Saturday, December 31, 2016

Ideal Reading Programs and Kumon (I Can Finally Verbalize Why Their Reading Program Is Bad!)

I read a book on classical education called The Well-Trained Mind that finally has enabled me to verbalize what it is that I don't like about the Kumon reading program!

Yes, the sentences are dumb and the philosophy is bad, but that has been the case in every program I have looked into. What I don't like about it is that it is a language arts program, not a reading program.

Reading and writing are different skills and were treated as such in classical education. Reading, Penmanship, Spelling, Grammar, and Rhetoric/Writing were all treated as different subjects. No wonder educated people had such beautiful penmanship – it was its own discipline, with its own goals. Imagine giving your brain only one instruction at a time: for now we shall focus on the sounds that letters make, and for now we shall focus on shaping letters beautifully, and now on how things are spelled, and now on sentence structure (which is pre-logic), and now on expressing our thoughts (rhetoric).

Back when public education consisted solely of the three "R's" (reading, rhetoric, and 'rithmatic), reading (sounds, penmanship, and spelling) took up three different periods of study and then rhetoric (grammar and writing) took up two more different periods of study! Did they spend three hours a day on what we now cram into one forty minute session (the young children anyway)?

I have read before about how much more intelligent people were in the mid 1800's than they are today. There are many possible explanations for this, but what if it's all about reading? It could be argued: Reading is communication, is thinking, is reasoning. It could be argued that being able to read well is the skill we have lost that has led to so much poor thinking.

In Bauer's book she gives an example schedule for a first grader. The homeschool day is about three hours long, half of which is dedicated to the five reading subjects.

Bauer's main argument for keeping the five skills of the language arts curriculum separate is that most normal children can read at a fourth grade level by kindergarten (given proper instruction), but no child can write at a fourth grade level until, well, third or fourth grade. Combing the two together forces kids to stay behind in reading! Which makes reading boring.

So, having spent pretty much all my free time this week researching the different reading programs this is what I have concluded: Hooked on Phonics is fine (the boxed program with flashcards and book, not the ap.) It's not perfect, but it is complete and orderly. It's actually better than 100 Easy Lessons in many ways (because it introduces all the different sound variations). Where I went wrong with it is something that I actually love about Kumon: mastery. We do not move on until we master this skill. Because Anders could read (by sounding out) all the words in his kindergarten and first grade programs, we moved on to second grade.

But Anders is still sounding out words instead of having memorized sound combinations. For example, when he sounds out milk, he says, m-i-l-k. He should actually sound it out m-i-lk, having memorized the sound combination lk,

I will do Phonics Pathways with my next kid, but for Anders, we will head back to Hooked on Phonics, tail end of the Kindergarten level. We went through the box today, and he is very excited about doing such easy reading again.

*Note, Kumon is also not phonics enough, way too much sight words in their program.

Friday, December 30, 2016

My Favorite Homeschool Curriculums

*For those of you following Anders's education, here is an updated list of my favorite reading and math programs. I will keep it updated as I find new ones. The following programs should last all the way through 8th grade.

Reading: (starting at age 3)
Phonics Pathways (Hooked on Phonics is also fine)
Supplemented with Explode the Code workbook series (when comfortable with writing)
Read a lot of great books

Zaner-Bloser Handwriting

Spelling (starting at age 7):
Modern Curriculum Press Spelling

Grammar (starting at age 7):
First Language Lessons, then
Hake Grammar (age 9)

Writing (starting at age 7):
The Complete Writer, then
Writing & Rhetoric (age 10)

Kumon (age 3)
Montessori math work (age 3-6)
Right Start Mathematics (starting at age 7)
Singapore Math (starting at age 7)

Yes, eventually, you do three math programs at the same time (Kumon, Right Start, and Singapore). One each day rotating or a little of each every day.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Dynasties: How to Avoid "Blue Collar to Blue Collar in Three Generations"

I am currently studying family systems, what leads families to stay together, and what tears them apart or encourages their dispersement. Seventy percent of all generational wealth transfers fail. And then there is the proverb that is, statistically speaking, almost always true: "Blue collar to blue collar in three generations." Why?

The story generally goes like this: An ambitious middle class man creates great wealth and starts a family dynasty. His children try not to mess it up, but mostly they are lazy and/or uncreative. The fortune is no long grows, rather, it stagnates. The grandchildren are worse than the children, even less creative, and sometimes despots, and now the fortune decreases. By the time the great-grandkids are grown, there is no fortune. The dynasty is over and the family is back to blue collar work.

