Fifty years ago, the word “parenting” didn’t even exist. What did parents do before that? Muddle through, mostly—lucky if they didn’t inflict their own problems on their children. These five books indicate that “parenting” these days is not just a neologism; it’s an art form invested with life-enhancing values. Here’s a smattering from the palettes of five wise instructors.
Dr. Madeline Levine, author of the bestseller The Price of Privilege, presents her exhaustive research with clarity and passion in a compelling new book. To Teach Your Children Well, you need to get your kid off the “Merit Train” (test scores, sports trophies, etc.) and take a walk with them instead. You don’t just “parent” your children; you “mentor” them, bestowing values that matter: a love of learning, a sense of self, compassion for others, a close and caretaking regard for both body and soul and—above all—the resourcefulness to face most challenges. Most—but not all. Levine’s conclusions are wisely and boldly inconclusive. We cannot solve all our children’s problems because we have too many of our own. What we can do is show them that we’re with them all the way, holding tight, being brave together, letting go when it’s right.
CONTEMPLATING SCREEN TIME
James P. Steyer argues that it’s time for parents to start Talking Back to Facebook. He should know: As founder and CEO of the advocacy group Common Sense Media, Steyer has devoted his life to “improving the media lives of kids and families.” Here, he lays out what may be the crucial questions of our time: How can a person develop any self-image when constantly inundated with external images? How can you uphold for your child the value of face-to-face connections when she is connected to Facebook instead? The author identifies two ways that children are at risk—through a loss of privacy and a loss of innocence. If anything and everyone is available online, these standard childhood privileges disintegrate. Thanks to technology, kids grow up much faster now, shedding their fragile childishness as quickly as possible.
Steyer is no Luddite fool. He celebrates the positive “data points” the Internet gives children, helping them to be more politically and culturally current than any previous generation. Nevertheless, his dire warning remains plain, given eloquent imprimatur by Chelsea Clinton’s foreword: If parents don’t take care, too much media exposure can undermine a child’s life and leave him or her scrambling for selfhood.
MANTRAS FOR MAMAS
The title of Erin Bried’s guide is almost ludicrously modest. How to Rock Your Baby is one of 97—count ’em!—“how to’s” for new moms in this handy book. Of all the instructors in this group of parenting authors, Bried is the most artful. Even her Table of Contents constitutes a work of art unto itself, combining a near-hundredweight of gentle and laconic imperatives for going as gently as possible into that sometimes-not-so-good night of parenthood. Consider this sequence of instructions in the section of the book on “Delivering.” Find Focus. Bear Down. Speak Up. Give Love. Or this set from “Surviving.” Reach Out. Cheer Up. Space Out. Go Out. Reclaim Yourself. Like most moms, I could have used these mantras in the pinched moments of early motherhood when it wasn’t at all clear what to do or how to do it. Concision, simplicity and sweetness are three fundamental and indispensable virtues of Bried’s compendium. Pregnant? Choose Well (another gem from the Table of Contents) and get this book for yourself and your partner.
HAPPY, HEALTHY BÉBÉS
Let’s face it: It seems like we’ll never figure out how to get our kids to eat what we want them to. Meanwhile, Karen Le Billon reports that French Kids Eat Everything. What might we learn from parents across the pond to help us make mealtime less of a tug-of-war and more of a picnic? Le Billon recounts with relish (and lots of different sauces) “how our family moved to France, cured picky eating, banned snacking, and discovered 10 simple rules for raising happy, healthy eaters.” That’s the subtitle of the book, if you can believe it, and it fairly epitomizes the author’s point: To digest anything (whether it’s a morsel of food or an idea), you’ve got to slow down and chew on it. The French have this down. There have been many celebrations of that bon vivant attitude, but this volume about raising Gallic eaters beats them all. Filled with humorous anecdotes, recipes, foodie French nursery rhymes and scintillating cultural inquiry, Le Billon’s adventures take intercontinental flight, showing us it’s not quoi we eat with our kids, but comment we eat it together.
HOME AGAIN, HOME AGAIN?
Here’s a book that needs no endorsement: Sally Koslow’s melancholy title says it all to her alarmingly emergent readership. Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest packs an unsentimental punch for the growing population of parents with grown-up kids who are home again after college, travel or vocational school—jobless, heart-sore and adrift. Koslow’s “adultescents” are a new phenomenon, different from both F. Scott Fitzgerald’s or even David Foster Wallace’s slouchers, unprecedented in both scope and spiritual danger because of our new century’s perfect storm of economic hardship and over-qualification. “Sobering” is the word for Koslow’s data and hopeful conclusions. We have been drunk— not on alcohol, but on unreasonable expectations. For our lost kids at home, it’s time to dry up and move out.