dad.

    In all cases, the children learn to associate constant parental interference with getting anything done. Naturally, they’ll start to demand parental interference even when it isn’t needed. This is where you get the kids who shriek and scream at their parents for every little thing. Whining is their primary form of communication with mom and dad.

    This is because they have been taught from day one that they are in a position of powerlessness and NOTHING happens without mom and dad’s say-so. Therefore, they expect the parent to arbitrate every situation for them.

    Let’s take the tripping incident again. Once at the playground, our oldest daughter (two at the time) did a face plant after coming off the slide and was crying. My wife was seated on the bench talking with some other mothers. She didn’t get up. She did notice however, and told her “come here” in an encouraging voice. Since this had happened many times before, my daughter knew the drill and picked herself up and came over to mommy from across the playground. My wife looked her over, noted the scrape and asked her if she wanted her to “kiss it better.” After my daughter nodded, she did so and then went back to the conversation. My daughter carried on a bit after which my wife told her she was fine (because she was). My daughter persisted and my wife then suggested that maybe it was nap-time and they needed to go home (incidentally, it was almost nap-time). My daughter shook her head, but stopped fussing. In about a minute she was playing again.

    Notice my daughter had decisions she could make to handle the situation. Mommy was available for support, but she wasn’t going to force that support on her. Furthermore, my wife only gave the amount of support requested. She didn’t impose anything that wasn’t asked for. She also knew her daughter’s capabilities and encouraged her to live up to them.

    I don’t pretend that things are always like this at the Rogers household. It’s just an isolated example to make a point.

    End point: don’t patronize children. They aren’t stupid or helpless. Treat them like grown-ups whenever possible.

  13. M.J. Pritchett
    August 20, 2005 at 11:21 am

    In my adult life I have taken both pride and pleasure in knowing how to do things: gardining, home upkeep, maintenance and repair, simple car maintenance, first aid and my own tax returns. We have rarely hired others to do things for us. I have done my best to pass these skills on to my children.

    However, I sometimes worry that the ability and desire to do mudane chores myself have kept me from doing things that would have been of more worth.

    Would my family be financially better off if I had spent the weekends I spent painting the family room golfing with clients? Would I have been a better Young Men’s president if I had hired someone to clean or repair the house for 4 hours a week so I could spend Saturday mornings on Young Men’s activities rather than on household chores? What family memories would we have made if I had taken the weekend each year I spent doing the tax returns and gone camping? Would there have been less marital tension if we had hired a plumber to fix the leaky toilet, rather than waiting for six weeks until I had time to do it?

    As the author says, the problem with doing everything ourselves [an knowing how to do everything ourselves] is that we do everything ourselves. This is true even if we enjoy doing those things and if everyone in the family pitches in and does their part.

    On a related point, I don’t know that there is any correlation between kids who have learned how to do a lot of practical things for themselves and career success. On a purely anecdotal basis, among the successful associates at my large law firm, there are both practical, self-reliant types who would fit in the do-it-yourself Mormon culture, as well as those who grew up with gardeners, handymen and maids and would never think of doing anything mundane that you could afford to pay someone else to do. Both types know how to work hard. They just have different views of the type of work one should aspire to do.

    Overall, I’m very happy with the balanced, self-reliant approach we’ve taken, but I’m not sure it’s the only valid approach.

  14. Julie in Austin
    August 20, 2005 at 11:37 am


    There are no references to ADHD in this book. While I don’t know much about ADHD, I do imagine that you would have to tweak some of her advice. Yet, at some point and in some way, your chlid will need to acquire these basic life skills, and the book may help with that.


    As far as the artificiality of the check box approach to parenting: I would agree that making a list that says, “Teach junior to be honest by age 10” seems odd. But her lists are of concrete skills (iron, write a grocery list, open a checking account, budget for school clothes) and not large ideals. I think there is great merit in this approach for anyone with more than 1-2 kids. The reason I say that is I only have 3 and they are small and I already find that #2 and #3 occasionally ‘slip through the cracks’ as it were because I forget that they are at the age that they can do new things. To use a very silly example, #1 was obsessed with puzzles at age 3. Well, all our puzzles have been in a box in the garage and now #2 is 4 and has never really done a puzzle. While I doubt he’s scarred for life, it is easy for me to imagine myself with 4 teens someday and the complete inability to remember who has been taugh to iron, who has been given a budget for his clothes, and who needs to learn how to check the oil in the car. For this reason, keeping a master list of tasks doesn’t strike me as unnecessarily artificial.