I have been coming up with theories about how families can fight the proverb since I began working for families who were dealing with these issues. For a long time my answer has been: Your children are headed toward the mean because you are not raising them – middle class nannies and teachers are. Want your children to have your values, habits, and skills? You need to be the one who raises them.

But recently I have come to a second realization. In some ways, it only appears that the children are "not great" like the parents. And it only appears that the parents are all that great. Because most of the time it takes three generations to make the "great creator." I think the story is six generations long.

Generation 1: The pioneer generation. They struggle for survival in a new ecosystem. A concrete example of this: A young man, raised by an unsuccessful Inn Keeper, decides to be a farmer as there is an opportunity for cheap land out west. He goes there. It is wilderness. It is far from anyone he knows. Though he knows how to run and inn, he does not actually know how to farm. And though his parents weren't ideal, at least he knew people in the town where he grew up. Now he know's no one. But he is hardworking and determined to make something of himself. Survival isn't easy or guaranteed at first, but he plugs away, clearing the land, breaking in the soil, building a tiny cabin, and saving. He marries and works his tail off to feed his offspring. He has to create a new family culture because the only thing he was able to learn from his own parents was what not to do. So he does not turn to drink, does not divorce, does not indulge in overspending, etc, but he is a lot better at knowing what not to do than what to do.

Generation 2: The second generation continues what the pioneers began. With hard work and perseverance they will do well, but they will never make it big. Outlying success will allude this generation. In my concrete example: The children of the pioneer don't need to spend a decade breaking in virgin soil, learning the native plants of this ecosystem, clearing the land, or even figuring our what values lead to success. They inherit this wealth of knowledge, and they improve upon it. They build bigger houses, barns, and better tools. They plant trees for beauty, not just for food. Their father was only ever able to think about the current year. Because they are already on top of that, they plan ten years ahead. They grew up knowing people in the area - small time farmers like themselves, but unlike their father, they have a support network (not to mention the best support network their is, successful family members nearby). They also build on the family culture. Their parents were good parents, but they want to be even better.

Generation 3: The outliers. They can do what their parents and grandparents could not. Biographies will be written about them. They will be heralded as the creators of dynasty. In my concrete example: The grandchildren of the pioneers are born into a family successful enough that they have free time. Their family farm is already productive and beautiful, so they focus on improving it even more, making it not just beautiful but glorious, and making it not just productive but top notch. They grew up watching their parents be alluded by the big leagues, and they know exactly what they need to do to go big. They go to school, and college. They network. They have a support network of a higher caliber than their parents did. Their family has now made it and they are revered for their success.

But their childhoods are not given enough credit. Their parents and their grandparents, keeping it together despite the rigors of pioneering in a new field, are not given enough credit. They don't become part of the family myth. Whether it's Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson or Beyonce or Gwenyth Paltrow, the third generation outlier becomes this heroic individual who did it with help from his parents, sure, but not to the extent that anyone imagines. And now we get to their children.

Generation 4: How do you follow up a truly incredible parent? Hopefully the Generation 3 Outlier used his success to find the best possible mate he could and then settled into focusing on his own children. More likely, he will be seduced by his own success and not able to give it up. He will spend his life focusing on attaining even higher echelons of success. He will fail to raise his children.

A child of an outlier, say, Beyonce's kids for example, has a choice when it comes to work:
-Don't work and live off the family money
-Try to outdo mother
-Try to do her own thing (i.e. be a pioneer in a new field and/or ecosystem)

Family systems experts generally recommend to heirs that they do their own thing. They inevitably end up not being very impressive. The experts recommend having compassion for them. 

Much of the time, families return to pioneering before the third generation is even reached. Perhaps the family has bought into the cultural myth that everyone must have a One True Passion, and the point of childhood is to find it. Many in academia believe that if all children worked in fields different from their parents, they would not be able to benefit from nepotism, and the playing field would be leveled for all. If everyone was always a pioneer, we would all be equal!

The hard life of a pioneer is also often the end result of twenty-two years in school. Well-meaning parents deprive their children of the wealth of knowledge they would have received from a childhood at their side. So they end up, at twenty-two, starting as a pioneer in his parent's business - a pioneer because even though it is his parents line of work, he has no experience in it.

