Lessons to Be Learned On Parenting: Books, Instinct, And Snarky Commenters

My favorite parenting philosophy is just figure it out as I go. Most books are shit and the kind of person who even considers reading parenting books, is probably doing fine. I think Abraham Lincoln said that.

Every once in awhile, however, a friend or stranger stops me in my tracks and convinces me to seek parenting advice from a book. Rob especially loves these moments in our relationship. After I read one chapter, he is subjected for days on everything he's doing wrong as a parent from me, the new expert. I'm sure he's cursing me, the author, and the person who recommend it the whole time. He pines for the day when the book starts to wear off. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't.

This happened once when I was complaining about Ella never sleeping as a baby. I was 23 or 24 years old at the time, practically a baby myself. I assumed babies, like adults, would sleep when they tired. AND ELLA NEVER SEEMED TIRED. Those bedroom eyes she always seemed to have? Oh, they were inherited from my mom. I was at a dear friend's house talking about Ella's inherited eyes and my friend shut me up by saying something like, "No, she's tired. And your mom probably was too." I wanted to die of embarrassment. I could feel the tears starting to come in, but I tried to stay cool.

She reached for a copy of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child and said, "Here, take this home and read it."

While I was totally grateful for her concern on the outside, inside I was thinking otherwise. Who does she think she is? Telling me my baby is tired! Ella's fine! I'm doing the best I can. But I never said any of it. Instead, I took the book, went home, and read it. While I thought the layout and structure of the chapters were awful, the information was priceless. It completely changed how I thought about sleep. Not only for Ella, but for myself and, years later, my boys. I never did return the book to my friend. Take that bitch. ;)

And now I'm in the thick of yet another parenting book. I'm taking this one in chunks and of course forcing Rob with me on my journey. It was recommended to me from a sassy anonymous reader who was disgusted by my post, "Behavior Chart for My Ego.". Anon suggested I read How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. While I was reluctant to take advice from a snarky commenter, I'm not too proud to think I know everything. So I ordered the book seconds after she left the comment and started reading it on my Kindle. It's changed everything. This is the quote I keep coming back to:
The more you try to push a child's unhappy feelings away, the more he becomes stuck in them. The more comfortably you can accept the bad feelings, the easier it is for kids to let go of them. I guess you could say that if you want to have a happy family you'd better be prepared to permit the expression of a lot of unhappiness. 
The authors suggest four ways to help children deal with their feelings:
1. Listen quietly and attentively.
2. Acknowledge their feelings with words like, "Oh . . . . Mmmm . . . I see . . ."
3. Give the feelings a name ("Wow! That sounds frustrating/challenging/intense/disappointing!")
4. Give the child his wishes in fantasy (I wish I could give you the biggest bowl ice cream with 10 cherries on top right now!")
It seems so simple, but it's an art not to deny their feelings, give advice, defend the other person, give pity, or half listen. I've tried it over the past week and loved the results.

Take yesterday, for example. I was helping Ella with her spelling words. As I gave her a practice test, she was stuck on the word "extinct". She was beyond frustrated when she got the word wrong. I could see the rage building up in her. It was so annoying. Before I might have tried to deny her feelings and say something like, "Oh, Ella. It doesn't matter, it's just a practice test! Get over it. Move on. You'll get it the next time. Shush."

But instead I sat on the couch with her as she let off some steam and said things like, "Oh . . . .Mmmm . . . That is so frustrating!" Pretty soon she was saying, "I wish the dinosaurs never were extinct so I would never have to learn how to spell that word." OMG, I thought, this is so textbook!

I went on with her fantasy about dinosaurs still existing today and walking through the streets of NYC. We talked about training them like dogs. And I asked her which one she would want. She said, "Not a T-Rex! The one with a long neck that eats plants." Good choice.

We sat on the couch for a little while until she said, "Mom, I want to watch a little Portlandia." I always compliment her sense of humor when she gets the jokes. "You know Ella," I tell her, "Most kids your age don't get these jokes." She feels grown up and smart when I say this. I put it on.

Low and behold the parenting book skit started playing (shown above). I know I'm exactly the kind of parent they are making fun of. It makes me wonder if Rob helped write parts of the script. It's ok. As I see it, a little mix of instinct, snarky commenters, and expert advice is what's going to solve all my parenting problems. Because, you know, half of the people can be part right all of the time. Some of the people can be all right part of time. But all the people can't be all right all of the time. That's what Abraham Lincoln said.

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  1. Great post :) I have a similar reaction to parenting books! I try to avoid them (after being a little obsessed with sleep books), but if I do read one, I act like it's the ONLY truth and suddenly I am the expert! And kudos to you for pursuing your commenter's suggestion, even if the comment perhaps was hard to take.


