Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Authoritarian Mothering

The Corner at National Review has a new page called The Home Front. It's the Woman's Corner of the Corner, in which working women complain about liberal women who don't marry, poor women who marry but don't stay married, and men who don't marry and therefore never become civilized. In between are complaints about reality tv, school lunches and SpongeBob Squarepants. It is a one-stop whine extravaganza. My favorite post so far, however, whines about self-esteem, something that these women do not want their children to have.

It seems Jennifer Kaczor, despite being a conservative mother, has had a few problems with her seven children. In "Trouble With A Teenage Padawon," she relates the sad tale of her teenage daughter's involvement with...a boy. It seems that her 14-year-old was sneaking around to see her boyfriend, having wisely assumed that her mother would not let her have a normal teen relationship. Kaczor relates how she had no idea of the sneaking and had to be informed of her daughter's actions by the mother of the boyfriend. To punish her daughter, Kaczor told the girl to stop seeing the boy, took away her phone, and patted herself on the back for her good parenting. Then she tells us how daughter immediately switched over to communicating with the boyfriend via computer. It's a typical tale which will no doubt end in an unfortunate early marriage or college years spent making up for lost time, but Kaczor seems to have enjoy the martyrdom she endures for her children.

However, the best was yet to come. In You Can’t Keep My Child Down, No Matter How Hard I Try!, Kaczor tells us how she ensures that none of her children will ever have any self-esteem if she has anything to say about it.

Well, it’s over. Summer vacation, that glorious time of year when parents don’t fret about their children’s I.Q, is over. The beginning of a new school year means the beginning of a new race, and though Vicki Abeles was quite right in her assessment that we are racing to nowhere, it seems most people still want to get there first. In an effort to reassure themselves, parents will soon be bragging about the academic achievements and sporting conquests of their offspring. Everyone’s self-esteem will be exceedingly high. Except mine. And my kids’. I’m not sure which came first, my distaste of high self-esteem, or my lack of anything to warrant it. Either way, in the Kaczor family, we’ve taken to bragging about our humility.
Already Kaczor has fallen into the sing-song patter of someone who has read and recited the same words a thousand times, like a church liturgy. She begins with an appeal to the tribe's vanity ("academic achievements and sporting conquests"), raises an obligatory boogeyman, ("we are racing to nowhere"), denigrates the opponent ("Everyone’s self-esteem will be exceedingly high"), claims exceptionalism ("Except mine"), and finally blows a Christian dog-whistle ("humility"). She is thorough, if nothing else.

Training starts early with the intention of developing a child who is astonished by the smallest compliment.

How horrible. Children need love and praise to feel good about themselves. They want to be good and need to be taught how to understand themselves. These Cornerites don't even think their children deserve basic politeness.

Toddlers are told to “put a sock in it.”

That teaches him that he is not respected because people don't have to be polite to him. It teaches his siblings the same lesson.

“Not everything that passes through your little mind needs to be verbalized,” I explain.

You're stupid, shut up.

Later, when the kids start school and are told by well-meaning teachers that “there are no stupid questions,” I take them aside and inform them that, in fact, most questions are stupid. “Don’t just raise your hand to raise your hand,” I warn, “any dolt can do that.” “And for God’s sake, if you don’t know the answer, don’t raise it at all.”
Kids don't volunteer when they don't know the answer; they do their best to avoid attention. All a child will get out of this advice is that dolts ask a lot of questions.

And when visiting other people’s homes, I instruct them to “make yourself scarce.” “Don’t stand around waiting to be entertained: the less the hostess sees of you, the better she’ll like you.”
People don't like you. Go away.

You might think that my kids are emotional wrecks. Ha! The truth is, it’s not easy to keep a child down. My kids are very nearly as full of themselves as their peers are.
Which is why she is about to describe the depth of her son's insecurity, to her approval.