The fourth generation children, the children of outliers and successful people, will most likely never be that successful, not because they are lazy or losers or less than their parents, but simply because they are pioneering in a new field. They will struggle just to survive in their chosen career in ways that their parents cannot possibly understand.

A second or third generation success cannot fathom what it is like to arrive in the wilderness and learn an entire ecosystem. This is another reason why so many children of successful people choose to be pioneers – because the successful parents advising the children have no idea how hard it is. As a rule, the successful people were not pioneers. They think success is easy and anyone can do it.

In my concrete example, the generation four child of the outlying farmer is told that he can do anything with his life. All he has to do is work hard and he will be a success like his father. So he goes to college and studies film. When he graduates he moves to Los Angeles to be a director. He spends his family's money lavishly and, though he is able to get a foothold, he doesn't find any success in his career. It is so depressing for him, measuring himself up against his father, that he turns to drink. He is a horrible parent to his own children.

Generation 5: Raised by a depressed, alcoholic father who failed to make it as a director, this guy decides that the movie industry is not a safe bet. His family still has enough money for him to go to college. He studies business. He gets a job in Chicago running an inn and, as a pioneer, struggles just to survive. He wasn't raised with any good examples of hard work, rather he grew up learning how to be depressed and drink his problems away. This he does.

Generation 6: The fortune is gone now. The family is now blue collar again. Generation 6 will not be able to afford college. He is raised by an alcoholic failure who runs an Inn. All he knows about his future is that he doesn't want to be like his father.

So I think the proverb should be: "Blue collar to Blue Collar in Six Generation." And I think the problem is a general failure to understand that success takes generations to build.

So what does this mean for you and your family or me and mine? I think it would be helpful for families to place themselves: Are you a pioneer, pioneering in a new line of work that you did not learn from your parents as a kid? Are you second generation, successful and perhaps even very wealthy, but not to the level that biographies will be written about you? Are you third generation, the outlier that most likely your child cannot top? 

If you are a pioneer, you will most likely think your career is a dead end. You will hope your child does something "better." College will fix it! This is your mistake.

I met a guy the other day named Matt. He never went to college. He was raised by a single mother, an immigrant. She worked a minimum wage job and could barely feed him when he was a kid. He quit school at sixteen. He is now forty-years-old and owns thirty two convenience stores. He makes a fantastic living. How did he pull that off?! Hint: He was not the pioneering generation.

His mother worked at a 7-11 for his entire childhood. She couldn't afford daycare, and they didn't know anyone, so he hung out at her 7-11 after school. He knew how to run the place by the time he was twelve. Started working there himself when he was fourteen. Saved up and bought his first 7-11 when he was twenty-five. Killed it. Most people who run 7-11's don't understand how to run them, he told me. He does.

The lesson: If you are a struggling pioneer don't assume your child will struggle as hard as you. You paved the way. Your child has been paying attention. Invite your child to your life. He will do it better. Don't assume your career is a dead end or you life isn't a worthy one to invite your child to join. If you can just keep it together, despite the insane difficulty of your life, your children will do great.

The other lesson: Many people would look at Matt, the guy who owns thirty-two convenience stores, and mistake him for the pioneering generation, after all, his mother never owned any convenience stores. This is not the case. Matt is the second generation in his family to work in the field of convenience stores. Unfortunately, because Matt chose a line of work his childhood had perfectly prepared him for, he thinks that anyone could do what he did, anyone willing to work hard can reach his level of success. That is the mistake the second generation makes.

And one more lesson: If pioneers can just provide their children with basic survival and a good parent-child relationship, the family will rise. But pioneers need to stick to it and not flail about.

Laura Ingles Wilder's story is a good example of pioneers that could have made it, but instead, flailed about, not settling down, not focusing on providing their children with enough nutrition for them to reproduce well. Their children lived to adulthood, so it seemed like they were successful. They probably told themselves that they were fine parents. Three of the daughters married. But there was only one grandchild for Ma and Pa Ingles and she could not have children. There were no great-grand children. The evidence points toward malnutrition related infertility, the physical degeneration Weston A Price writes about. 

If you are second generation, your weakness will be having no idea how hard it is to be a pioneer. Picture Matt's mother and how successful she was, or Pa and Ma Ingles and how successful they were. If you sentence your child to the life of a pioneer, that will likely be that level of success, not yours.

