parenting is hard and that’s OK

I read this parenting article All parenting is hard. Don’t compare yourself with others. and it made me feel better.

I’ve always hated the idea that “someone has it worse than you so you’re not allowed to complain about anything”, but I’ve really fallen into this when it comes to parenting. We are incredibly lucky – we do parenting things pretty equally, we can afford good daycare, our kids are pretty well-behaved and have no major health issues – but some days are just so hard. Getting the kids off to daycare and then back home and in bed feels like a major accomplishment.

Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise and Other Bribes review

Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise and Other Bribes

Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise and Other Bribes by Alfie Kohn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is a book whose thesis is basically: rewards don’t work and are bad for people. It’s pretty interesting, and I’d recommend it with some caveats. (see below)

Saying “if you do this, you get that” makes you think of the “this” as just a means to get the “that”. It saps your intrinsic motivation for “this”, so once the reward is taken away (or you get used to the reward) you want to do “this” less. In fact, if “this” is any sort of creative task it can make you do a worse job at “this”!

He also discusses how rewards are generally controlling (and/or condescending), which I somewhat buy.

Odds and ends:
– Unexpected rewards are much less destructive than rewards that people expect; of course this is hard to maintain because people will start expecting them!
– The author points out that grades in school act as rewards, so we should try to get rid of them. Of course, that’s a bit ambitious, so at least parents can focus on what their kids are learning at school instead of what grades they’re making.
– One common objection is “if you don’t reward people, they’ll just be lazy and won’t do anything”. But people are generally inclined to try to succeed at something moderately difficult. (not too easy, not too hard)
– The author cites numerous studies where promising money for completing puzzles, playing games, etc. works initially, but once the reward is withdrawn people get less interested in the puzzle, etc. than people who never got a reward to begin with.
– There’s a whole section about praise and how it’s basically just like a reward (i.e. bad). This makes sense in a work setting, and I’ve been trying to apply it at home with the kids by showing them unconditional love and showing interest when they accomplish something. But it’s sooooo hard not to just say “Good job!” like a thousand times a day!
– The demotivating effect of rewards happens even if you reward yourself for something! Yikes.
– If you’re talking about an activity that you don’t care if your child has an intrinsic motivation for, rewards are pretty OK. (the money quote here is: “a regimen of positive reinforcement for potty-training a toddler is not likely to do lasting harm…Why? Because we are not terrible concerned to instill a lifelong love of defecation.” Hah!)
– Instead of using reward to get someone to do an uninteresting task, the recommendation is to acknowledge that the task doesn’t seem interesting, offer a meaningful reason that it needs to be done anyway, and give the person as much control as possible about how to do the task.
– Giving out a reward for a competition is especially bad, because the winner will lose intrinsic motivation, and everyone else, well, didn’t win.
– Praising someone for a result is especially bad, but praising for effort, while less bad, still has all the problems listed above. But if you are going to praise, he recommends:
– Don’t praise people (“you’re so good!”), only what they do
– Make praise as specific as possible
– Avoid phony praise
– Avoid praise that sets up a competition
– The author is also not a fan of “natural consequences” because he sees them as controlling. Which, I can kind of get (the examples he gave were not great examples of natural consequences, to be honest), but parenting is hard and while he does offer some suggestions I’m not sold on how realistic they are.
– Instead, if you’re having a discipline problem with your child, he recommends looking at the content of your request (are you asking your child to do something that’s really necessary, or just to do something because it’s convenient for you?), try to collaborate with your child to mutually problem solve (or if it’s something you can’t budge on like a safety issue, at least explain why they can’t run out into traffic), and give the child as much choice as possible.
– Praising a child when they achieve something is a problem not only for the reasons above but also because it signals conditional acceptance – they may think they’re only valued because of their accomplishments. Children need unconditional love!

Now, the bad news. I found the content of the book interesting, but it was a real slog to get through. One reason is the usual tiredness from having two kids; hopefully this doesn’t apply to you 🙂 Another problem for me was the way the book is structured. It talks about how rewards don’t work in the workplace, at school, and for raising children, and the last few chapters are about what does work in these situations. By the time I got to these last few chapters I had kinda given up hope on ever doing anything right (at least in regards to raising children) because it seemed like anything I did would mess up my kids. Reading the last few chapters did help, to be fair.

My main problem, though, is that the book is really long – the paperback version is 430 pages, although there are a lot of footnotes. I’ve run into this problem before with books that are trying to build an unconventional case for something and the book gets very repetitive citing study after study after study. I understand why the author did this, but I almost wish there were two versions of the book; one that includes all the studies, and one that summarizes and gets to the point a bit faster. I don’t know what a reasonable solution to this problem is, but it does make me a little hesitant to recommend the book without adding “but feel free to skip to the next section when you get bored”.

Also, this is not a good book to read right before you have to set goals for performance evaluations at work 🙂


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linked list thursday: how luck affects your life, the disease of more, how to fight a medical bill

In theory it sounds like a noble idea to let everyone in the world post whatever they want and have it be connected and amplified to like-minded individuals.