    As far as being a fatalist, I wonder what you would think if we substituted the word ‘tithing’ or ‘fasting’ into your paragraph. While many kids would end up emulating their parents in these practices or be naturally inclined to do them as a result of their testimony of the gospel in general, I think most LDS parents feel that these principles should be taught directly and specifically. Similarly, while many kids will pick up life skills by osmosis, I would think that to keep with counsel about self-reliance, avoiding debt, stewardship, etc., we would want to teach these principles directly. I’m not sure what the harm in it is, and the advantage is profound for that group of kids who would otherwise crash and burn fiscally in their 20s, even as I recognize that not all or even most kids will have a problem.


    To clarify, I think there is a big difference between the kind of pushing that you are taking about and the kind of responsibility that Boyack is writing about. There is nothing in this book that is incompatible with attachment parenting. Oddly, while I don’t like parents pushing infants and toddlers toward independence, I think parents keep teens and tweens dependent in a way that causes trouble for everyone involved. I can tell you about many, many fights with my mother in the middle of the mall about what I would buy for school clothes (this wasn’t about modesty at all, by the way). How much better our relationship would have been if my mother had (as Boyack suggests) given me a sum of money and let me loose.


    My personal opinion is that your wife was cruel to not get up. She didn’t need to make a huge deal over it or overreact, but I would have cringed to see a mother just sit there. When people are in pain, we should show concern for them. However, I agree with your final point about not patronizing children.

  15. Julie in Austin
    August 20, 2005 at 11:41 am

    A clarificiation for M.J.–

    I don’t want to put words in Boyack’s mouth, but I don’t think she is preaching do-it-yourself-for-your-entire-life as much as independent living skills. She includes such things as understanding mutual funds, etc. I would think that an independently wealthy family would want to teach their children how to hire, manage, and fire employees, while a family where the child will have some poor student years would want them to be able to change their own oil during this time, even if they didn’t do it forever.

  16. M.J. Pritchett
    August 20, 2005 at 11:56 am

    I have always tended, like Rosalynde, to be something of a fatalist about the ability to “train” children.

    When I was a young father with three young children and at my most fatalistic I had a conversation with a mother in the ward who had five children about 10 years older than mine. She made a passing reference to “training” her children. I asked her, doubtfully, if she really believed you could (or should) “train” children. She responded that not only did she believe it, anyone who didn’t believe it had no business having children.

    I’m still doubtful, but I have taken comfort from time to time from the fact that there are others who do believe.

  17. M.J. Pritchett
    August 20, 2005 at 12:01 pm


    I didn’t intend to criticize Boyak. I’m sure I would love the book. I wish I had written it.

  18. Kristy
    August 20, 2005 at 12:53 pm

    Seth, you have a good point. I meant “space-cadet” in an endearing way. I am, and always have been, a space-cadet too. And since us SC’s don’t pay attention to things that seem boring, or that we already think we know, so that we can daydream about what is really interesting, we need to be told the boring stuff more times. With my son, it has always seemed like other kids picked things up by osmosis, when he had to be explicitly taught the same thing. This book told me no, all kids need to be excplicitly taught some things, and it can take several times through and lots of practice to get it right. That was helpful for me.

    Boyack says somewhere that the point is to make sure they know how to do things, and are competent. Just because they know how to do the dishes and cook dinner doesn’t mean you never do those things again for them. Interesting thoughts on parenting to be independent. It seems to me some of the examples of American parenting that encourage kids to be independent are all about *emotional independence*. Boyack is talking about what I’ll call capability independence.

  19. JKS
    August 20, 2005 at 3:02 pm

    “Capability independence”– I like that.

  20. Kristy
    August 20, 2005 at 9:00 pm

    Thanks JKS! I keep passing you on various websites; good to see you!

  21. Seth Rogers
    August 21, 2005 at 7:19 pm

    RE: #14

    She did show concern. She encouraged our daughter to come over (which she was fully capable of). Then she gave her a bit of comfort. But at the same time, she didn’t put up with it when my daughter started hamming it up just to get attention.

    You’d have to be there to really judge it. But I hope I didn’t make it sound like my wife ruthlessly witheld ANY pity or comfort. That would be misrepresenting her. But she didn’t make a big production of it.

    On the other side, I’ve seen kids bonk their heads who didn’t look even remotely “in-pain” or ready to cry until their mom came up and started making such a huge fuss that the kid decided that crying was what was expected of him and obliged her.