Also, don't assume your kid wants to do his own thing if he knows the true choice. Don't send him down the pioneer track by sending him to a "good school" and being able to afford after school activities or a wife at home that prevents him from hanging out with you at the office all day. Your mistake will be one of ignorance, not appreciating what your parents did that you were able to build on. Be clear with your kids: You can be a pioneer, but you most likely will not find the level of success I have found. If you want to start studying the family business now (at seven years old) you have a chance at becoming an outlier.

The key take away is to be clear with children about the real choice. Hard work is not all it takes to reach a second generation level of success at a reasonable age.

For example, Laura Ingles Wilder found success as a pioneer in the in the field of writing – when she was seventy years old.

If you are adult second-gen who just realized how hard it is going to be to be a pioneer, but its too late to spend your childhood learning the family business, consider accepting your pioneer status and focusing on your children: They can be second generation in whatever field you are pioneering, or, if you raise them at Grandpa's office, they can take your place as the outlying, third generation.

Before I move on to third generation, it should be mentioned that staying at what I am calling second generation levels of success is something a family can actually maintain for many generations. The third generation doesn't have to become outliers. They can build on their family's wealth while focusing on their children. They can grow the company, but not be consumed by it. In fact, in my current studies of the institution of family, the most successful families (in terms of their long term ability to maintain a high level of wealth and stay together as a family) follow this model.

If you are third generation, and people are writing biographies about you, you are in the riskiest spot. If you have made outlying success, you will most likely struggle the most at parenting because your success keeps you stuck in the maiden/squire phase of life and because your children will grow up in your shadow.

You could try to lessen the shadow, toning it down at work. This would happen naturally if you let go of your maiden/squire phase. If your focus becomes your child, and you bring your child to life with you. What happens? You can't do as much. You have to slow down. If you are Beyonce, you do maybe three shows a year, and you prepare for them for months – they take a lot longer to prepare for because your five-year-old is there wanting to learn the dance routine too. You don't make quite as much money because your time is being poured into your child. But in the end, it's wonderful, because you are not a maiden trying to attract the attention of the highest status mate you can anymore. You are a mother now, trying to raise a child who can attract the highest quality mate. You can't buy a good mate for your kid. You can only focus on your child, helping her to become the best potential mate she can be.

That's how I can see a third generation successful family working. It is also currently the only way I can see outlying success work at all in a family that thinks in long-term ways (encourage outlying success in the young as a mating strategy, but once mated, get out of the limelight). Because otherwise, outlying successes are so difficult for the next generation to overcome, that I am not sure a family thinking long-term should even strive for it. In many ways those who choose outlying success for their career might consider forgoing having children as to do so is inconsiderate of them. The outlying success who continues to be so after his children are born is not a good parent, and if he ever does graduate from squire to king, he is the king who cannot give up his throne.

Another option for outlying families would be to take the child destined for a pioneer career, and your fourth generation child isn't going to follow your career, perhaps he can pick something you exposed him to, so he will have a better chance of not being a total pioneer. For example Brad Pitt's kids could consider architecture or directing or working for the UN. In this way maybe they can pull off (almost) second-generation status. Should they choose chemistry, they will be pioneers. It's fine to choose chemistry, but they should be made aware of the reality of the choice they are making.

Another strategy for a third generation parent is to have the child pick something when he is very young. In this way, both child and parent have ten to twenty years to learn about that field, giving the child possible second-generation status by middle age. The danger is that the parent will underestimate the level of involvement needed on his part, thinking that that $150/hr tutor is enough. The tutor is not enough. Every line of work is its own world, it's own ecosystem. If you own a soap business, you can buy your child acting lessons from the best teachers in the world, but if you don't take the time to meet people in the film business, and develop relationships with them, your child will end up a pioneer. 

Anyway, not saying there are not exceptions or that this is The One True Rule. It's just a trend that I have noticed.

You may not understand what I mean when I say "pioneer" unless you have read this post: You may not understand what I mean when I say "maiden" or "squire" later unless you have read this post:

Friday, December 16, 2016

Where RIE and I Part Ways

A friend of mine was reading a Janet Lansbury's book and wanted my opinion on the following three paragraphs (which I have divided into chunks according to my responses):

"A child should have a child's life and not be an appendage of an adult's life. Children should have their own age-appropriate experiences.""

