Cat Barnard of Enterprise, Fla., sits near the tent she and her husband, Harlan, lived in after they moved out of their house and went on strike because their children wouldn't do chores.
When Florida couple Cat and Harlan Barnard pitched a tent filled with air mattresses and a barbecue grill nearby in the front yard of their surburban home last December, they made national news and took their kids by surprise.
The couple, who reside in the city of Enterprise, weren't throwing a neighborhood block party. Instead, they had moved out of their comfortable home to go on strike against their children, Benjamin, 17, and Kit, 12, who had refused to do their chores.
Mrs. Barnard, a 45-year-old stay-at-home mom, and Mr. Barnard, a 56-year-old government social services worker, pitched handwritten signs outside their makeshift campsite that read, "Parents on Strike!" and "Seeking Cooperation and Respect!"
While some parents may view their efforts as extreme, perhaps cruel, others who are faced with non-compliant children call the Barnards the new "poster parents" for creative discipline.
Barbara Laraway, founder and executive director of Parents Helping Parents, says when she heard about the Barnards' experiment she said, "Good for you for having the courage to do something different!"
The local chapter of the parents' support group, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, assists parents in identifying problems and obtaining appropriate professional services that will aid them.
"We help parents stay strong. We help them to become more consistent and follow through more appropriately. Their kids are constantly pushing their buttons, and we have to change our behavior as parents," she says.
While Ms. Laraway, the mother of three adult children who started the group when one of her children became disobedient, can't recall any parents in the group who camped out on the front lawn like the Barnards did, she does encourage creative means, within the law, to teach children right from wrong.
When her own children were younger, she says they repeatedly overlooked emptying the dishwater and let dirty dishes stack up in the sink. So she locked all the dishes, silverware, and eventually the pots and pans in her bedroom. She adds that she never deprived the children of food, but did want to teach them a lesson about cleaning up after themselves.
Anne Walston, right, of Bowling Green, took a 'tough love' parenting approach with her daughter, Shannon, left.
"How we respond is what automatically changes the kids. If we come up with some creative ways in dealing with them, then there will be creative consequences. We need to get away from the yelling and the screaming," Ms. Laraway adds.
The aftermath for the Barnards, who refused to clean, drive, or cook for their children, proved positive. According to media reports, the children started to do their laundry - their daughter for the first time - and eventually succumbed to a sort of reverse peer pressure when the children's friends began telling the Barnard kids to shape up.
"This is war," Cat Barnard was quoted as saying in an Orlando Sentinel article during the stand-off. "I love my babies, but I don't like what they're doing."
Anne Walston, a supervisor of a county agency in Bowling Green who began facing problems with her only child, Shannon, when her daughter was about 13 years old, says she shared this sentiment.
Her problems, however, were far greater than not doing dishes or taking out the garbage. Ms. Walston said her daughter was hanging around with people she didn't approve of and staying out late.
The 54-year-old woman sought the assistance of Parents Helping Parents and learned that the only thing she could do to help her daughter was to call the police whenever she got into trouble.
"You spend a lot of time blaming yourself and asking yourself, 'What did I do to cause this?' But even my own daughter told me later, 'Mom, you couldn't have stopped me.' It was hard to show tough love, but I did it. Parents can't always blame themselves. You have to teach them and give them all the tools to make their own decisions," said Ms. Walston.
Today, Ms. Walston's daughter, now 23, is a success story.
A far cry from her troubled teen days, Shannon is an honor roll student and carries a 3.92 grade point average as a criminal justice senior at Owens Community College.
She says she hopes to one day become a detective to help defiant and troubled teens like she once was.
"I guess I was exerting my own independence and I didn't want to be told what to do. Whatever my mother told me to do, I would do the complete opposite. I know now it [my behavior] was my fault and I shouldn't have done it, I just wanted to rebel," says Shannon reflecting on her teen years.
"My mom helped me throughout the whole thing. She's the reason for a lot of my turnaround. It was how much she pushed me. If I got out of line, she would call the cops on me. It let me know that somebody still cared," she adds.
Joyce Crampton, an employee of Parents Helping Parents and a friend of Ms. Walston, said she knows that society "can't parent strong-willed children the same as we do compliant children.
"You have to get real creative like [the Barnard family] did to get their attention and motivate them. "They're not going to do it, they have to want to do it," she adds.
Ms. Crampton says getting tough, using creative discipline, and demonstrating to your children that you will not back down is love. She says if you allow them to take over without any boundaries and rules, they can harm themselves and possibly others.
"With each generation there's more of a distance [between children and parents], but this current generation seems to do really life-threatening things. We soaked windows and we were supposed to be in when the street lights came on, but today it's the Columbine shootings that are happening in the schools," she says.
Laura Draheim, coordinator of the placement department at Lucas County Children Services, says when training foster parents, there are a standard set of care rules that are used, and humor and creativity within legal means are encouraged.
She adds that foster parents are also taught to use discipline that fits with the child's unacceptable action.
"For example, if they leave the bike outside you shouldn't punish them by saying they can't go to the dance. We promote using techniques that are more in line with the infraction. So if they leave the bike outside then maybe they can't ride their bike for a week. That's the more logical consequence," says Ms. Draheim.
Ms. Laraway adds that whether it's calling the police on your child or pitching a tent in the front yard and going on strike, making the tough decisions creatively ultimately works.
"It's setting limits that says to them, 'I love you, but I don't like your behavior,' " she adds.
Contact Rhonda B. Sewell at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6101.
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