In practice, it’s a disaster.

There is no perfect Presidential candidate (but who I’m leaning towards)

It’s very early in the presidential primary cycle but I’ve started taking a look at the many, many candidates for president.

Since there are so many candidates this time around, it’s easy to get in a mode where you look at a candidate, see one bad thing about her, and get disillusioned and move on. It’s important to realize that no one (especially politicians!) are perfect, and looking for the one “true” candidate is going to lead to disappointment, especially because with this many candidates even if you choose the frontrunner you’re at least 70% likely he won’t win.

Also worth remembering is that basically all of the candidates are better than the current president 🙂

Anyway, having said that I thought I’d list my current thoughts on the candidates. One thing worth mentioning is the “14-Year Rule” – no one who has been in major public office (governor or US senator or something) for more than 14 years has won the presidency. Obviously it’s not hard and fast, but I think there is something to the fact that the longer you’ve been in the public eye the more likely you’ve done things that will make some people unhappy. Is it fair? Probably not, but no one deserves to be a presidential nominee, and I’m much more concerned with the Democrat winning than getting the candidate that aligns most closely with my values.

Top tier:

  • Senator Kamala Harris – I generally like her positions, she seems fairly charismatic. There’s been some negative buzz among progressives about her positions when she was a prosecutor, but I haven’t heard about anything I’d consider major given the office she held. Need to learn more about her.
  • Mayor Pete Buttigieg – Not a ton of experience, but I like his positions and he’s smart and is having a bit of a media moment right now. (although it’s so early, it’s entirely possible his campaign will flame out) And yeah, he’s gay and that’s neat to see. Since he hasn’t run a major campaign before, he probably hasn’t been well-vetted, which is a little scary. Need to learn more about him.

Second tier:

  • Beto O’Rourke – Obviously he’s kind of a celebrity right now, and it’s a good sign if the media likes him. A little light on policy but not as light as everyone seems to think.

Third tier:

  • Senator Cory Booker – Young, charismatic. Has some ties to the pharmaceutical and financial industry, which is somewhat to be expected since he’s a senator from New Jersey but may be a problem. Barely passes the “14-year rule” (he was mayor of Newark starting in 2006)
  • Senator Amy Klobuchar – From the midwest (a good thing given how close Wisconsin and Michigan were in 2016), and has done better than you’d expect in Minnesota so she’s probably “electable”. The stories about her abusing staffers are not great, though. Barely passes the “14-year rule” (became a Senator in 2006)
  • Andrew Yang – He has some momentum and a truly impressive list of policies, and his signature issue is Universal Basic Income which I’ve long had a fascination with. Never run a major campaign before, though, and I’m skeptical the Democrats will want to nominate a businessman with no electoral experience given the current president.

Meh:

  • Senator Bernie Sanders – I kinda like his policies but I don’t like that they seem more aspirational than things that can actually get done. Also, he’s quite old and fails the “14-year rule”. I fear that he is too liberal to get elected.
  • Joe Biden – He’s the living embodiment of why the “14-year rule” is a thing – he’s been around for long enough that he’s done some unpopular things. (the Clinton-era crime bill, handling of Anita Hill at Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearing) Also very old and apparently has some #MeToo problems. Yes, he’s doing well in the polls now, but it’s easy to do well in the polls when you’re not running yet!
  • Senator Elizabeth Warren – This saddens me, because I think I like her policies the best of everyone. (“capitalism, but fixed” is a good summary) But I think she’s too old.

(I don’t really have an opinion on the rest of the candidates)

us-state-map – a React component for a US map of states!

After releasing State Election Map, my first step was to publish a React component with just the map stuff in it. And after messing around for a while with npm and TypeScript and React, I got it working! The us-state-map component is now available on GitHub and npm, and State Election Map uses it. (it includes the map itself and the date slider)

As with whenever I mess around with React I’m pretty sure I’m doing some parts idiomatically “wrong”. (the build step in particular is pretty hacked-together) I like to work on stuff like this to learn how to do things, but it makes me wonder how much I actually learn if I’m just hacking things together and not doing it 100% the correct way. At least it does give me something to copy if I want to do something similar in the future, and I do feel a sense of accomplishment 🙂

Spy the Lie: Three Former CIA Officers Reveal Their Secrets to Uncloaking Deception review

Spy the Lie: Three Former CIA Officers Reveal Their Secrets to Uncloaking Deception

Spy the Lie: Three Former CIA Officers Reveal Their Secrets to Uncloaking Deception by Philip Houston

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This book was…fine. It has some interesting techniques for interrogating people, but it seems like to use them in practice you have to have a fairly controlled environment. It is at least realistic that this isn’t going to make you a “human lie detector” and has some tips for asking your children questions which is only somewhat creepy.

Anyway, it was a fun read but not super practical.



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