I have seen many children treated as if they were pets or trophies of their parents. To the extent that Lansbury means children should own their lives, I agree. But I think she doesn't mean what I want her to mean. I think she is a benevolent dictator. What is "a child's life?" Sounds like something an adult invented that he is forcing upon the child to me. The child should not "be an appendage" of the adult, but neither should he be a prisoner to the Victorian and Waldorf ideals of what "childhood" should consist of.

To the extent that she wants children to be excluded from the real world "for their own good," I completely disagree.

"Few adults adapt to a child's life--her size, temperament, and timing. Many expect children to adapt to adult life. This is very difficult for children to do. Children can adapt to anything, but it isn't in their best interest."

These statements I agree with. It is very hard to communicate effectively with a baby or toddler if the adult does not adapt to the child's timing. Notice when you talk to your baby, you have to count to four before you can see her reaction or comprehension.

Here is a great video of Anders to illustrate that:

At the end of the video he finally accomplishes his goal and smiles. But that smile takes a few seconds to appear. When Anders was able to lift his legs for me at diaper time he did, but I had to say, "I am ready for you to lift your legs," and then count to four, before those little legs lifted.

This is why I so heartily recommend going to RIE classes and watching them with babies--how slow they are, and how effective their communication is. (But of course it doesn't mean I agree with all of their ideas.)

But I think it may be important again to say: balance. Sometimes the child adapts. Sometimes the adult adapts. As long as the focus is on everyone getting their needs met, as long as everyone's needs matter, I don't see this being a real issue.

"Sadly, children hang on to their parents' lifestyles. The mother needs to shop, so the baby shops. The mother needs to run errands, so the baby runs errands. Everybody survives this, though it's not ideal for your child."

It is one thing to take a child shopping, rush him, and ignore his needs. It is quite another thing to take a child shopping, be present, and enjoy it as a way for the two of you to spend time together.

I remember wonderful times with Anders in the grocery stores. I always asked him if he wanted to go beforehand. He was generally excited to go and loved running errands with me. Every store was an adventure for him, and it was fun for me to share that with him. Trips to the store were very slow with him along, of course. He often needed to check something out for so long that I was done with a few emails on my phone before he was ready for me to keep pushing the cart. There were days when we were in a hurry, but on those days he would hurry with me--we were a hurry-ing team. And if hurrying wasn't working out we would make a choice to skip something. If Anders ever didn't want to on an errand,  I would put my errands off until later when he was happy to go, or I would negotiate with him and make some sort of trade so that we could both get our needs met.

In relationships there are always conflicting needs. In the parent-child relationship, parents are too often given the choice between bulldozing their child or sacrificing themselves. Lansbury seems to be advocating for the parents to sacrifice themselves. But she is also advocating for separation--daycare and nannies. There is an implied threat here: If you can't sacrifice your own needs to give your child a "child's life" then you should hand him to a daycare where he can have a proper "child's life."

It's this false dilemma that has led to the destruction of our families.

In all of our relationships we have a similar dilemma whenever there are conflicting needs: Should one person's needs get sacrificed? Should one person's needs get bulldozed? Of course not. We compromise. We trade. We look for the win-win. We find a way for both parties to get their needs met. It is no different with children.

Why would we skip teaching our children this valuable life skill and instead teach them that when people have conflicting needs, they should split up and go their separate ways? Not saying there isn't a time and a place for people to go their separate ways, just saying that in the daily life of a baby, daycare isn't more ideal than being with mom, being home isn't more ideal than being out--as long as everyone's needs are being respected.

I see the parent-child relationship as a fantastic place to practice "Both our needs matter! Let's find a way to get both our needs met!" Lansbury's "sacrifice or separate!" doesn't work for me at all.

"A child's life should be boringly the same--boring for the adult rather than for the child. In this way she develops an inner rhythm. Children aren't happy spending hours in car seats or shopping. Malls are not for children. They are overstimulating. Children need a life of their own."

This first sentence is very sad. Time for parents to sacrifice in the name of this ideal of their child developing an "inner rhythm." Whatever that means.

I totally disagree that a child's life needs to be boringly the same. It will be, even if the parents don't sacrifice themselves. The average adult only goes to seven places on regular basis. I think that qualifies as "boringly the same." Should the child join the adult in his/her life, the child will learn how to be in those seven places and that is great. The child will feel competent at life in the world and be competent at life in those places and have a life beyond his house, relationships beyond his parents.

