I’m an avid non-recommender of parenting books. I’ve read countless. The Difficult Child, The Explosive Child, The Out-of-Sync Child, How to Raise Boys with ADHD. I can sum them up for you: routine, sticker charts, rewards, and consequences.
Here’s the problem our family has had with all of those. Life can’t always follow a routine. Yes, structure and stability are optimal home-life conditions, but the problem with relying on routines is they become the boss. In theory, routines help a young child know what to expect and therefore they’ll be less likely to fight things like dinner, bath, bed.* However, here’s what doesn’t follow a routine: a child’s appetite, a child’s energy level, a child’s mood. After all, are you always hungry at the same time? If someone tells you to go to bed, but you’re not tired, are you going to fall asleep just because it’s night time?
It’s just as important they learn to listen to their bodies as it is to learn to follow a schedule. That, they’ll learn at school. At home, we’re focused on teaching them to take care of themselves – eat, sleep, bathe – and fit that in as best we can during the messy days that are our life.
Sticker charts, rewards, and consequences have not shown success in our home. We tried a sticker chart for potty training. He’d become so fixated on the sticker, he’d sit on the potty when he didn’t need to and then demand a sticker. When he didn’t get one, he’d throw a tantrum and refuse to sit on the potty when he did need to and have an accident. Rewards didn’t work because he wouldn’t want the same reward from day to day. Instead, he’d have an idea of what he wanted as a reward. We wouldn’t have it, of course, because it was usually a Spiderman toy of his own imagining, and when he didn’t get it he’d throw a tantrum. So then, he ended up with a consequence. In the end, he rarely received the reward and the entire practice in his mind equaled punishment and led to more tantrums which made nobody happy.
No, I don’t believe in following the advice of parenting books. All they’ve done for me is give reasons to think I’m a terrible parent when I inevitably fail. After so many failures I threw those books out and started focusing on me and my behavior. Don’t get me wrong, we still have our problems. We still have tantrums and fights and misbehaviors and rebellion and stubborn attitudes. After all, kids suck, that’s not going to change. But how I deal with it can change. And learning to be more aware of myself has taught me to be more aware of my kids and to parent them based on who they are and not how some book tells me they should be. That’s not life.
1.”The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson
Welcome to the Buddhist philosophy for the twenty-first century. Manson’s entire book is about how to let the little things go. With kids, this is so important (and trust me, I’m still not there). I credit reading this book as the inspiration for coming up with my mantra Kids Suck. It happened during a particularly recent rough time, and in the past, I would’ve been paralyzed with anxiety and depression when I couldn’t fix or control everything. I still fretted and was miserable through the whole ordeal, but for the first time in my life, I reached a point where I threw up my arms and said, there’s nothing I can do here, kids suck and I just have to breathe until we’re through this.
It’s the same idea as picking your battles. For my own sanity, I had to learn to let go of some of those smaller battles because they were sapping my energy I needed to fight the bigs ones – keeping them safe, keeping them healthy, making sure they know they’re loved. For me, those are the only ones worth the energy. As for the other little ones, I choose not to give a f*ck.
2. “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin
Gretchen Rubin woke up one day and found herself to be unhappy in the life she was living. Why? Because she was living according to how she thought she should not how she wanted. So, she took a year and each month worked on one happiness project. Then, she wrote a book about it and it’s full of fantastic mindfulness advice and practical tips on how to be mindful.
I’ve read this book, I listen to her podcast as a weekly reminder and sometimes as a mood pick-me-up when I’m feeling down in the dumps, and I’m waiting on her latest book, The Four Tendencies. In her writing, she discovered people mostly fell into these four personality tendencies. I am a big fan of personality tests. It helps me understand the behaviors of the people I love and reminds me we don’t all think the same or interact with the world in the same way. For instance, I’m a questioner according to her tendency quiz, and my husband is a rebel. Learning that about him helped me understand why we fought about certain things and I changed the way I ask him to do things for me.
3. “Love Warrior” by Glennon Doyle Melton
This is the story of Glennon Doyle Melton’s journey after finding out her husband was unfaithful. A lot.
What does this have to do with parenting? It’s an entire book on a woman who chose to forgive. It’s a reminder to us all that people make mistakes, sometimes awful ones that will nearly break your family up, but where there is love there is compassion. Sometimes it’s hard to find because we’re so deeply hurt, but it’s there.
Learning to forgive is crucial as a parent, and I was one of the most unforgiving people you could meet. My standards and expectations were sky-high for the people I loved, and if they didn’t meet them, they were out. Until I had a child. He taught me forgiveness because it is impossible to hold a grudge against him. Then, I met my step-children and found that love extends 100% to non-biological children as well. Then, I married my husband and though it’s harder with him, I’m working on it. I’ve learned people you love are always going to make you mad or make mistakes that hurt you, always. Let it go.
4. “Daring Greatly” by Brené Brown
If you’re a perfectionist, like I was (am?), then this book is eye-opening. Brené Brown demonstrates how our culture and society view vulnerability as weakness and why it’s not. It’s the times when we’re most vulnerable when we achieve the most.
For instance, a few years ago I wouldn’t have started this blog because I would’ve been too afraid of what people would think. What if no one read it because my writing wasn’t good enough? What if people thought my opinions were wrong or stupid?
When it comes to parenting, her book touches a lot on shaming and our society’s never enough culture. Look around the internet and you’ll read countless blogs, see innumerable memes on how high the standards are for moms these days. This book helps remind us that we don’t need to be perfect, and in fact, when we’re trying to be perfect we’re limiting ourselves from how awesome we can actually be.
5. “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
I said no parenting books, I know. But, while this is technically a book for parents, the content inside is about communication. I’ve recommended this book to friends for help dealing with a difficult boss or colleagues or as advice for delegating tasks to employees. It is the ONLY parenting book I recommend.
It does not tell you how to parent. It helps you find effective ways of communicating with your kids. So often we forget children are people. We think that as their parents, we’re their bosses and it’s our job to tell them what to do. I am guilty of this. It’s how I was raised and we do what we know.
But, I have three strong-willed spirited young men for sons and they don’t do as their told for the sole reason that an adult told them to. In fact, the more we tell them to do something, the less likely they are to do it. They too fall into the rebel and questioner tendencies according to Gretchen Rubin.
And that’s where this book comes in. With a questioner, they need a reason to do something. This book teaches you how to approach that without lecturing. Rebels won’t do anything they’re told, just because. There are ways around that too. Read the book.
The most important thing I’ve learned from all my reading is not to put too much stock in any of it. I look for advice, sure. But more importantly, I look for connection. I find the most help comes from remembering I’m not alone, that other people struggle with the same things I do. When I want legitimate parenting advice, I call friends and I ask for help. They know me, they know my kids. The authors of these books don’t. And I’m learning to parent based on what I think is right, not what other’s tell me I should do.
*Please note I am not dispelling the importance of routine for children who are on the autism spectrum or have other disabilities. Please remember I’m not a psychologist or a doctor and nothing written here is intended to be taken as medical advice.
Do you have a mantra helping you be a zen mama? Contact me if you’re interested in sharing it here on Zen Mama Mantras.