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Throw Away Your Parenting Books

by on Oct.15, 2012, under Behavior, Child development, Elementary School Children, Learning, Parenting, Toddlers

“I’m almost finished reading [parenting book],” the first-time mom confessed, “and I have to tell you, it’s really stressing me out!”

“Well, don’t read it! ” I urged. “Just put it away.” (I think I actually suggested that she throw it away.)

That’s kind of an odd recommendation from a parenting expert who has written two award winning parenting books.* But I meant it sincerely. It was the part about teaching young children foreign languages, Mandarin, in particular, that did her in and prompted my response.

There are a plethora, a veritable flood of how-to parenting books on the market. Every day heralds the publication of a new one, pointing the way to raising just the child you hope for.  These books can play to a parent’s worst competitive needs and insecurities. Add the time you need to spend hunting for the right-latest-best-newest-most-eco-friendly-non-BPA everything, and you have a raging case of stress!

Raising children is a journey…more of a hike. I mean that in a good way.  There are hard places, really hard places, parts where you catch your breath, some great vistas, and lots of cool stuff along the way. Like the hike, the normal developmental path of the growing child dishes up challenges (and joys) a plenty. No need to add ankle weights as you climb. If you’re not Chinese, you can forget the Mandarin.

I can promise you that Socrates’ mommy didn’t enroll him in philosophy class. Einstein’s mom didn’t use flashcards (to quote the wonderful book by approximately that title). And I’m quite sure that Mrs. Bell, Alexander Graham’s mother, didn’t fill his after school hours with electronics lessons. The chances that any of those mommies of the world’s most accomplished contributors read any parenting books is nil.

Since forever parents have been raising children.  (Actually, they have been raising adults.) For years parents have been meeting children’s developmental needs, nurturing and educating them, giving them plenty of time to play, explore, and create, and putting them in a position to tackle adult life head on. Children have not needed or been given soccer skills classes at age two, academic tutoring at age three, and figure drawing at age four, and yet  they grew into adults who lead happy lives.

How interesting it is that children in Finland start elementary school at age seven and spend the fewest amount of hours in the classroom in the world.  And in 2006 Finland’s pupils scored the highest average results in science and in reading (and came in second to South Korea in math) in the whole developed world.    Do you think their parents gave them Mandarin classes when they were toddlers?

Through time, parents have used common sense, life experience, the village it takes, and expert help when necessary, to raise people who turn out just fine, even highly accomplished.

So, relax, slow down, cancel the Mandarin lessons, put the parenting books back on the shelf.  Use them as needed and not as gospel.


*For the record, my books are absolutely fabulous and should be kept front and center in your library!

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4 Comments for this entry

  • Becca

    I was JUST talking about this with someone in my parenting group – how I sometimes get paralyzed when dealing with a situation with one of my children because my natural instincts are sometimes (mostly) in opposition to what I’m “supposed” to do based on all of my parenting education. I get stuck not knowing how to react because I start to think that my immediate, natural reaction is wrong, and then I think “How am I supposed to react?” and I usually can’t remember in the moment. Then I usually think that I’m the worst parent. Ha! It can be a source of stress.

  • Betsy BB

    Oh boy! I feel your pain. It is so hard to find those instincts. (That’s why I stayed away from that word in my blog.) I think the trick is to talk to people (parenting groups),compare notes, talk about successes and failures, and read lots of bits and pieces. Then decide what FEELS right to you. You sure will know it when you hit on it!

    Just wanted you to know that I know how daunting this parenting thing can be. My goal is to de-stress parents and thereby raise happy kids!

  • Dee

    I love this blog. I have parenting books stacked and waiting to be read. Sometimes I feel stress because I haven’t read them yet (yours are front and center).

    I admit that my two elementary age girls take a weekly Mandarin class for one hour per week. They practice speaking and writing and learn about the culture. There is no homework. My goal is to keep it fun and interesting. My husband and I are not Chinese however, we lived in and worked in China for a few years. We studied Mandarin for a couple of years before we moved there and know that learning Mandarin is difficult and consuming; one hour per week is not a recipe for fluency.

    We don’t put any pressure on our girls to practice speaking. Honestly, it’s all of the other activities that have me concerned: one weekly sport practice and a weekly game, weekly gymnastics, a monthly Girl Scout meeting, and a monthly religious education meeting. The sport practice and gymnastics happen during the week after school. The rest is on weekends.

    I feel like we are over-scheduled (perhaps our busy schedule is why I don’t get to read all my parenting books). My husband disagrees that our children are over-scheduled.

    My girls are doing well in school, for which they have a lot of homework.

    I like my girls to try new things however, they don’t want to give up anything when they ask to try something new. The last couple of summers, I have signed them up for one-week “camps” to get exposure to something new. I wish we had more down time. I wish they had more time to play with friends.

    What is a good balance?

  • Betsy BB

    How great it would be if there were a clear answer to your question. There isn’t. What’s enough for one child is too much for another. Only YOU and YOUR CHILDREN can figure that out, always keeping your eyes open for tell-tale signs of overload (fatigue, irritability, wakefulness, back talk!, among other things.)

    There is, however, much to be said for and learned from your children having to make choices and learning to postpone desires when it comes to doing or wanting it all.

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