  2. "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen..." was my bible when my big kids were little. Seriously, I think it's the best parenting book every written. I don't even need to refer to it with Noah, that is how completely I absorbed every chapter. Amazing how well it works and how much sense it all makes once you try it, right?

  3. Oh my gosh, I freaking love you! How great that you just DID what that obnoxious commenter said without getting upset. You do it all with humor, realness and humility. I'm currently on a hunt for a book on how to calm/talk to/deal with my two year old twin boys who have broken our entire house.

    1. Good God me too (twin two-year old boys!) Any advice Sharon? How in the hell did you survive toddlerdom?
      Also, actually had to wipe off some spittle on my computer screen upon reading "take that bitch". Ha. You're so great.

    2. yeah--i can relate to the broken thing. i have no lamps, wall lights, anything. all destroyed by balls thrown in the air. it's just straight up light bulbs in my house.

      twins are the WORST !! :)

  4. I have always loooovveedd that portlandia skit. So great. My friend Ashley says she's taking "a long term approach to parenting". I think that makes so much sense. Let's just all relax a bit and do the best we can without beating ourselves up!

    1. i like this long term approach idea. i'll have to try it out. is there a book with a step by step guide though?! :)

  5. This is great -I'm not even a Mom yet but when I am some day, I hope I can be humble and laugh at myself like you do, while still always be open to improvement. And by the way - I loved your Behavior Charts for Ego post and I was just showing my husband the hilarious photos and captions this weekend. When I want a giggle, I go look at your last photo "failure" where one of your sons is sitting on the kitchen counter.

  6. I was the commenter on that post. I didn't think my comment was snarky or sassy at all. In fact, I tried very hard to be respectful and kind, given the nature of your post about your kids, which seemed to exhibit a disregard for their own emotional selves so much that I wondered if you weren't joking about the entire chart you were detailing. I am dismayed to see you disrespectful what I intended as a thoughtful comment on your blog. Take a page out of that book and start respecting your readers. You were engaging your community in a discussion on behavior and emotion in children. I'm really aghast at how you describe my comment here. The only positive thing I can glean from this is that you bought the book and maybe you will get yourself on a path that exhibits more regard for people, their emotional selves, and their thoughts, feelings and contributions. The only reason my comment was anonymous is b/c I rarely comment on blogs at all. I did on that one b/c it seemed to be crying out for information on that book and I thought it would benefit someone else's kids, who are roughly the age of my own. It seems you can't accept any feedback without aiming to tear the commenter (s) down.

    1. here's the comment you left on "Behavior Chart for My Ego". feel free to help me with an adjective to describe it:

      This post seems unlike you. Are you really punishing your children if they cry or show an emotion other than happiness? Your kids aren't allowed to yell? What will they do as adults when they feel anger if they are not parented now, as young kids, in how to address their anger and exhibit it? They have to stuff it away if they want time with their mom? Worse, you are taking away time they might have with you? I can't tell if this post is serious but if it is, I recommend you read the book How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk. Children should never be taught that when they express a range of emotions that their parents are uncomfortable with they should be punished. Sure, hitting and teasing are not okay but these are moments of learning for young kids. Kids need to know when they express emotion that at least one parent will be beside them, particularly if the emotion is one of anger or sadness. I am sad to hear you are punishing your boys for crying on the way to school. I am really hoping this post is not serious. If it is, I hope you take another read and and consider some other avenues in how to parent kids through emotion.

    2. "Wordy" would be my adjective of choice.

    3. IMHO, a NON-snarky reply could have just been "Hey, you might want to check out this book: ______" Sorry Emily, your intention might have been good, but being a know-it-all is snarky.

    4. These comments are amazing. Serious bravo to Sharon for reading the book recommended in that gem of a comment. You have an open mind and that is really cool.

      Btw, the video of Rob dancing had me crying at my desk. So freaking hilarious. He really commits, doesn't he?

    5. I don't think Emily was being snarky, but I do think her (and many others) picked out what they wanted to hear from your post and ran with it. You spend a ton of time with your kids all day long, the "reward" was to get alone time, that's all. Those of us with more than one kid understand that one-on-one time is rare and a treat. Is it better to punish kids with time-out (isolation) or treats (future overeaters)? There is no right answer and I for one was taken aback by the dramatic responses. It really wasn't that big of a deal, calm down.

    6. dude that comment was SO SNARKY. Almost as snarky as the one you left on this post.

    7. YOU'RE snarky, anon.

    8. Emily, Maybe you can take a page out of Sharon's book (when she looked into the book you suggested even though you wrote it in a snarky tone) and think introspectively about why someone would be offended & consider your comment rude/snarky, even if they mentioned it in a way you didn't like. We can all learn from each other.

  7. thanks for the book recommendation, sharon! this is coming at a good time for me. atticus is not quote two years-old but i am trying to be mindful of his feelings and let him feel it is okay to express how he is feeling, even if it's in the form of a meltdown. curious to start reading!!


