There is no shortage of parenting advice books on Amazon, after all this is a multi-million pound industry and everyone is vying for the top spot. From relaxed gurus proposing a laissez-faire attitude to those suggesting that strict routines, rules and timetables are the way forward. And of course, one size doesn’t fit all. Quod ali cibus est aliis fuat acre venenum (so said the Roman philosopher Lucretius), or to translate, One man’s meat is another man’s poison.
Cast your mind back to those early days when you knew instinctively whether you were in the Gina Ford camp with her Contented Little Baby Book, on the Jean Liedloff Continuum Concept team, or on the side of Tracy Hogg, The Baby Whisperer. And this isn’t a new thing. Our own mothers and theirs before them, were offered advice from a whole host of experts with a huge range of opinion. Truby King believed that babies should be fed every four hours, preferably never at night. They should be left in the garden for long periods to toughen them up and a 10-minute daily cap should be put on cuddles. Then there was Dr. Spock who was altogether more lenient, believing that mothers should trust their instincts and be affectionate because every baby is different. Penelope Leach left some parents feeling guilty because her approach was child-centred: you chose to have a baby, so it is appropriate to have to sacrifice some things you had previously enjoyed for the sake of your child.
Parenting can be hard work and while we may not always get it right, we set out to do our best. Today I bring you a selection of some of the books I have dipped into in recent years. They cover a broad spectrum of opinion and it is this breadth that I have found useful. All of the books have given me food for thought and I think every author has something good to add to any parenting story. I briefly considered drawing a Venn diagram that would show which 'camps' these experts lie in and where they overlap - because they do in unexpected places. But then decided not to! So, let’s enter the library and browse ....
Great Kids by Stanley Greenspan
Let’s start with a parenting ‘manual’ from Dr. Stanley Greenspan, an authority on infant and child development. Parents all over the world want their children to contribute meaningfully to society and to pursue their individual dreams. Dr. Stanley Greenspan redefines the qualities of an emotionally and intellectually healthy child and identifies the ways that parents can help children develop key qualities. He says that the qualities that make us call a child a "great kid," such as empathy, curiosity, and logical thinking, are fundamental and underlie all the academic, athletic, and social talents that a child might develop. We are not born with these traits, he says, rather they come from experience, which suggests that every parent can encourage them and that every child can strive to acquire them.
The Self-esteem Trap - Raising confident and compassionate kids in an age of self-importance by Polly Young-Eisendrath
Written by a psychotherapist, Young-Eisendrath challenges the idea that was very popular among parenting gurus of the 80s and 90s: that everyone is special - everyone is a winner. She believes that some children are suffering the consequences of the massive injection of self-esteem they have been fed while their parents watch them, a constant audience, waiting for “specialness” and “results” from their fabulous offspring.
Young-Eisendrath asserts that children raised to believe that they are special are more likely to be incredibly disappointed and unhappy when things don’t go to plan. The key to happiness, she says, lies in the pursuit of being ordinary and cultivating qualities of generosity, discipline, patience, diligence, concentration and wisdom. Self-confidence and self-belief (good things) are not be confused with the belief that you are better than everyone else.
Why French Children Don't Talk Back by Catherine Crawford
A mother of two young daughters, Crawford was tired of the indulgent brand of parenting that was popular in her trendy Brooklyn neighbourhood. All of the negotiating and bargaining had done little more, in her eyes, than to create a generation of little tyrants. After being exposed to the well-behaved, respectful children of her French friends, she decided to write Why French Children Don't Talk Back.
I asked my French friend about this - her child is very well behaved - and it seems there is much truth in the premise behind Crawford's book. She told me an amusing story of a non-French child whose parents had over the years, overlooked his wild and unpredictable behaviour. Maybe they put it down to character? One day, at a garden party, this wild, unpredictable, carefree child put a garden hose into his father's pale, chino trousers ... and turned it on! You couldn't make it up if you tried. If you want to know how this might have been avoided, and gain an insight into how the French manage to bring up obedient, well-adjusted kids, this could be one for you.
The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
The back of this book is good starting point. Amy Chua sets out her stall when she tells us that:
Unlike your typical Western mother the Chinese mother believes that:
1 - Schoolwork always comes first
2 - An A-Minus is a bad grade
3 - Your children must be two years ahead of their classmates in maths
4 - You must never compliment your children in public
5 - If your child ever disagrees with a teacher or coach you must always take the side of the teacher or coach
6 - The only activities your children should be permitted to do are those in which they can eventually win a medal
7 - That medal must be gold
So at least you know where you are with this one! Chua’s memoir charts her parenting journey from infancy to adulthood. She shares her unbending rules for raising her daughters, reveals that they were never allowed to attend a sleepover, get any grade less than an A and had to play the piano or violin, and play it well. No exceptions, no excuses. This book demonstrates one type of extreme parenting. I found it incredibly insightful. There is much to admire in Amy Chua, even if you only admire her honesty in sharing her experience and her total focus in doing it her way.
The Gardener and the Carpenter by Alison Gopnik
Many parenting books guide parents to be like carpenters, shaping material into a final product. Alison Gopnik, a psychologist and leader in the study of children’s learning and development, believes that while caring for children is important, “parenting” should not be about shaping children to turn out a particular way. She believes that caring for a child is like tending a garden, and being a parent is like being a gardener; we should be far more gardener than carpenter. Our job is not to shape minds, but to let those minds explore all the possibilities that the world allows. Don’t make them learn. Let them learn. A secure stable childhood allows children to explore, to try entirely new ways of living and being, and to take risks. And those risks aren’t risks unless they can turn out badly. If there isn’t some chance that our children will fail as adults, then we haven’t succeded as parents.
An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Education by Tony Little
A common-sense guide to education for parents and teachers, written by Tony Little, former Head Master of Eton College. Year on year GCSE and A Level pupils get better exam results, with more students achieving top grades. As a result, we have a nation that is in danger of becoming “over schooled and under educated”. Tony Little asks what kind of people does society need and what is education for?
He explains the research behind how teenagers' brains function and how they act accordingly, discusses how to deal with sex, drugs and poor discipline, reassesses the meaning of 'character' in a child's education, and provides his own list of books every bright 16-year-old should read. In addition, he offers tips for parents on dealing with adolescents and communicating with their child's school. He finishes his book with 10 questions that need answers: the questions he suggests asking when considering a school for your child. An intelligent read.
The Making of Her by Clarissa Farr
One from the desk of the Headmistress, Clarissa Farr, who has spent a lifetime in schools, as pupil, teacher and most recently as High Mistress of St Paul's Girls' School in London.
In The Making of Her, Farr asks what is school for and why does it matter? What are the challenges facing students and their teachers today? How do we educate girls to become tomorrow’s leaders? What is the role of a school in a modern, virtual world? Farr’s book brings to life her own experiences and interweaves them with wider reflections on education in the UK today. She shares her memoir and observations over a journey through the school year, tackling many issues recognisable to headteachers in the order in which they frequently appear in schools. As someone who had and continues to have an important role in the education of many, her viewpoint is definitely worth hearing as is her wish to change the way we think about unleashing the potential of women to take a fully equal place in society.
You don't need me to tell you that there are many parenting gurus out there, keen to share their ideas with us all. It's definitely worth finding out what they have to say and if you don't take any of their gems of wisdom on board, at the very least the books listed here will start up some interesting conversations. And I didn't even include How to Connect with Your iTeen, Raising Girls, Raising Boys or The Complete Secrets of Happy Children.....😉
Until next time,