I find parenting books a tricky subject. There are a lot of them out there. And, there is useful information in them. But, with parenting books there is sometimes an invitation to lose our sense of confidence or competence and let someone else be the expert when it comes to our challenges with our children. While my kids were growing up I read many books and at times they were very helpful. Sometimes, I felt lost, or overwhelmed, or frustrated and the books let me know I was not alone. I mean, really, if someone has to write a whole book about how to communciate with a preteen I am surely not the only one that is struggling. Hallelujah for validation!
The tricky part with parenting books is that sometimes they take us away from our connection to what we intuitively know. We might take in the message that someone else knows more or better and start to question if we can trust ourselves and our choices. Or, we could learn something in a book that shines a light on things we could have done differently (or even did awfully) in the past. It's not about feeling shame or blame or remorse, that helps no one, so try to not do that. Parenting is all about doing things super well and also about screwing up and doing things wrong (read my thoughts about that here and here), forgive yourself, look forward.
Parenting books are a BOTH/AND for me. They are helpful with the potential to be unhelpful. In each book there is infomation that is good, and to be honest, in each one there is information that doesn't feel important, or even clear, to me. Take what works and leave the rest. There are some books that I think are pretty good so I will tell you about them. :)
The Whole Brain Child is my go-to. It explains the brain in a way that is (mostly) understandable and how integrating experiences into the brain affects our behaviour. There are lots of good suggestions of ways to relate and communicate with children to help their nervous system process and integrate difficult experiences. If I had to choose one book to recommend to all parents it would for sure be this one.
Other books by Daniel Siegel are very good too. Like this and this and this. (While I was at Amazon making those links for you I saw he has another book out that I wasn't aware of! I promptly ordered this. I'll let you know how it goes). I find his writing a little dry at times but the information is so good and helpful that it's worth it. He's a psychiatrist and academic trying to bring his knowledge of neuroscience and mindfulness to us householders in a way that is understandable and we can apply it to our everyday experiences. God bless him. I'll take a little dry to gain a deeper understanding of the brain and nervous system.
Some words from Daniel Siegel:
How to Talk so Kids with Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk was published in 1999. I read it when my daughter was three years old in 2000 and it really influenced my way of parenting her. I hold this little yellow cover with gratitude in my heart for all the times it helped me talk my tiny little kiddo off the teetering edge of a tantrum in the grocery store. It's simple. It illustrates the ideas using sweet little comic strips. It's awesome.
Twenty years later I still believe that what it offers can be helpful. It's clear, concrete, pretty simple, and it may bring powerful shifts in relating and communication .
Here's a little (but super important) bite from this book:
This is my other favourite, favourite, favourite book that I have (truthfully) actually never read the whole way through. It's not because it was dry or boring or I was busy; it was because it was too painful. It's hard and it is SO true. You guys. Listen. Working on our own emotional 'stuff' (aka wounds and other dysfunctional things) is the very best thing we can do for our children. I know. I was mad too. When I learned that I was all: "What do you mean? I want to DO things differently so my child is happier and a better human" and the truth is that when I could BE different the kids were better off. When I freed myself from some of my internal struggles I could be more present, I could tolerate more stress without losing my cool, I was happier and guess what ... the kids were happier too.
If we make sense of or our own childhood pain we can be free from unkowingly re-enacting that unprocessed pain into our experiences with our children. What makes this super difficult is that most of the ways that the unresolved pain from our childhood shows up is unconcious. Meaning, I don't see it's there or know it's happening. Taking this on is the work of warrior parents and I raise my shield to those on the journey.
It does seem backwards; Work on me to make you feel better. But, it is the truth. I've read lots of research that points to this very same idea. This one I know for real and have lived the proof even if I haven't read the whole book yet ;)
Here is Daniel Siegel saying 'work on your own stuff to help your kids' in his own words:
This book by Dr. Shefali Tsabary is also a bang on truth that is pretty annoying to realize and is in some ways similar to what Dan Siegel says. The behaviour that you can't tolerate in your children comes from pain in your own childhood that remains unresolved. Again, makes perfect sense. Dr. Tsabary brings spiritual growth and evolution into the process also. Again, makes creating change for the children feel like it might be a long and winding road. I've read a lot of articles and research and books and sat through seminars and webinars and training days and what I now know to be true is that everything is better if you work on the unresolved pain in your past. Go to therapy. Do it for yourself. Do it for the kids. And, read this book. It's good. Very good.
Oprah interviewed Dr. Tsabary and there are some great video clips of her talking about her work and this book in particular. Google her. You might like it.
Some words from Dr. Tsabary:
Some books on raising children help us learn things we coudl do differently today and some point us to the real deal, down deep, best thing we can do for our kids. Work on our "stuff". So read these books. Or, read none of these books. Just, please do NOT think you 'should' read these books when you don't really want to because, you know, that will set off your stress response system and that is not helpful for anyone. Either way, be kind to yourself, do something that makes you feel good and hang out with your kids in a warm, loving way. Whatever that might look like.