In addition to occasionally telling them that we love them, my husband and I made the mistake of telling them how much God loves them. Once that cat was out of the bag, there was no stopping them. Had we added to that arsenal, praise for every half-witted comment or slapped-together art project, we’d have raised children who were Disney Channel parodies of themselves.
This woman is deluding herself. It might make her feel godly to say Jesus loves you this I know, but an abstract concept is no substitute for a parent. If God's love were sufficient to give everyone self-esteem, we wouldn't have so many malevolent authoritarians.

Still, it’s a battle. The other day my nine-year-old, who fancies himself a young Johnny Carson, was going through his entire repertoire of voices during the bitter end of a road trip. “George!” I screamed. “Put a sock in it!” My husband, worried that I might be stifling a lucrative career, asked me if I thought I might be doing just that. Before I could answer, George announced his intention to become a squirrel when he grows up. “No dear,” I replied, “I don’t think so.”

George is irrepressible. But my other children have taken my training more seriously. William, a tall boy of eleven who resembles Huck Finn in taste and temperament, is used to teachers and coaches’ being disappointed in him. His homework, when completed, is forgotten. His calisthenics are lazy, and his running is lackadaisical. Other than his shy smile and intermittent kindness, he’s earned no real self-esteem and, consequently, has no real self-esteem. In short, he’s my kind of kid.
In other words, he's eleven. Boys his age are often like this. But children should not have to earn self-esteem; the very least parents can do is pass on to their child a belief that he is valued and loved. Authoritarians believe the child owes the parent obedience and that showing love means enforcing obedience. Since they do not have much empathy, they discount the distress they are inflicting on their child.


We have gone too far in praising kids and giving them seriously inflated ideas of themselves. This, I guess, could be dismissed as relatively benign, except that science has shown that the higher a person’s self-esteem, the less moral they tend to be (see Dr. Baumeister’s research).

Kaczor links to a google search that does nothing to prove her claim. Baumeister says, "Psychologists everywhere were persuaded that if only we could help people to accept and love themselves more, their problems would gradually vanish and their lives would flourish. They would even treat each other better." He concluded that such programs didn't work and therefore self-esteem should be replaced with self-control. Like many conservatives, Kaczor thinks self-esteem is the same as vanity.

In other words, the more they think of themselves, the less they think of others. The second conversation happened in the same way, but this time, the daughter didn’t just enjoy dancing, she was, according to her dear mama, “a dancer.” Yes, and my 15-year-old daughter who contrives excellent excuses for not cleaning her room is not just argumentative, she’s “a lawyer.”

I have never told my children that they are “athletes.” I have told them to be good sports, to encourage their teammates, to listen to their coach, and to play hard. This summer, William began playing basketball, and I issued the usual instructions. Because of his height, I told him to get as many rebounds as possible. But William is an erratic player. For the time being, you get what you get with William. Following one game in which he did not play particularly well, he turned to me and said, “That’s it. The coach hates me. And, by the way, I’m flunking basketball.”

“Flunking basketball?” I repeated. “You can’t flunk basketball. It’s not even a class! You are not flunking basketball.” I assured him. “Wanna bet?” he countered. “The coach hates me, he thinks I’m horrible, and he’s flunking me.” Confused by this sudden outburst, I demanded to know why William was taking such a hard view of things. “I saw his clipboard, Mom, and there is an F next to my name! Explain that!” he challenged.

In case you aren’t a big basketball fan, I’ll explain it to you as I explained it to William. “The ‘F,’ you nut, stands for “‘Forward.’” It took a second to register, and then William looked at me with his shy smile. “That makes sense,” he concluded, “because Gordie has a ‘G’ next to his name and he’s not just good, he’s really good.” “And Alex has a ‘C,’” William continued, “and he definitely deserves an A.” I put my arm around William’s waist and pulled him toward my chest. “And you, my little friend, don’t deserve an F.” I insisted. William just shrugged and smiled. If he keeps this up, I’ll soon be as insufferable as the other mothers; bragging about my son, “the martyr.”
Two things:

First, even eleven year olds know that they don't get a grade for after school activities and also know that G is not a grade. It's hard to believe that Kaczor made up this charming anecdote but it is hard to believe she didn't.

