Let’s be honest: Parents barely have time to think or use the restroom solo. So a parenting book needs to be pretty compelling to justify using those precious few minutes when you’re not semi-comatose on the couch. These common-sense guides to building a healthy family are worth your time.
REEL IN YOUR REACTIONS
I loved The Awakened Family by Shefali Tsabary, in large part because it made me feel better about occasionally losing my cool with my own tween son. I mean, Tsabary holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, and she sometimes yells at her daughter.
Tsabary explains that parents are reactive—whether that manifests itself in yelling, overindulging or hovering—because our parenting instincts are based on fear. “Whether you have inflated, grandiose ideas of your children and what they will accomplish in life, or whether you are frightened for them or disappointed in them, all of this ultimately is rooted in fear,” she writes.
She explains why we need to trust in our children’s potential and argues that the best parenting lies in being quiet and open.
“The reason our children turn away from us is that they sense our desire to talk is all about us—our need to manage our anxiety and exert control,” she writes. “By the age of ten, your children are very familiar with how you talk and what you say. They don’t need your words of advice or admonishment. What they need instead is for you to listen and attune yourself to them.”
PARENTING WITH YOUR EX
In Two Homes, One Childhood, Dr. Robert E. Emery provides solid, reassuring advice for families coping with divorce. Director of the Center for Children, Families, and the Law at the University of Virginia, Emery is divorced and remarried himself, and has a successfully blended family. His advice is straightforward and empathetic, and emphasizes parenting as a partnership, even if the marriage is over.
“[G]ood parenting involves at least some degree of cooperation,” he writes. “After all, your seven-year-old will suffer if her bedtime is eight p.m. in one home and eleven p.m. in another. Your teenager will suffer if you ground him for three weeks for a horrible report card, but your ex tells him, ‘No problem. Have fun with your friends. You aren’t grounded at my house!’ ”
Emery’s focus is on keeping the kids out of your emotional “stuff” with your ex—perhaps easier said than done, but this smart, achievable playbook will help.
ROOM TO GROW
Psychologist Alison Gopnik is something of a superstar in the field of child development. In The Gardener and the Carpenter, she lays out her theory that caring for children is like tending a garden, with parent as gardener, encouraging a child’s natural curiosity. As Gopnik sees it, parenting most definitely isn’t like carpentry. “It isn’t a goal-directed enterprise aimed at shaping a child into a particular kind of adult,” she writes.
Gopnik dives deep into the relationship between child and parent, and lays to rest the notion that there is only one path to good parenting. Throughout the book, she traces the child-parent relationship through human evolution to help us understand how we got to this point—for example, overlaying a scene of cavemen hunting and gathering with one of her and her young grandson at the farmer’s market. She also provides simple examples of how we can be less carpenter, more gardener: contribute to the richness of a child’s world by providing a variety of playthings, from rocks to iPads, and a safe place in which to play. Then, unless the child wants you to join in, get out of their way.
In Raising Human Beings, noted psychologist Ross W. Greene describes parenting as a partnership with your child. “You may not be aware of it, but you started collaborating with your kid the instant he came into this world,” he writes. “When he cried, you tried to figure out what was the matter. Then you tried to do something about it.”
Using several families as case studies, Greene helps shift the way we think about parenting. His belief is that kids do well if they are able to, and good parenting means being responsive to the hand you’ve been dealt.
“If your kid isn’t doing well—if he’s not meeting a given expectation—it’s your job to figure out why and to put poor motivation at the bottom of the list,” he writes. “Better yet, take poor motivation off the list completely.”
Greene lays out a practical approach to non-punitive parenting—one that seems sure to promote peace in your household.