My bookshelves are lined with numerous parenting books, most of which I have never explored beyond the first chapter or two. With some, I have found that I get the gist of the author’s theory within the first few pages and I can’t bear the thought of wading through endless chapters of research and anecdotes. With others, I have been so overwhelmed by the ambitious premise of the book (think, “why your infant should only eat homemade raw whole organic baby food”) that I shut down with shame and refuse to take in anything that might be helpful. With still others, the advice has just clashed with my basic parenting instincts. Despite my poor track record, I have come upon three gems that have pulled me in and have impacted the way I parent.
The first book was recommended to me 7 or 8 years ago (yikes!) by my very first parenting guru, Tandy. It’s called Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell. This book combines brain research and child development expertise to explain why children push their parents’ emotional buttons in ways that feel surprising and unsettling (among other things). This book taught me that when my children push those buttons, my brain has a primal reaction and I can’t be flexible or creative as a parent until I calm down and wait for the restoration of my higher brain functions. I am thankful to Mr. Siegel, Ms. Hartzell and Tandy for the many times over the years that I have remembered to walk out of the room instead of engaging with my children while I’m functioning with the mental capacity of a reptile.
The second book, Screamfree Parenting by Hal Edward Runkel, was recommended to me by my friend Melanie about a year ago (In truth, I ignored her recommendation for a few months since I didn’t consider myself a “screamer” but after she lovingly and tenaciously insisted that I read it, I finally conceded — thank goodness!!). Mr. Runkel, a child and family psychologist, argues that the best setting for any parent-child interaction is one that is both calm and connected. Using case studies, he gives compelling illustrations of the benefits of parenting from intention and principle instead of from needing your children to take care of you. There is a great line in the book where the author asserts that most of the time when we’re screaming at our kids, what we’re actually saying is “CALM ME DOWN!!!!!!!!!” There is no doubt that this book has increased my ability to approach my kids and their increasingly complex issues from a place of wholeness and equanimity.
The third book in this grouping is one that I just started reading a few days ago called Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.), which was recommended by Catalina (at least, I think she recommended it . . . She told me about a book called “E.P.T.”, but I didn’t find a parenting book with that title and when I found “P.E.T” I figured it must be the one . . . I haven’t been able to verify one way or another since she’s been in India for the past week). This book describes the ways in which we unknowingly undermine our children and our relationships with them by communicating in ways that they experience as judgmental, rejecting, controlling, blaming, etc. I don’t think of myself as any of those adjectives, yet by reading the examples in the book, I am starting to understand that the subtext of much of my communication with my kids is sending messages I don’t want to be sending. I am so excited to put this book’s theories into practice and see where it leads me.
Finding another inspirational parenting book has caused me to look back and feel frustrated that the concrete and exciting discoveries I made in the first two books now feel remote and fuzzy. It may be that I have internalized them to some degree, but I know that there are plenty of concepts and examples in both that would still be incredibly helpful to have at my fingertips. So I have come up with a plan. Once I finish P.E.T, I’m going to go back through the other two books and refresh my memory about the key concepts I took away. Then I’m going to (try to) organize the concepts from all three books into some easily accessible format (maybe a diagram? maybe notecards?). My vision is that I can use this distillation/summary of concepts as a truing device to remind myself in concrete terms of how I want to approach my parenting. And, of course, I will continue to revise and refine these parenting guideposts as time goes on and my education continues.
If I manage to synthesize these parenting cliff notes into a form that is useful (i.e., not too abstract or truncated), I promise to share the results here.