Second, why would she brag about her son acting like a martyr, especially after she has just bragged about his self-esteem?

Dennis Prager agrees that self-esteem is bad.

We think too highly of ourselves.

Self-esteem frequently runs counter to goodness. Raising children with self-esteem sounds great, but when unearned — which it usually is — it leads to bad results. In fact, it is people who do not have particularly high self-esteem, people who feel that they constantly have to prove their worth, who are more likely to act good. And it is violent criminals who have the highest self-esteem — “I am better than others and can therefore do whatever I want.”

Sadly, no. People with low self-esteem will do terrible things to feel better about themselves, including crimes and cruelties such as emotionally abusing their children.


Clever Pseudonym said...

People with low self-esteem do not try to prove their worth, largely because they feel the have none. The Cornerites and their "let them die" ilk remind those so afflicted every damn day.

And as for that vile woman - well, somebody needs to kindly explain to her that bragging about humility is still bragging, and pretty much voids any claim to it.

aimai said...

This whole thing reads like a rehash of Tbogg's blessed series "America's Worst Mother (TM)" with her children Chlamydia, Furbender, Abstract and Chiton.

Also this pose of faux humility and aw shucks "parentin' is easy as fallin' offa log" is so sterotyped and ritualized that as Roy would say she could practically come out and shout "Number 12" bow and take the applause from a crowd that knows how its done as well as she does.

But having sat through a bizarre meeting of upper class mothers last night I can assure you the confusion between who the child is and who the mother is is rampant and unfeigned. I ended up holding the hand of a young mother of a 3,4 and 5 year old--and no, I didn't blurt out "why the fuck don't you figure out how this sex thing works and try spacing the damn things--who was worried that her children liked to be together too much and didn't seem to seek out and cherish "alone time." She also referenced Race to Nowhere and competition and overscheduled kids and was yearning to raise children who were unstructured and blah blah blah but...didn't I think that they should want time alone to work on their projects? (I know you are dying to know what pearls of wisdom I imparted. It was basically to tell her that she wanted more alone time and she should try getting it for herself but that kids at that age like playign together like puppies.)


Lurking Canadian said...

The notion that self-esteem must be earned, that children should feel like crap about themselves unless they are high-achieving is one of the more pernicious evils.

Ken Houghton said...

And when,seven or eight years from now, her children are Bristol Palin without the contacts or worse, she will be blaming the schools and teachers.

In fact, she's all-effing-ready blaming the education system ("we are racing to nowhere"), while admitting she wants her kids to be failures and bullying her kids into not being successes.

Sometimes, perhaps, mercy killing should not be limited to old age, while children who plead "I'm an orphan" may have a point. Even while they are still one of seven.

Anatole David said...

"She humiliates her children to be exalted."

It's all about her. "If you don't like it, kid, put a sock in it."

She's the smirking bully in school as a parent.

(In the future there will be Taylorist programs for children. A nation of humble and obedient wage slaves.)

Her slender on praise and fat on humiliation approach mirrors the worst genus of social conformism practiced by adolescents in school.

The sadism of incentivizing self criticism at an age when confidence is most tested.....(sigh)

This woman is a proud monster.

Brad said...

Out of morbid curiosity I checked out The Home Front and saw a surprising number of K-Lo posts. Does Kathryn Jean have something she wants to tell us?

fish said...

I think I met her son.

aimai said...

I think you are all very mistaken if you think that Mrs. "Put a Sock in it" and "Children should be seen and Not Heard" ever, in fact, tells her children to put a sock in it or sends them away to play instead of letting them annoy their elders. This kind of "I'm a tough mommy with standards" kind of posturing often goes hand in hand with smothering, overattentive, and omnipresent mothering. Not that its any better. In fact the same contempt she has for her readers probably exists for her children. If you write dishonestly and in a pandering way, catering to your readers desire for the easy parable, you probably do the same to your children.


Susan of Texas said...