Children, in my experience, love the world and want to know about the world. They also love their houses and want to stay home. Same as grownups--we want to go out sometimes; we want to stay in other times. There is no One Rule like "children need a boring schedule that is always the same." This is hogwash. I am a big advocate of striving for authenticity rather than consistency. The whole idea behind being consistent with children is that it makes it easier to control them. I have found that even the very youngest children are capable of complexity (e.g. inconsistency).

Children are not happy to spend hours in carseats and neither are adults happy to spend hours in the car. When Anders was a baby he would strongly object to being in his carseat after two hours. So when we had a drive longer than that I plan the trip so every two hours we could stop somewhere for at least an hour. Usually we would stop for lunch at a park, other times we would check out a random store (like a book store) to give us a break. Other times we would rethink the trip. There is nothing we truly have to do. Everything is a choice.

As long as I approached every situation with the belief that Anders's needs mattered too, there always seemed to be a way for us to both be content.

"Allowing your child a child's life means letting her play peacefully at home, indoors and out, with her play interrupted only by daily caregiving necessities and occasional errands. In earlier times children had more of a chance to do this. In modern culture, life is more urban and less rural, and it takes effort to provide a child with this kind of environment."

For Lansbury, "allowing" her child to "have a child'd life" means imprisoning him in the Victorian childhood.

For me, I "allow" my child to own his body and be in charge of his property. His needs and opinions matter; he is invited to help plan his own schedule and have input on family decisions. He is encouraged to decide what is best for him--staying home or going out and then negotiate accordingly. He is not shut out of aspects of my life in the name of "childhood."

My distaste for Lansbury's wording aside, it's important to note that Anders largely lived her ideal childhood. He spent a great deal of time at home when he was a baby. I tried to never interrupt what he was working on. He played peacefully, indoors and out. He had a chance to really explore the world around him--the very safe and contained little world in our Oxnard house and then our LA house. As soon as he could scoot, he generally scooted to wherever I was and sought a way to join in with what I was doing. The series of videos on my Anders playlist on YouTube illustrates his early life pretty thoroughly. I didn't overstimulate him. I let him be in charge of what he was interested in. I did my own thing (cooking, cleaning, reading, writing) and he found ways to join or not. Sometimes I stopped what I was doing and just watched what he was doing or interacted with him if he wanted to interact.

What I see is that children want to play versions of or explore whatever adults are doing. But how can they do this if they are deprived of adults? To me, respecting a child means inviting him into my world and then letting him be free to explore it how he wishes (as long as it is respectful to me).

Also, I think Anders had a fine baby-hood, the best I could do--but it's not the ideal childhood I envision. It was much too much work for me (and Tom) and far too lonely.

When Anders was an eighteen-month-old we attended a family wedding at a campground resort. Each family had a little cabin and outside our cabins was a grassy area with picnic tables, trees and a creek. That's where all the action was. There were always kids and adults out on that grassy area doing something.

During that long weekend Anders would wake up in the morning, get dressed, and rush outside to the grassy area. He felt totally comfortable saying, "Bye!" to me and heading there all by himself. He played with his cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and family friends, and explored the creek, plants, and trees. He would come back to the room looking for me every few hours for a diaper change, food, or cuddles (though I was often outside and then he would find me there). It was really beautiful and effortless. In our regular life he could only join in on whatever I was doing. There he could choose from among what twenty or thirty different people were doing. He could choose which activity was the most interesting to him, or what person he wanted to get to know better. That is what I envision as the ideal childhood.

The nice thing about what I envision is that if the child wants to stay in the house and not be with people or be out in the world, he totally can. But there is a world out there for him to be a part of if he chooses.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

What Maids, Cooks, Drivers, Gardeners Have to do with Raising Children

*I just updated the Nicaraguan gulch post with this paragraph, but I thought it also deserved its own post.

I ran into an Argentinian couple the other day. They met in New York and lived there until the birth of their first child. They found raising children in NYC to be unbearable, so they moved to Nicaragua. Not Argentina. Not elsewhere in the US. Why? Because they wanted more children. And in Nicaragua (unlike the US or Argentina) they could afford it and enjoy it. Because to truly enjoy raising your children you need help, they told me. In Nicaragua they could afford the maid, cook and driver that make raising children so much more enjoyable.

This hit home for me because I worked for some of the wealthiest families in Los Angeles--they had full time maids, cooks, and nannies--but raising children in those lonely houses was still unbearable.

