Left by the prior occupant of our table at Books-a-Million this evening:
A stack of seven books. The bottom six were all about marijuana, where and how to grow it, how to cook with it, you name it.
And the top one?
I am not a parenting expert. I am not a parenting expert. I am not a parenting expert. I want to make sure that I make that perfectly clear! It can be dangerous to be thought of as a parenting expert, because then you are expected to have perfect children. Then when you don’t (and who does?) people have plenty to say about it.
I wrote a few weeks ago about my friend Katie Allison Granju, a well-known blogger and writer on parenting topics, whose son is now recuperating from serious brain injuries. What I didn’t say is that his injuries were the result of a drug overdose and a drug-related assault. What I didn’t even know, but what Katie has now made public, is that her son has been battling a serious drug addiction for years.
Katie never said she was a parenting expert–in fact, she disavowed the title in print on more than one occasion. But she wrote a parenting book, and people who didn’t like what she said in it have taken this sad occasion as vindication of their opinions of her parenting methods. Never mind that her book was about Attachment Parenting, one of the tenets of which is that you, the parent, learn from your child’s cues to be an expert on YOUR OWN CHILD. Never mind that she never told anyone else how they should raise their children, only described how she was trying to raise hers. On the second page of the book, she wrote:
. . . the parenting book you now hold in your hands is fundamentally different from the others you may have seen. It isn’t going to tell you exactly how often you should nurse your baby, or how many hours he should sleep each night because we don’t know you, your child, or your family. Our philosophy is that you yourself–in partnership with your child–are the real “parenting experts” when it comes to your own family, even if you don’t realize it yet.
Ignoring all this, many mean-spirited folks have come out of the woodwork to blame her for her son’s drug addiction, to fault her for making it public, to accuse her of being narcissistic, and worse. And, of course, this is what anyone who writes in a public forum knows she is risking by taking positions on sensitive issues. I won’t quickly forget the many accusations that were hurled at me a few years ago when I wrote a column on Catholics and voting in the East Tennessee Catholic.
But even more than politics, people take their parenting responsibilities–and failures, if that is what they even should be called–very seriously. It’s natural to look for guidance–would there be so many parenting books otherwise? We all want to find someone who can tell us how to do the job right, because it is such an important job and such a hard one.
I’m not that person. I have a lot of kids, yes. But that doesn’t make me an expert on YOUR kids. Most days, I don’t even feel like I’m an expert on my own. I feel like I know a few things, and I like to write about them, but I’m not guaranteeing that what has worked for me will work for you. Lots of things I’ve tried HAVEN’T worked. Lots of days I feel completely at a loss.
In my opinion, people who think they have all the answers on parenting probably have never had any children.
So read the “authorities” or the “gurus” or just the moms like Katie and me and other bloggers out there who share experiences and maybe a little wisdom, and take what works for you and leave the rest; and if you want advice from a real expert, listen to Dr. Benjamin Spock, who said to his readers: “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.”
Most mornings, after I get up at 6:30 and wake the boys, prod Jake to get ready, make breakfast for John, and close the door behind the three of them, I go back to bed for an early morning nap. I try not to feel guilty about this, because I work hard all day long, and while my work day might start later than some people’s, it also goes on longer (for example, I was drafting motions and writing client letters after 11 last night).
Still, I probably would stay up and try to get an early start on the day if it weren’t for one thing, or I should say one person: Lorelei. My five-year-old baby still sleeps with us, and the temptation of getting back into a warm bed for another hour or so with a cuddly little person is too hard to resist most days.
Parenting is an inexact science–or art–at best, but one area I feel sure I have mastered after five children is the issue of “sleep training.” Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems was all the rage when my first was a baby, and I “Ferberized” her and her little brothers. It worked–for awhile. But I remember many, many nights standing by Emily’s crib, counting the minutes until I thought it was safe to sneak out the door; and many, many other nights of lying on the floor next to her bed and then actually crawling out of the room. With Jake, it was getting up and down and up and down to head to his room to nurse him, only to fall asleep where I sat; both Teddy and Jake came into bed with us in the middle of the night for years. And always there was a sense that I just HAD to get them to sleep through the night in their own beds!
