Kathy Buckworth on the benefits of autocratic parenting



Estimated Reading Time 3 Minutes

When my son Alex was fi ve years
old, he took part in a skating
show. In the same show was a
friend of his, a little guy with a
knack for running his parents
around in circles. Minutes before
the kids were supposed to take
their Teletubby-outfi tted selves
onto the ice to perform, this mom
asked, ever so politely: “Jimmy*,
would you like to put on your
mittens now?” Of course Jimmy
said, “No.” To which Mom replied,
“Well, you have to because the
show is about to start.” His reply?
Wait for it . . . : “No.”

You can imagine how this ended.
She got angry, and he started
crying. She said, “If you don’t stop
crying and put these mittens on,
we’re not going to McDonald’s
afterwards.”

He kept crying, didn’t put the
mittens on, and missed the show.
And what did his mom and dad
do? They took him to McDonald’s.

This is Democratic Parenting
at its very worst – a situation in
which a child is given an inappropriate
amount of power. Why
on earth did this mother ask her
son to do something he had no
choice but to do? It’s not like she
was about to accept anything but
yes. Jimmy was clearly the boss
of her and the result, while not
catastrophic (how much harm can
a Happy Meal do, anyway?), was
still a strong indication of how he
would rule himself as a child and,
more frighteningly, as a teen and
as an adult.

Now let’s look at the same
scenario as it might have been
handled by an Autocratic Parent
(a.k.a. a boss).

Mom: Jimmy, put your mittens
on. Now.

Jimmy: I don’t want to.
Mom: Put them on.
Jimmy: Why?
Mom: Because I said so.
Jimmy: But I don’t want to.
Mom: That would be entirely
relevant had I asked if you wanted
to. I don’t want to make dinner
either, but if you don’t put those
mittens on right now, I will do it
for you, and then neither of us
will be happy.
Jimmy: They’re on!

The Autocratic Parent clearly
has the upper hand. Why? My
theory is based entirely on
anecdotal evidence, but I believe
it’s because the expectations were
clearly laid out and the boundaries
were established and adhered
to. There was no compromise in a
situation that didn’t call for compromise.
Mittens were needed.
Enough said.

Could it be, then, that the Democratic
Parenting ideal isn’t all it’s
cracked up to be? Before rushing
to judgment, I decided to search
for a clear, concise defi nition to
wrap my head around. I came up
empty. It seems as if proponents
of this child-rearing method are
fi nding it diffi cult to entirely agree
on the basic tenets (never a good
sign). So, left to my own devices, I
decided to break the phrase down
into its two parts to see if it makes
any sense. From the Oxford Dictionary (the not-so-subtle boldface
emphasis is mine):
democratic (adj): relating to or
supporting democracy or its
principles: democratic countries,
democratic government; favouring
or characterized by social
equality; egalitarian: cycling is a
very democratic activity that can
be enjoyed by anyone.
parenting: from the source word
parent (n): a person’s father or
mother; a forefather or ancestor;
an animal or plant from which
new ones are derived; a source
or origin of a smaller or less important
part; an organization or
company which owns or controls
a number of subsidiaries. (verb):
be or act as a mother or father to
(someone).

Is it just me or is there a total
disconnect here? Maybe even an
oxymoronic taint to the phrase?
On the one hand you’ve got “social
equality.” On the other you’ve got
“a source or origin of a smaller or
less important part.” Sounds like
an oxymoron to me! Pay attention
now: Democratic Parenting
should be an oxymoron in your
house. If it’s not, you’re in trouble.

One of the great benefits of
Autocratic Parenting is a greatly
diminished amount of “talking
time.” Parenting can be a huge
time suck, even more so when you
allow young children to have an
equal say or “voice” in every decision
you make.

But that’s not the only way
Democratic Parenting causes extra
and unnecessary work. It can
also lead to delusions of grandeur
for the children (for instance,
thinking they can say “no” when
told to clear the table – um, was
a question even asked there?). In
fact, I would submit that instead
of moving us forward, the Democratic
Parenting movement has
set us back several steps.

*Name changed to protect the
annoying.

Excerpted from
I Am So the Boss
of You: An 8-Step
Guide to Giving
Your Family the
“Business” (Random
House), on
bookstore shelves
March 26 and
recently optioned
by Warner Brothers
for television.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, April 2013.

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