I envisioned how a city gulch (a place where one could enjoy raising her children) could work, but it required too much capital to get it going. So I chose the farm gulch, where raising Anders is every bit as idyllic as I imagined it would be. It's not perfect, but if there were 120 voluntaryists here it would be as close to perfect as my ideal life could possibly be.

It's hard for egalitarian Americans to understand the value of having help. The fact is: All parents would be significantly happier with maids, cooks, drivers, gardeners, personal secretaries, and the like. Raising children is not a two person job. Yes, I would rather the help be grandparents, bachelor uncles, spinster aunts, strange cousins, and single friends but that was not an option for me. So I chose the paid staff. What I don't consider a viable choice is the two parents doing it alone. It's just too miserable and hard.

Every parenting book talks about the time crunch, and how you have to lower your cleanliness standards, lower your organizational standards, lower your cooking standards, lower your expectations of your own behavior: That is the only way the two-parent household can cope with parenting. This is nuts.

When raising children our behavioral standards and cooking (nutrition) standards should be of the highest quality in our lives. Or at least that's what I wanted for my parenting experience. So, like the Argentinians, I live in Nicaragua.

"It was a very simple decision for us," the Argentinian woman told me, "if we still lived in New York, my younger two children would never have been born."

I concur!

That being said, let me state the problem in a different way so that other solutions become apparent: A child is a 98 hour a week responsibility, not including nights, cooking, and cleaning. 98 hours is a hard load to carry. This load would be easier divided up among three people. Interestingly enough, here in Nicaragua I have a cook, a maid, and me here to care for one child. This is easy and an enjoyable way to do things. But with this arrangement, I could handle a lot more kids, up to six I would say. Now, I can't pop out five more kids because I spend about five months of the year in Los Angeles (or Santa Barbara or Whistler or wherever we decide to go). Those months are grueling. But, what if, in Los Angeles, three sets of parents decide to live together and share a cook and a maid? Now, not only do I have a cook and a maid in Los Angeles, I have companionship at home and so does my son! Now parenting is more enjoyable.

The same can be done in other places. I think parents would be wise to form groups of 4-5 couples. The couples decide to raise their children together. Perhaps they buy one big house or apartments all next door or they live in a neighborhood and make one big backyard instead of five backyards. Better yet maybe there could be a house with four different wings and then a shared play space for the children and cooking space in the center. This is very similar to the extended families that reared children for so many centuries. The kids are happy because they have people to play with. The women are happy because they have people to cook and clean with. The kids can connect with more than just their moms (they have other adults around). Better yet if the guys work within walking distance or at home so the working world can be part of their lives as well. But now we are getting into the "City Gulch" idea I wrote about before:

I am not saying that the two parent household isn't doable. Children have been raised in two person households (and one parent) for almost a century. I am saying that it is not enjoyable. Sure, everyone loves their kids. But man is it hard! So hard, that most people, as soon as they leave their extended family situation, will opt for having just 1 kid. The birthrate in all affluent societies is always negative. Immigrants live with their extended families and have a lot of kids. Then they adapt to the Western way of doing things, switch to a two parent household, and voila, negative birth rate for them too.

The solution in some societies has been more and more compartmentalization of life and government involvement in the family. "Oh no, we have a negative birth rate! Let's get them to have more kids by paying for child care and school!" The problem is: This doesn't fix the problem. It makes parenting doable but not enjoyable. Children raised by other people become alienated from their parents. Children removed from the world require parents to be removed from the world or to be separated from their children. Instead, people interested in solving the negative birth rate problem need to think: Under what set of circumstances is raising children enjoyable. If it is enjoyable people will do it more.

The solution I propose is:
1. Invite children back into the world
2. Keep families together
3. Get rid of the nuclear family as a child-rearing model

Lastly, if you want to go all conspiracy theorist, consider that the government does not benefit from happy families that are wonderfully bonded and love each other. Governments do not like multigenerational extended families because they are their own little worlds--and if they get big and strong they may end up wanting to be their own government.... Governments benefit from raising the kids. They get to decide what values are imparted onto them. They make the kids into "Americans" instead of proud member of "Clan Garrett." The loyalty is to them, not the family. The family bonds, severed in childhood, keep the government in power. Moreover, the harder and more miserable parenting is, the more willing people are to hang their children to the government to be raised (free school! free daycare! let's be like Sweden!)

Not saying there is a conspiracy going on. Just saying people make decisions based on what benefits them. Those in power are not benefited by competing powers.