Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Sunday Salon - books on parenting

The Sunday

My girlfriend and I were out the other night and she asked for me to help her track down some parenting books (she's expecting her second child). We tried the library, found a few that fit what she was looking for, then later on that night we found ourselves in the bookstore and looking at the massive amount of parenting books on the shelves. Since my husband and I are contemplating starting to expand our family, we've been looking more and more into parent-related books to read, websites to bookmark, and questions to bug our already child-blessed friends with. I already read the two main parenting magazines available here in Canada (Today's Parent and Canadian Family) because I feel I get some worthwhile information out of them as a teacher and interacting with children everyday. Plus, as a teacher, whether you have kids or not, parents will ask for advice on parenting.

On that same thread, I saw a documentary on CBC on Friday night called Hyper Parents and Coddled Kids. It's about the modern-day explosion of hyper parenting, aka helicopter parents. We see these all the time as teachers, the ones that don't want their children to encounter any difficulties that they can't clear away for them, the ones that enroll their kids in more extracurricular activities than are hours in a day, and spend a fortune on their children's birthday parties. Intrigued by the documentary, I tracked down the book it was based on: Under Pressure: Rescuing Childhood from the Culture of Hyper Parenting by Carl Honore. The book explores various areas where hyper parenting takes over: structured play in place of free play, expensive educational toys vs. plain and simple toys, academic-based preschools vs. play-based preschools etc. It gives examples of the kinds of things well-intentioned parents do for their children and how, even though we've been told for years that all those resume-padding activities will make our children better, it actually works against them, making them more stressed and anxious with not enough time to play and develop properly.

I think in our hearts, we know that too much soccer, homework, piano lessons, baby yoga, and electronics are bad for kids, but we keep getting this message that our kids need to be wunderkinds, that if we don't enrich their lives with art classes, swimming, drama classes, and educational toys, that they'll be somehow left behind and won't we be horrible parents for not providing them with the things that could have given them the head start in life. I didn't even know how many educational toys there were for babies and toddlers until my friends had their first child and I saw all the things their families were buying for them. Almost every toy made noise and lit up, I think the only toy I had growing up that was close to interactive was a Teddy Ruxpin.

While reading the book and watching the documentary, my husband and I discussed a lot of the things mentioned. We agreed that $4000 was an obscene amount to spend on any child's first birthday party, that we were only going to enroll our future children in 2 extracurricular activities at a time (if we could afford them), and that we weren't going to buy our kids cellphones until they are in high school. We look to other people for examples in good parenting: our friends with kids, my sister-in-law with two very well-adjusted teenage boys (my nephews), and our own parents. I do remember a ton of homework when I was in school, but I still had time to play and relax in between the odd extracurricular activity. My husband's memories are similar, he had lots of time to read and develop his own interests in between school and Scouts.

I've had a lot of fun reading this book, it made me think about things like academic preschools and after-school tutoring that pop up once you're a parent. I recommend it to every parent, it's great material, and even if you are one of those rare parents that have a good balance between caring too much and not caring enough, well, you can have a good laugh (or cry) at the examples of parents enrolling their kids in more than 6 extracurriculars at a time and the father who sabotaged his children's tennis opponents with drugs in their water bottles. Now if only someone would write a book about the other kind of parent you encounter as a teacher: the under-parent, the one that likes to believe they never had kids in the first place, I would love to read a book on how to deal with those types.

Which brings me to a good question, what parenting books have you read? Which ones would you recommend to other parents (or in our case, eventual parents)?

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