Children left home alone as parents go on strike

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The Independent US

It was just another quiet Monday on Jena Lane in the town of Enterprise, Florida, until Cat and Harlan Barnard decided it was time to teach their sometimes slovenly children a lesson. Fed up with serving the kids hand and foot without so much as an occasional thank you, they declared themselves on strike.

It was just another quiet Monday on Jena Lane in the town of Enterprise, Florida, until Cat and Harlan Barnard decided it was time to teach their sometimes slovenly children a lesson. Fed up with serving the kids hand and foot without so much as an occasional thank you, they declared themselves on strike.

Mum and Dad downed tools, abandoned their work-stations - the sink, washing machine and ironing board - and moved out. All this week, they have been living in a tent pitched on the driveway. For as long as it takes, they vowed, they would not cook for the kids, wash their clothes or drive them anywhere.

Little did they know that their admittedly unorthodox attempt at resolving a hardly exotic family stand-off would spark such a furore. All week, their front lawn has been crowded with reporters. Television networks are banging on their door - or rather lifting their tent flap - for interviews and newspaper and radio reporters have been calling from as far away as Britain and Australia.

Perhaps it is precisely because their grievance is so common that the strike has struck such a nerve. The whole country wants to know: who will back down first? Will Harlan or Cat be the first to buckle or their children, 17-year-old Ben or 12-year-old Kit? "If we have to stick it out here until Christmas, then ho, ho, ho, we're out here," Mrs Barnard explained in defiant tones. "This is war!" She and her husband have a small TV and a barbecue with them on the drive. They go inside the house, where the freezer is full of frozen dinners for the children, only to use the lavatory and shower in the mornings. Otherwise the children must fend for themselves.

"I thought she had lost her mind," remarked Ben recalling his shock when he returned home from school on Monday and saw his mother sat in a lawn chair outside, flanked by picket signs that read: "Parents on Strike!" and "Seeking Co-operation and Respect". Several days on, his nerves are wearing thin. "It's extremely inconvenient. Every time the phone rings, we have to run outside to give it to them."

In Enterprise, about half an hour east of Orlando, there has been no shortage of support. "Good for you, you should put the kids outside," yelled another mother, winding down her window as she passed the home in her car.

Others are less impressed. "One woman said I should be ashamed for creating emotional stress on my children," Mrs Barnard admitted. "I told her, 'Well, they've been doing it to me for years.'"

Experts in child-rearing are also divided. "All this does is inconvenience the parent. It doesn't inconvenience the kids at all," argued Ruth Peters, a clinical psychologist in Clearwater, Florida. But Penelope Norton, a psychologist from Ormond Beach, said the tactics may work. "Now, they've gotten the kids' attention. If they can move from that to talking about what they want and what family functioning is going to work for everyone, then they've made a healthy start."

Meanwhile, officers from the sheriff's department have been round three times to check on the welfare of the children, but have not tried to intervene. And a teacher from Kit's school also stopped by after learning that her parents had moved out.

And so far, Cat, 45, and Harlan, 56, are unrepentant. "We've tried reverse psychology, upside-down psychology, spiral psychology and nothing has motivated them for any length of time," said Mrs Barnard. The last straw came last weekend when Ben watched as she mowed the lawn even though she was recovering from oral surgery. "I had absolutely no motherly guilt after that," she said.

Meanwhile, there is a glimmer of hope. Kit washed her clothes for the first time this week. And the 12-year-old appears conciliatory. "I understand why they're doing this," she admitted. "I guess we don't help out as much as we could. I'm going to change."

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