Monday, December 01, 2003
Everyone who has entered "the club" knows: The birth of a first child takes parents into a new territory for which no amount of preparation can prepare them. Andrea Buchanan artfully describes the feeling of a world turned upside down in her book Mother Shock.
Beautifully written, Mother Shock captures the craziness and newness of being thrown, literally overnight, into the world of a stay-at-home mom. She does so through the skillful and light-handed use of culture shock as a metaphor for those early days of parenthood.
Buchanan's essays on the first 18 months of her daughter's life are deeply reassuring for others on that journey, who will no doubt appreciate the humor that suffuses each page. In one essay, she describes finally getting over her guilt about not having a clean house after she reads a Washington Post article about a tidy home environment being directly linked to a child's future success.
Buchanan writes, "My philosophy, as of late, has been that a clean house is pretty much the sign of a serious mental illness, and that as long as the Tylenol and the cat food are inaccessible to my daughter, our apartment has the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. But after reading this article I'm not so sure."
Often, her writing is laugh-out-loud funny.
The chapters on her toddler's precocious use of obscenities and her decision to bring her 18-month-old along on a business luncheon are particularly notable.
Buchanan also does a magnificent job describing how the wonder and drama of our world are distilled into the seemingly mundane moments of a stay-at-home mom's day.
This book is a perfect read for new mothers, who will find themselves thinking "oh, yes!" in response to each chapter. Those of us who have passed through those early days of parenting will appreciate the skill with which Buchanan has captured the essence of that period of our lives.
Be a good sport and here are 101 ways to just do it 101 Ways To Be a Terrific Sports Parent: Making Athletics a Positive Experience for Your Child, by Joel Fish with Susan Magee, Fireside Trade Paperback, 2003, $14.
The youth sports scene has changed. The neighborhood street ballgame, once a frequent and spontaneous assemblage of clattering kids, has vanished and reappeared in a highly-organized and fiercely competitive format. The kids are no longer toiling in the street, no longer dressed in dirty dungarees and old t-shirts. They're donning clean uniforms, state-of-the-art equipment and traveling to well-manicured fields in far off locales. The youth sports revolution is here.
And with it are the highly intense pressures upon our kids, challenges that both help and hinder emotional development. That's why 101 ways doesn't seem too lofty a goal for sports parents.
In this book, Joel Fish, a licensed psychologist and sport psychologist, and Susan Magee hit on the main points of parental involvement in sports and go beyond practical advice on everything from encouragement to empowerment. They break the advice down into three age categories: 6-11, 12-14 and 15 and up.
Many parents, oblivious to what sports are truly supposed to provide-an understanding of the importance of teamwork, discipline and fitness, and the building of self-esteem-need this type of stern, but subtle advice. The authors delve into more than just your typical "winning isn't everything" mantras. Unconscious behavior on the part of the parents is explored extensively, and readers would be surprised to find out just how much adverse communication is actually relayed to a child with no one speaking. For example, a parent who claims to be impartial to their child's athletic results, can actually give blatant signs of disappointment through body language.
This book also helps explain why kids experience stress and anxiety when competing in sports. The authors insist there's more to a child's fear of "striking out" than not getting on base. These revelations may surprise "pushy" parents, especially when the authors claim: "Not everyone was born to throw a ball 90 miles an hour" and years and years of blood, sweat and tears won't change that. Not in this day and age anyway. Brad Spencer
If the kids push your buttons, try self-talking your way out When Your Kids Push Your Buttons: And What You Can Do About it, by Bonnie Harris, M.S.Ed., Warner Books, 2003, $22.95.
This is a very attractive title for any parent who has ever lost her cool. I chose this book eagerly awaiting wisdom and solutions.
Bonnie Harris, whose history involves many years of parenting classes, writes her book as a sort of at-home exercise. Some of it worked for me, some of it did not.
While the chapter-ending quizzes may appeal to some parents, I found the questions overly obvious and distracting to the book's flow. The book is also filled with classroom terminology.
Part one is a breakdown of buttons: what they are, where they come from and how they are pushed. The chapters are filled with words such as "assumptions," "standards," "reaction chains," "agendas" and, especially, "self-talk."
Underlying Harris' strategies is the idea that while we are not responsible for our child's behavior, we are responsible for own. If we can change our reactions, we can, perhaps, change our child's behavior. Chapter by chapter, she guides us through how our personal histories lead us to assumptions and standards that could conflict with our child's agenda. Our buttons are pushed and we explode, making everyone miserable.
Harris does a good job weaving family scenarios into her definitions, making them tangible to readers. The second part of the book, in fact, is a series of scenarios. It focuses on how rethinking standards and agendas can help a parent talk her way into diffusing her own button. The examples run the gamut of ages and situations, providing a little something for everyone. Unfortunately, in almost every example story, the parent involved falls back on his own history of being badly parented, which has led him to have impossible standards.
Still, Harris gives readers a lot of encouragement and guidance in helping us improve how we react to our children. In one of the book's best example scenarios, one mother learns that "it's amazing what being a little more aware of the layers underneath can do to change things."
Even though this book did not have the magic cure to eliminate temper tantrums, its "self-talk" strategy is a concept that can serve parents well.