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.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.
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!")
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.