Yes, you're right; I've seen mothers who are selfish and malicious pretend to be strict but more often I see mothers who expect their children to gratify their vanity or follow a certain path, and are constantly monitoring their children.

Downpuppy said...

The NRO article is 4 years old, and the basketball joke was old when Joe Miller told it.

Since then, Ms Kaczor has shown her ability to tailor her writing to her audience -

Monsignor quickly threw in something about a girl from our parish who considered the army. She decided against it – seems she wanted to go to college instead, but it was the only precedent he could lay hold of, and I had to give him credit. "Ann would make an excellent soldier," I responded. But before I could really get going on the topic, Ann had divested herself of my arm and Monsignor had made his get-away.

"Why do you do that? That is sooo rude." Ann hissed. "You know I only said that one time. One time I said I didn't know if I wanted to go to college, and you will not let it die. What is wrong with you?"

"One time" is not exactly true. In reality, Ann proclaims her disdain for college every time a report card is mailed home and she has to confront her grades, which stubbornly insist on reflecting her effort. Her defense – because what high school girl will admit to poor time-management, abject laziness, and wishful thinking – is to declare, in an avant-garde kind of way, that she's not at all sure she wants to go to college anyway. So take that, Harvard!

But because she is playing into my game so beautifully, I let it go. The argument continues, of course, for many minutes. She is 17, and no argument is really over until she feels she has won. And I let her, knowing that the real victory, the one I learned about from my own mother, is mine.

"Set the bar low," my mother would advise her friends, "and watch your kids leap over it. Nothing so galls a child, so spurs him on, as being underestimated." And though her friends found her Dr. Spock-ish advice barbaric (it was the 1980s and the psychologists had just discovered self-esteem), my mother was actually right.

I do believe that she's manipulative.

atat said...

Those last couple paragraphs are bone-chilling, downpuppy. I'm a new parent, and I can't even imagine the level of contempt one must have toward their children in order to behave that way.

Susan of Texas said...

Oh my god that woman is unbelievable. And of course she got it from her mother.

So much passive aggression. And agressive aggression. And contempt, disinterest, and vanity. Jesus.

Anonymous said...

At least she's not Julie Gunlock.

Mr.Wonderful said...

Self-esteem does have to be earned, but praise (as John Updike once said) "nourishes us," and encouragement is not the same as false praise. This woman--whether or not her anecdotes are true or fictional--is a self-centered, and therefore moral, hypocrite.

Assuming, as she apparently does, that every interaction with her children is a power contest that she can "win," she's guaranteed to influence her kids into growing up "respecting" her but lacking that fundamental kind of self-esteem called "confidence."

Plus, there's a difference between "humility" and "modesty." She may think she's invoking Christian humility, but isn't that only relevant vis a vis God? Her kids are going to grow up perpetually one-down, striving (or despairing at being unable to strive) to please the all-knowing Mom, who will age into just another cranky ignoramus before their eyes.

Anonymous said...

She is so mean.
But this isn't a liberal vs. conservative thing. Even though religious right-wingers might take it to the extreme or be more explicit about it, the idea that children must submit to the authority of their parents is pervasive our culture.

Parents who do not subscribe to that belief -- who strive to resolve conflict with their children the same way they would resolve conflict with their spouse or coworkers, who do not use punishment or rewards as teaching tools, who do not assume that they will know better than their children in all circumstances -- are offered the same dire predictions about just how doomed their children are. People have to believe that being mean to their children is necessary and for their own good, and most are not willing to consider the alternative.

Susan of Texas said...

this isn't a liberal vs. conservative thing

That's very true, it's an authoritarian thing and there are plenty of liberal authoritarians.

satch said...

To be fair to Kaczor, she's just doing her part to create more conservatives.

Batocchio said...

The woman has issues. I take some solace in knowing she's a liar, though, which might mean her sociopathy isn't as effective as she portrays it. As noted already, an eleven-year old would not think "G" was a grade or that basketball gave them, and a nine-year old would not (except in jest or play) say he wanted to grow up to be a squirrel.