I’m not big on parenting books. They’re usually pretty dull and short on application to the tantrum/whining/no-chores-doing happening right now stage left.
The neon lights exception: Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne. My holy book of parenting, the premise is straightforward: Fewer things and scheduled activities, more literal space for growth and creativity.
To that list of one, I’ve found another all-star reference: How to be a Happier Parent by KJ Dell’Antonio. If the author’s name looks familiar, you’re a read of the Motherlode blog on NY Times, which she used to helm.
I love How to be a Happier Parent because it’s exactly what I want out of a parenting reference book: Long on practical, evidence-based advice and short on sweeping philosophical statements. When it comes to parenting advice, I’m not interested in theory; I want to know what has actually worked for other people, even if it ultimately doesn’t work for me.
It was clear this book would become a favorite when, in the midst of reading it, I was able to apply one of the central themes of the book: As parents, we are teaching our kids the skill they need to have to be successful adults. Sounds obvious, right? It totally is, in all moments except the one where we’re trying to figure out our next parenting move.
My opportunity to practice this idea came about a few mornings ago, when I was emptying the trash cans for garbage day. I decided to empty a little-used trash can in our hall bathroom when an unexpected glut of liquid tumbled out the top and onto the floor with a pile of miscellaneous detritus. Closer (disgusted) inspection revealed that the girls had (presumably) inadvertently generated their own batch of pruno with some clementine segments they had deposited in that can after an “at home spa” experience one sister created for the other.
Admittedly, my default reaction would have been: WTF. Whose terrible idea was this. You know better. Etc. Then I would have begrudgingly assisted in the clean up process, likely admonishing them along the way for not doing more proactive cleaning work.
New reaction: Girls, please come here. This is what happened and why. Here’s how you clean it up. Be sure to do X, Y, Z. When you’re done, put your cleaning supplies here and the garbage bags there. Done. I walk away. For the next hour, I hear negotiating, laughter, gagging, and spray bottle squirts. At the end of the hour (the full hour!), they emerge victorious. They seem … what’s that? … proud of their accomplishment. They have done it, almost entirely on their own, with my abbreviated instructions to guide them but otherwise no parental involvement.
Maybe more importantly, they have suffered the natural consequences of their actions rather than a tangentially related consequence I would have otherwise manufactured (what exactly is the connection between “no screen time for the rest of the day” and “unintentional alcohol brewing gone awry”? Not a whole lot, it turns out).
What I’m taking away from How to be a Happier Parent, among other lessons: We are the teachers. They need to learn how to be adults. They will mess up. This is not a reflection of you or them; it’s a reflection of lessons that need further reinforcement. Teach, stand back, let them succeed or fail. Whether these lessons will hold up to teenagers, who the heck knows, but for now, I’ll take this win.