But why, really? When William was born, he slept in his cradle occasionally, but mostly he was in bed with me. When he was two, I put the mattress from his crib (which we set up but never once used) on the floor next to our bed, and he started sleeping on it. Eventually I moved the mattress to his room and began nursing him to sleep there. Sometimes he would call for me in the night, but he never once left his room to come to ours. By the age of four, he slept all night, every night, in his own room. It had all been peaceful and stress-free.
Lorelei didn’t have a room of her own, let alone a crib, as an infant. She has always slept with us. She has a room now with her own mattress, and if I want to lie there with her until she falls asleep she will sleep there until she wakes to use the bathroom, when she comes to us. But most of the time I don’t bother. After a stressful, busy day, I like that I can still give her this time, can fill her emotional tank and mine with some night time cuddles.
As for going back to bed in the morning, here’s the reason I quiet that critical, guilt-inducing inner voice and do it more often than not: I remember when Teddy, now a 210-lb. 15-year-old football player, was a roly poly five-year-old, still asleep in my bed when his big brother and sister left for school. I remember how often I forced myself to resist the pull to go back and join him so I could do something very important like dishes or laundry. I remind myself that ten years from now there will still be laundry and dishes and letters to write, but there will not be a cuddly child lying in my bed.
And then I go back to sleep.
Postscript: Lorelei continued to spend a lot of nights in bed with us for many more years. She’s 12 now and sleeps in her own room.
I want to do some book blogging here from time to time. I’ll share some of the books that have been important in my life, or that inspire me, or that I just enjoy. And I hope that in the comments you will share some of your favorites as well. The topic today is the nonfiction books that have had the greatest impact on my life. I was going to make it a top five or top ten list but then I decided it would be more authentic if I just wrote about the ones that popped into my head first without setting a specific number, or even looking on my booksheves (or in the many, many boxes in the garage!).
The following are in no particular order unless you ascribe some significance to the order in which they popped into my head!
- Surrendering to Motherhood by Iris Krasnow. Judging from some of my recent posts, I need to read again Krasnow’s autobiographical journey from high-powered ambitious challenge-chasing career woman to mom-in-the-moment. One quotation: “Being There [is] an emotional and spiritual shift, of succumbing to Being Where You Are When You Are, and Being There as much as possible. Its about crouching on the floor and getting delirious over the praying mantis your son just caught instead of perusing a fax or filling the dishwasher while he is yelling for your attention and you distractedly say over your shoulder: ‘Oh, honey, isn’t that a pretty bug.’ It’s about being attuned enough to notice when your kid’s eyes shine so you can make your eyes shine back.”
- The Art of Natural Family Planning by John and Sheila Kippley. I’m grateful to Jesuit Father William J. Kaifer of the Georgetown University Theology Department, who included this as required reading in his Christian Marriage class (along with Humanae Vitae and Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics). Besides its more practical aspects, this book embodies a philosophy that continues to inform my thinking on family planning and life issues. One quotation: “If someone os concerned about eating healthy foods, wouldn’t it be highly inconsistent for her to be polluting her body with powerful birth control chemicals?”
- Let’s Have Healthy Children by Adelle Davis. Davis is considered a crackpot by some, but I credit her nutrition advice with the buoyant good health of my kids, who each had maybe one ear infection, have never had strep throat, never take antibiotics. (Seriously: Emily, age 19, was last seen by a doctor for illness when she was two years old.) I say Davis was ahead of her time–she had me taking folic acid years before anyone thought to fortify bread with it. One quotation: “Research shows that diseases of almost every variety can be produced by an under-supply of various combinations of nutrients… [and] can be corrected when all nutrients are supplied, provided irreparable damage has not been done; and, still better, that these diseases can be prevented.”
