Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Yes, There is a Parenting Manual

Parenting is an exciting, heartwarming, challenging, fascinating, wonderful time in our lives, and it's important to know we are not alone in figuring out how to do it. Contrary to many quips from people who believe there is "no instruction manual for a child," there are plenty of parenting books to guide our decisions, actions, and feelings. Here's my piece from the April 1 version of The Villager:

Yes, there’s a Parenting Manual

At age fifty-one, with two kids in high school and college respectively, I look back with pride and a bit of relief I didn’t screw it up.

In reflecting on how we got to this point, my wife and I recalled getting ready to welcome our first child by reading. We read and talked a lot about parenting before we started living it. Just like we always did before planning a trip, we researched, heading to the bookstore and library in search of what was known about the experience we were about to embrace. Obviously it helped that we were both educators and natural readers. It has also helped we somehow have two incredibly amazing kids. In fact, we might not actually be good parents because in some ways we haven’t parented. Of course, that just means we haven’t struggled with managing their behavior. In reality, we’ve parented every minute of our kids’ lives, even when that means stepping back, giving them autonomy and freedom.

Parenting is undoubtedly an uncertain and ever-evolving series of events, and most parents advise newbies that you can never fully prepare for what comes next. However, that doesn’t mean there is no store of knowledge and wisdom about parenting. Sadly, too many people feel they are destined to fly blind, living in a state of crisis management throughout the childhood years. I recall an episode of Oprah when a guest lamented to Dr. Phil, “you know, there’s no parenting manual.” Both Oprah and Dr. Phil nodded, exclaiming, “That’s right, there is no parenting manual.” It’s not like the hospital gives you a user's manual as you head out the door, right? My wife and I looked at each other, dumbfounded. “Of course there’s a parenting manual,” we protested to the TV. In fact, dozens sprang to mind without even doing an Amazon search.

Being a Gen X child of a 70s upbringing, I remember my mom talking about Dr. Spock, the pediatrician whose 1946 bestseller The Common Book of Baby & Child Care influenced post-World War II parenting. Granted, much discussion these days is about everything Dr. Spock got wrong, but there’s no denying the significance of his book and his simple faith in the parenting instinct which reminds us “you know more than you think you do.” Dr. Spock had plenty of detailed advice on how new parents could raise and nurture their children into adults. His revolutionary tome broke with traditions in parenting by encouraging parents to not follow strict rules but to see their children as individuals. It’s an adaptive model used to raise two generations.

In contemporary America, the parenting self-help bookshelf has greatly expanded, and the industry now has specialized genres on everything from feeding your child to getting them to sleep. There are books on literacy and emotional intelligence and allergies and toy selection. There’s no shortage of books on discipline, with full manuscripts about whether or not to spank (Helpful Hint: don’t). In fact, two enterprising parents and “parenting coaches,” Carole and Nadim Saad wrote Kids Don’t Come with a Manual, a bestseller which has since become a series. However, if I am advising a future parent, I think it starts with the classic What to Expect When You’re Expecting, which should be a mandatory baby shower gift, and it should always be paired with What to Expect the First Year. If my wife and I reflect on our experience, the next most significant book we read was Proactive Parenting. And, of course, many people will swear by the “parenting Bible,” How to Talk so your Kids will Listen, and Listen so your Kids will Talk.

Some parenting manuals aren’t guidebooks, as much as they are memoirs of success and failure, sharing tips on how to raise children the French way, or singing the praises of tiger moms and hipster dads. As the parents of two successful children, my wife and I have often fielded not only compliments but queries about what we did. Mostly, we have read and talked a lot about parenting.

So, that’s the crux of my advice: there is a parenting manual, and there is one that is perfect for you and your child. Now read it.

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