  22. Julie in Austin
    August 21, 2005 at 8:19 pm


    I agree with you, as I stated initially, that a parent shouldn’t overdramatize or allow hamming it up to get attention.

    But I still think your wife was unnecessarily uncompassionate to not go to a 2-year-old child crying in pain.

  23. JKS
    August 21, 2005 at 9:11 pm

    I don’t think Seth’s wife’s approach was devoid of compassion.

  24. Julie in Austin
    August 21, 2005 at 9:57 pm


    I didn’t say it was devoid of compassion. That would be a zero on the compassionmeter. I said it was unnecessarily uncompassionate, perhaps a 3 on the compassionmeter where I think a 6 was called for.

  25. JKS
    August 21, 2005 at 10:23 pm

    LOL, ok, I guess I didn’t understand your compassionmeter scale rating system.
    For my first child, I leaned more towards the style of parenting that I didn’t jump up and rush to my child’s side to comfort them each time she was hurt or upset. In contrast, I saw one friend in particular unable to see her child cry for any reason without it “breaking her heart.”
    After having a second child, who is a completely different child than my first, I now have less of a rigid philosophy about this because I found it impossible to raise them in the exact same way because of their own individual behavior.
    My husband has his own style. Whenever our children are hurt or upset, he tends to try to make them laugh to make them happy again.

  26. Seth Rogers
    August 22, 2005 at 2:15 am

    Well, like I said, you need to have been there to fully judge.

    I think I probably shouldn’t have gotten so personal on the internet. I really had no business divulging private family matters in public.

  27. RoAnn
    August 22, 2005 at 4:13 am

    JKS (#25) raised a very good point about differences in children that may call for differences in parental response. I have seen very active toddlers who can take quite a few knocks and bumps while playing without even crying. Others show pain or cry a bit when hurt, and still others wail and moan over virtually nothing. And children with varying sensitivity to pain can learn to elicit sympathy even when they are not really hurt. We have probably all chuckled over the toddler who has falls, or bumps himself, and then looks around to see if anyone is watching before reacting.
    Julie M. Smith’s children may well need her to go and comfort them when they cry. But I can well understand why Seth Rogers’s wife might be handling her child’s falls in exactly the right way by asking her daughter to come to her if she wants to receive comfort.
    My own six children were very different in their personalities, and we needed to learn various approaches to teaching them the “capability independance” as well as the “emotional independance” mentioned by Kristy (#19) Now I am seeing great differences in my grandchildren, and am grateful that their parents are responding so well to the challenges in teaching them responsibility. Boyak’s book sounds like it can be very helpful.

  28. Rosalynde Welch
    August 22, 2005 at 11:04 am

    It’s not clear to me why a parent would actively work to foster “emotional independence” in, say, a two-year-old toddler. Except perhaps for some children with developmental delays, two-year-olds already have a powerful innate drive toward independence that generates significant frustration, insecurity and even fear; this is what makes them so challenging to handle. The child development theory that I’ve read suggests that this period, the “first adolescence,” is characterized by a process of rapprochement, in which the child ventures away from the mother for a time, then returns for the psychic and physical relief that the mother provides. In this way, two-year-olds are even *more* emotionally dependent that younger children, and thus in even greater need of the security the parent’s consistent presence provides. Wise parents will allow their two-year-olds to express their drive toward independence within the bounds of propriety and safety—and of course they needn’t coddle or hover, nor tolerate gratuitous bad behavior—but I see no reason why a parent should deliberately attempt to foster even *more* independence at such a vulnerable stage.

  29. Tatiana
    August 22, 2005 at 12:14 pm

    I (childless so far, so take this for what it’s worth :-)) think the biggest mistake of parenting is fondly imagining you possibly are starting to learn how. Children have a way of confounding all your expectations and no battle plan ever survives first contact with the enemy. (smiles)

    I love the idea of specifically training kids in self-reliance tasks, as I wish I’d learned more earlier.

  30. Travis Anderson
    August 22, 2005 at 2:31 pm

    I’m inclined to agree with Rosalynde–both because my four children have all manifested plenty of independence on their own without our programmed encouragement, and because each of them has drifted with the ebb and flow of wanting and achieving various degrees of independence at different ages and in different ways. I think it’s much more important to be tuned in to each child’s different personality and proclivities, and to let each of them take the lead. But then, I’m the parent who secretly shadowed each of my kids to school for the first two weeks after they wanted to walk on their own, who gets up and checks on them at night when they wimper in their sleep, who covertly retrieves their drawings and school papers from the trash after my wife’s frequent purges, etc., so maybe I’m not the one to be opining on how and when to foster independent behavior. Maybe it’s more of a problem if both parents lean toward being protective. I see myself as a balance for my wife’s “let it bleed and it will eventually clot” approach, which she no doubt sees as a corrective to my nutty nurturing.