- How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor by Dr. Robert Mendelsohn. Dr. Mendelsohn was suspicious of vaccinations. He thought antibitotics were overused. He didn’t think kids need to be taken to the doctor at the drop of a hat–most childhood illnesses clear up on their own. I agree with him. One quotation: “The pediatrician’s wanton prescription of powerful drugs indoctrinates children from birth with the philosophy of ‘a pill for every ill’. . . . Doctors are directly responsible for hooking millions of people on prescription drugs. They are also indirectly responsible for the plight of millions more who turn to illegal drugs because they were taught at an early age that drugs can cure anything – including psychological and emotional conditions – that ails them.”
- Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing by Sheila Kippley. I love this one as much for its philosophy of natural mothering as for the child spacing aspects. One quotation: “We tend to forget that these artifical aids–bottles and pacifiers–are merely substitutes for the mother. The infant’s need to nurse or be pacified at the breast is nature’s way of bringing mother and baby together at other than feeding times.”
- Nursing Your Baby by Karen Pryor. We’re talking the 1970s version here, which I picked up at McKay’s while expecting baby #1. It’s a simple, basic, practical, and yet beautiful guide to breastfeeding–just the best one I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a lot. One quotation: “Nursing a baby is an art; a domestic art, perhaps, but one that like cooking and gardening brings to a woman the release and satisfaction that only creative work can give.”
- Childbirth without Fear by Grantly Dick Read. The very first book on childbirth I read, it did the most to form my thoughts on natural birth (along with Painless Childbirth by Fernand Lamaze and The Experience of Childbirth by Sheila Kitzinger). One quotation: “Many women have described their experiences of childbirth as being associated with a spiritual uplifting, the power of which they have never previously been aware … To such a woman childbirth is a monument of joy within her memory. She turns to it in thought to seek again an ecstasy which passed too soon.”
- Between Parent and Child by Haim Ginott. My mother’s copy of this book was sitting around our house for as long as I can remember. I read it long before I had kids of my own. I may not follow its principles all the time, I’m sorry to say, but I try. One quotation: “What do we say to a guest who forgets her umbrella? Do we run after her and say ‘What is the matter with you? Every time you come to visit you forget something. If it’s not one thing it’s another. Why can’t you be like your sister? When she comes to visit, she knows how to behave. You’re forty-four years old! Will you never learn? I’m not a slave to pick up after you! I bet you’d forget your head if it weren’t attached to your shoulders.’ That’s not what we say to a guest. We say ‘Here’s your umbrella, Alice,’ without adding ‘scatterbrain.’ Parents need to learn to respond to their children as they do to guests.”
- Kids Are Worth It by Barbara Coloroso. I’ve read a lot of parenting books, new and old, and I’m sure you have too, but never one that was simpler, truer, and less gimmicky than this one. A former school-teaching nun, now married with three kids and a popular inspirational speaker on parenting topics, Coloroso’s descriptions of three kinds of families will make you cringe if you are a Brickwall or a Jellyfish. One quotation: “Our children are counting on us to provide two things: consistency and structure. Children need parents who say what they mean, mean what they say, and do what they say they are going to do.”
- Relating. I still have this battered paperback religion textbook from my junior year in high school. It was the first place I learned about fair fighting rules. My friends and I used its ten hallmarks of love vs. infatuation to evaluate our college romances. I made my future husband do all the quizzes in it with me before we were married. Thank you, Mr. Dan Darst, a religion teacher we thought was goofy at the time but whose lessons we carry with us today. No links or quotations, I’m afraid–it’s here, but I don’t know where, and the title is all I can remember right now! [I wish so much that I had pulled it out and written down something that day. I have searched and searched online for a replacement but I just don’t have enough information.]
How about you? Have you read any of those? What nonfiction books have you read over and over? Would you say there are any books whose effect on you was so profound that they helped you become the person you are today? Please share yours in the comments.