Duct Tape Parenting: A Review

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“I am not, you know, a great believer in our style of parenting,” Jerry Seinfeld said to Jimmy Fallon on his recent Tonight Show appearance. “What I mean is you, me, anyone who has kids now, I just think we’re too into it.…when I think of the bedtime routine for my kids, it’s like this Royal-Carnation-Jubilee-Centennial of rinsing and plaque and dental appliances and the stuffed animal semicircle of emotional support…I gotta read eight different moron books. You know what my bedtime story was when I was a kid? Darkness!” 

The style of parenting Seinfeld’s referring to is often called “over-parenting,” “helicopter parenting,” and now even “modern parenting.” It’s a style where parents aim for perfection in their kids’ personalities, looks, diets, talents, education, behaviors, and even their living spaces. It’s the style where, in extreme cases, parents go as far as buying a second home in the town of their child’s college in order to visit, meet with teachers, assist with paper writing, studying, and, of course, laundry. 

Vicki Hoefle’s here to tell those parents to duct tape themselves to chairs. “Use as much tape as you need,” she writes “and tape as many body parts as you must to stay out, let go, stop from jumping in, sit back, keep quiet, and refrain from saving your child from discomfort.”

Hoefle’s words come with over twenty years’ worth of mothering five kids and parent educating. It began before the birth of her daughter, with The Parent’s Handbook: Systematic Training for Effective Parenting by Don Dinkmeyer Sr., Gary McKay, and Don Dinkmeyer Jr., who left two thoughts with Hoefle that she based her philosophies on: “a misbehaving child is a discouraged child and it is the parents’ responsibility to prepare their children to become contributing members of society.” This preparation, according to Hoefle, begins the day our children are born.

A few months before my daughter arrived, a friend of mine handed me a different style of parenting book by Dr. Sears, who is an advocate of attachment parenting. This method worked well for me, but after several months, I had to put my baby down and get on with things like showering alone. This did not go over well. My daughter hadn’t learned to self-soothe or sleep without nursing or being held. Our un-attachment process left me sitting on the porch, sobbing on the phone while a friend talked me through my daughter screaming in a crib for thirty minutes before she fell asleep on her own. 

But something important happened. I no longer saw my daughter and me as one person.  She was no longer attached to me (sometimes literally) at all hours of the day. I could continue to grow and adjust into my new role as a mother, and she could grow and adjust to her role as a person. “Remember that the world is set up to help your child learn lessons with nearly every event, decision, and mistake,” Hoefle writes. At a park one day, Mia crawled around, picking up various pine cones and grass and putting them straight in her mouth. A woman walked by, swooped down to take whatever my daughter had in her hand and said, “Oh you don’t want that, that’s yucky!” and gave me a stern look before continuing down her path. I had the same confused look as my daughter did. Because how would she learn something was yucky unless she tried it?

Hoefle’s book offers life-changing ideas for parents who feel the pressure for perfection, but also feel like the unappreciated maid, chauffeur, law enforcer, and tutor. Once our kids start school, we face expectations or judgments, even more than the tsks from old ladies in the grocery store when our child screamed on their back from the middle of the aisle (Hoefle has words of wisdom for that scenario, too). I felt shadowed by the mother who had time to volunteer in class once a week, whose daughter arrived perfectly pressed, cleaned, and combed (on time!!) each morning. Whose valentines contained homemade, allergen-free cookies and perfect notes written in calligraphy. The cards I’d let my daughter write out herself felt messy and rushed compared to the time this mother had taken for each and every note. But Hoefle points out the important part: my daughter had done them, not me.    

Her book encourages and gives step-by-step instructions to help you allow your child to do the age-appropriate self-care tasks they should, and learn the life skills and lessons that arise from trial and error they do at their own pace. She tells us to stop micro-managing, nagging, whining, yelling, threatening, and bribing our kids to “get” them to do what we’ve asked. With the proper encouragement and acknowledgment, kids develop their own self-motivation and satisfaction from doing bedtime and morning routines on their own, getting ready for activities, and learning how to help around the house. They learn how to care for themselves and live responsible lives outside of our homes. 

The book doesn’t focus on one age group, and even asks parents to create a roadmap of goals for their families who want to base themselves from respect for each other, instead of nagging. This isn’t a book you need to pick up before the baby’s born, it’s a book you can pick up to help with your temper-tantrum riddled three-year-old, your angry tween, or your distanced teenager. 

But don’t forget to pick up some duct tape.

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About the Author

Stephanie Land

Stephanie Land’s work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Vox, Salon, and many other outlets. She focuses on social and economic justice as a writing fellow through the Center for Community Change, and through the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. Her memoir, MAID: A Single Mother’s Journey from Cleaning House to Finding Home, is forthcoming through Hachette Books. She writes from Missoula, Montana, where she lives with her two daughters.

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