"Smart, audacious and often hilarious. Takes everything you thought you knew about parenting and turns it on its ear." - Jennifer Jason Leigh

C’mon! Saying “Good job!” can ruin a kid’s life? Really?

Some friends of mine, God bless them, are concerned about the name of this site. Ted is among those friends. Here’s what he had to say about it:

TED:  I should say, and I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but including the phrase “ruin your kid’s life” is probably not the best thing to say to get people to want to read your blog. You know, the whole “attracting more bees with honey” approach and all.

ME: It’s supposed to funny and provocative—as in: How totally absurd to claim that saying something as benign and supportive as “Good job!” can RUIN a kid’s life. At the same time I want someone to wonder, Wait, why would she say that? I tell my kid “good job” all the time. What’s so wrong with it?

TED:   I know, but I worry that it won’t come off that way to a lot of people.

ME:  Well the truth is, while on the one hand I’m trying to use some hyperbole and humor to get people’s attention, as it turns out, I actually DO believe that if parents really takes some of the “things you shouldn’t say or do” to the extreme then they WILL ruin their kid’s life ie. eating disorders, alcoholism, bullying, low self-esteem, etc. At the very least, the child won’t be all she or he could have been.

TED: Ok, I see your point.

My friend Sara, however, seemed to get where I am coming from:

SARA: I’m convinced that I would have saved a fortune in therapy if my parents knew about RIE when I was young….

The greatest harm we can do our children is to project on them who we’d like them to be rather than discover who they are and encourage that—not only when they are young but throughout their lives.  So many kids have no earthly idea who they actually are, aside from the projections of their parents.  I molded myself into whatever person would elicit a “good job” from my mother….which is why I needed so much therapy.  Ahhh, the wasted years!

Sara nailed it! Magda Gerber always thought of RIE  as “preventative health care” for infants.

MAGDA: We’re trying to put all the therapists out of business. A therapist has to undo. If we would do well, we wouldn’t have to undo.


Magda’s mentor, the pediatrician Dr. Emmi Pikler— upon whose research RIE is founded—pointedly used as the title of her first book a question people were incessantly asking oblivious to the harm it was causing: “What Can Your Baby Do Already?” (And this is back in the 1930′s…sadly, not much has changed!) Part indictment of modern parenting, part guidebook, it might as well have been called “What Can Your Baby Do Already?” and Other Things You’re Saying and Doing to Ruin Your Kid’s Life. In it, Dr. Pikler pulled no punches when she said the results of the poor parenting she was seeing every day can be:

“…catastrophic for the child’s later development, for her progress and her happiness in life.”

Not surprisingly, German publishers renamed her book the kinder, gentler Peaceful Babies—Contented Mothers. When they changed the title, likely to be less threatening to parents, they took a huge bite out her point of view. Nonetheless, with the new title, it did go on to sell out numerous editions in many languages. So while there obviously was some wisdom to the change, me, I always go back to something Bill Mahr once said.

Ranting about the spineless producers of Keith Obermann’s Countdown who caved to those offended by his segment entitled WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD by pulling it off the air, Mahr said:

“Stop organizing life around the people who don’t get the joke. Fuck them if they don’t get a joke.”