    1. yeah--i hope this sort of thing works on 2 year olds. they are the worst!! :)

    2. HA! i hear it gets better, i have decided to try and find these moods amusing. of course, we no longer go to restaurants. but that is another story.

  8. I have this book at my bedside. I pick it up every once in a while. I have found it to be really insightful. Do I follow it like a bible? No, but it has been very helpful at times. That is how I view parenting books. They can be helpful at times, especially when I am feeling like I am out of ideas.

  9. I have this book at my bedside. I pick it up every once in a while. I have found it to be really insightful. Do I follow it like a bible? No, but it has been very helpful at times. That is how I view parenting books. They can be helpful at times, especially when I am feeling like I am out of ideas.

  10. Sharon, your brand of sarcasm is on a level most normal people can't appreciate. Thankfully, I love it so please don't let anyone make you change your blog voice! Haha, someone should start a blog called, "Sharon Taught Me." If anyone should be giving out child rearing advice it should be a woman who has three kids, with a set of twins!!! I can't even begin to imagine how hard that must be!

  11. Awesome. I like it. & I like the way you write :)

  12. Let me just say, you are way better at taking unsolicited advice than I am. Hell, I'm not even good at taking solicited advice.

    ps. I used to train parents before I was one, so you can imagine how completely obnoxious I was. I never give advice now. In fact, if I could travel back in time, I'd go back and smack myself.

    pps. I watched the Portlandia clip with my kids and they only part they laughed at was the baby saying poop. Clearly, they lack a sophisticated sense of humor. ;)

  13. i have a love/hate relationship with sleep books. parenting books? i haven't tried reading them yet. i can't decide if this is pride, foolishness, or wisdom.

    i love this post. seriously. :)

  14. Validating kids' feelings is seriously the best way to go - I am not a parent yet myself, but this was the approach we used when I taught in a pre-K. Kudos to Sharon for trying this book out - it's a classic! It was a big shift for me to approach children this way, but it WORKS. Now I find myself taken aback when I hear/witness parents or teachers invalidating a child's experience by telling them, "you're fine", "be quiet", "you're not hurt," etc etc.

    The tipping point for me was hearing this: just because kids are younger does not mean their experience is any less valid than ours as adults. Imagine a friend telling you, "oh, you're fine" if you cried in front of them or complained about your day.

    1. This is true to a point, but if your kid gets mildly hurt and is crying it's better to downplay it to help them calm down. I think this can be true for adults too. If I'm really upset over something, especially if it's something I've built up bigger than it should be, I think sometimes it's better for someone to downplay it a bit rather than get me more riled up.

    2. Downplaying something is different than invalidating someone's feelings. I'm not talking about having a lengthy conversation over every bump or bruise OR making a big deal out of something - how exhausting - but not brushing others' feelings aside other. Empathy generally doesn't "rile up" a situation more. Besides, kids have a completely different perspective than adults - something we see as minor/silly may feel pretty serious for them.

  15. Smart and funny as always! :)

    As a Norwegian I have to ask you.. Have you heard/are you already tired of http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jofNR_WkoCE ? :)

  16. This is great! My husband doesn't read parenting books, either. He sort of gathers information vicariously through my occasional readings of parenting books. While I don't subscribe exclusively to any one parenting philosophy, I love to read or hear advice on new ideas of how to better parent our 2 1/2 year old son. It may work, it may not, or it may not even be right for our family. What the heck though, if it works for some, it could be an option for us. I just ordered the two books that you recommended. Thanks for this post. :)

  17. Hi Sharon! First of all, I think that you are hilarious and kind and I didn't think for a second that you were dismissing your kid's feelings. I think people forget that your blog is just a tiny glimpse into your life and that they should refrain from making generalizations without seeing the bigger picture. Secondly, I think it would have been really easy to just be like, whatever, this lady is being mean and not even pay attention to the comment, but the fact that you ordered the book she mentioned anyway is really awesome, and the fact that you took something from it and used it is even more awesome.

    And to the lady who made the original comment, just feel good that she took your suggestion, whether you meant for your tone to be snarky or not. At the end of the day, didn't you just want to be heard and make sure that she was thinking about her kids' feelings? If so, mission accomplished!

  18. I read the other post and thought it was hilarious, didn't even bother to read the comments until now and Oh boy! . That comment section is the entire internet-blog interaction in a nutshell. I don't see why people bother to make a point of how the author of the blog is absolutely wrong because they do something the commenters dont agree with. Nobody's perfect, nobody's parents are perfect, nobody's kids are perfect and nobody's lives are perfect. You think you can help out and share some wisdom? Then SHARE the wisdom and cut the self-righteous crap. Even therapists need therapy.

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