    But who could argue that it’s important to teach your children life skills as soon as they’re interested and ready? I would maintain, however, that there’s a difference between teaching the skills necessary to independent living and training children to be independent. The former I support wholeheartedly, the latter I’m not so sure about.

  31. Julie in Austin
    August 22, 2005 at 4:12 pm

    “who covertly retrieves their drawings and school papers from the trash after my wife’s frequent purges”

    two words: digital camera

  32. Travis Anderson
    August 22, 2005 at 6:27 pm

    “Two words: digital camera”

    Ten words: a reproduction of a thing is not the thing itself. Give Benjamin a read when you’re not busy handing out pithy advice.

  33. JKS
    August 22, 2005 at 7:18 pm

    Seth Rogers,
    It is difficult to hear criticism about your parenting style. I know because I have a mother-in-law. But I don’t pay attention to her appalled expressions anymore because she simply has different priorities than I do.

  34. RoAnn
    August 22, 2005 at 8:42 pm

    Rosalynde Welch (# 28),
    I think I see what you mean, and I agree that one doesn’t generally need to foster more independence in a typical two-year-old! I guess I was concentrating more on the value of parents really taking into account individual differences when they deal with parenting issues, rather than taking a “one-size-fits-all” approach.
    Also, when I mentioned the over-all value of teaching children “independence,” I was thinking in terms children of all ages needing to gradually learn self-reliance as taught by the Church, not total independence. I should have added that I strongly believe that parents should 1) teach dependence on the Lord from the time a child is born, and 2) provide love and appropriate support (in all its aspects) to their children, as far as they are able to do so.
    JKS (#33),
    That’s a great observation. Different priorities, as well as different backgrounds, and different perceptions of children’s needs, can all result in friends and family giving parenting advice that may be neither welcome, nor wise! As grandparents now, my husband and I try to follow the example of our parents –they probably often had to bite their tongues, but they were always supportive and non-critical.

  35. JKS
    August 22, 2005 at 10:22 pm

    “It’s not clear to me why a parent would actively work to foster “emotional independence” in, say, a two-year-old toddler. ”

    It depends on your definition of emotional independence. Perhaps I am misunderstanding your definition. My 19 month old does the following (and if she didn’t I would work towards these as goals):
    1. Go to nursery at church and enjoy herself.
    2. Go to sleep by herself in her crib without elaborate rituals or sleeping with mom and dad and without a bottle.
    3. Go back to sleep if she wakes up in the middle of the night.
    4. Not be too concerned (cry for a short period of time or not at all) if mom leaves the house, or if left with a babysitter.
    5. If she doesn’t get what she wants, be able to calm herself down and not get more and more worked up (I have a strategy in place right now to nip tantrums before they go all out).
    6. My child doesn’t have a pacifier, but if she did, I would start to think about limiting its use.

  36. Rosalynde Welch
    August 22, 2005 at 11:13 pm

    RoAnn: I think I understand better what you mean now, and it sounds eminently sensible. Besides, as a successful grandmother you have infinitely more street cred when it comes to parenting than I do! Thanks for your contribution.

    JKS: As a chronically sleep-deprived mother, I find your list very appealing, and yeah, of course I’d be thrilled if my 2-year-old seemed ready for each of those steps (some of them he’s quite comfortable with, several of them he’s not). I understand that many parents place a very high value on these attributes in young children, and I think I understand why they do—but not all parents feel the same way, or at least aren’t comfortable with the kinds of methods necessary to train young children in that way. I respect your parenting values, and I don’t want to debate those values or your methods here, but I just thought it worth mentioning that not all parents share them.

    But those sorts of things aren’t really what I was talking about in #28. There I was responding to the notion that young children should be discouraged from seeking lots of emotional support and comfort from their parents when they’re upset or distressed or, for that matter, excited and happy.

  37. Seth Rogers
    August 23, 2005 at 9:55 am

    RE: #33

    I’m just sorry I placed my wife up for criticism. I don’t mind throwing myself out there as a punching bag. But maybe I should have left her out of it.

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