Shortly after my spouse and I married nearly fifteen years ago, we joined a Unitarian Universalist congregation. When we moved across the United State...moreShortly after my spouse and I married nearly fifteen years ago, we joined a Unitarian Universalist congregation. When we moved across the United States, we found and joined a congregation in our new state. When we moved again, we tried the two UU congregations near us, and neither was a good fit. After our first couple of visits, my pragmatic spouse was no longer interested in attending. I, however, couldn't quite accept that it wasn't working for us. For nearly two years, I took our daughter every Sunday, taught religious education, volunteered at coffee hour. After an embarrassing winter morning when it became dramatically apparent that this church wasn't going to work for us, I started trying other religious congregations in the area. I visited Episcopal, Congregationalist, and Catholic churches, Baha'ai gatherings and Buddhist temples.
My spouse couldn't understand why I was so fixated on finding us something to do on Sunday mornings, and I couldn't really understand it myself. But since reading The Gift of Faith, I think I have a better idea what drove me to try and find a spiritual home for my family.
Nieuwejaar says it well:
"With extended families scattered across the continent and beyond; with telecommuting replacing the social context of the office; with shopping malls replacing the local marketplace; and with neighborhoods characterized more by fences and alarms than by open doors and shared backyards, our experience of community is becoming rarer and rarer. To nurture spirituality of children only within the family is to perpetuate the isolation of the family unit and to bypass one of the finest opportunities for community available to us."
I knew that I could nurture my children's spiritual lives at home, I knew I could establish rituals that would help support our religious beliefs even away from a spiritual community, but we would be missing the embrace of a loving community of seekers.
As much as I felt the need for this community and felt keenly its absence, I didn't really understand how much it meant to me until we moved across the country again and found a congregation that feels like home to us. There really is something powerful about going to a place where everyone is committed to honoring the inherent worth and dignity of every person. My children are friends with the other children in the congregation, and with loving adults they see multiple times a week, not just on Sundays. They are developing the kinds of close relationships they would (I hope) have with their extended family were we closer to that family.
And of course, the benefit isn't just for our kids, although that was the focus of this book. My spouse and I know that we can rely on our spiritual community to support us through hard times and celebrate with us through happy ones. The Gift of Faith is a lovely echo of all of those things we value in our spiritual community.
One more of my favorite quotes:
"In religious community we may honor one another simply on the basis of the inherent worth and dignity, the inherent divinity of each person. Then from religious community we must take this attitude back into the larger world in whatever small ways we can, chipping away at the barriers and indignities of public life, the deceptions and impatiences of the marketplace. And as the indignities and injustices of those places begin to touch and tarnish us again, we need to return to communities of the spirit to be reminded of trust and love, to be made whole and to remember the possibility of a world made whole."
A healthy spiritual community is an oasis of love that recharges us so we can engage in our daily lives with compassion. And if we can do that, we're doing our small, local part to change the world.(less)
I made it about halfway through this book when I started to compose my own blog post about gender nonconformity, and I kind of lost interest in what D...moreI made it about halfway through this book when I started to compose my own blog post about gender nonconformity, and I kind of lost interest in what Duron had to say.
While I like that Duron has written so frankly about her and her husband's difficulties raising a son who likes "girl" things, as a fellow mother of a boy who likes "girl" things, it's not clear to me what the big deal is. Or maybe I just feel that way because we're lucky to be part of a community in which my four-year-old can go out in a pink warm-up suit or his sister's old Daisy Girl Scout tunic or a purple satin cape and purple tutu (and coonskin cap) and no one says anything unless it's to tell him how cute he looks.
I know I'll write more about this on my blog once I get my thoughts together, but really, I've come to see gender on a continuum rather than as binary. Making a big deal about a boy who wants to wear pink (or a girl whose favorite color is brown...but wait! That's not gender nonconformity! I'm confused...) just shows kids that what our culture at this split second in time says they should be like is more important than what their heart says they should be like. That's not a message I want to send to my kids.
But then, our family homeschools, so maybe we're already far enough outside mainstream culture that how our kids dress doesn't really register as a top concern.
I'll probably go back and finish the book eventually, but for now, I'm setting it aside.(less)
Free-Range Kids is a decent book. Skenazy's style grated on me a bit after a while, but she did get me to think about ways that I can empower my kids...moreFree-Range Kids is a decent book. Skenazy's style grated on me a bit after a while, but she did get me to think about ways that I can empower my kids to do more on their own and take the steps to becoming responsible adults. I think I tend to be more free-range-y than many parents I know, but I still have my worries. Mostly I think the helicoptering I do is pretty appropriate to my kids' ages---or at least to my son's age. He turns four next week, and while I let him play out in the un-fenced backyard by himself, there's not much else I feel comfortable having him do on his own. Unfortunately, I do find myself setting similar limits for my eight-year-old, even though she is clearly ready to take on more responsibility. Skenazy's book helped me realize that and start thinking of ways to ease both kids into more responsibility.
I also liked the stats she included, especially about things like abduction risk. My favorite? If you wanted your kid abducted by a stranger, you'd have to leave her outside, unattended, for 750,000 years to make it statistically likely to happen (pp. 16-17).
Her tips for keeping kids safe from the minuscule risk of abduction by a stranger were also great. My daughter and I did some role-playing last night about what she would do if someone she didn't know asked her to help him (or her) find a lost dog, and I'm pleased to say, my daughter passed with flying colors. Now my son, who thinks of every person, animal, and streetlamp we meet as a fast friend? I think we'll have to do a little more work before I'm sure he's internalized the lesson, but it's a start. Going through all of this really helped ease my fears and boost my confidence in my kids.
Mostly, though, since I recognize my own penchant for anxiety, I'm accustomed to mitigating my own fears. I worry about ticks, so the kids and I wear permethrin-treated pants and long-sleeve shirts when we go on our weekly hikes. I worry about being hit by a car while we're on our bikes, so we carefully choose our routes and the times we'll ride to minimize the time we have to share the narrow New England roads with drivers unaccustomed to bicyclists. I don't let them eat raw eggs, but less because of the food-poisoning risk than because it turns my stomach.
So, a lot of the things Skenazy addresses are things I've already thought about. But the biggest barrier to me letting my kids be more free-range is fear of the judgment of other parents, which Skenazy addresses in "Commandment 6".
Last spring on the way to the thrift store, my kids and I stopped at the kids consignment shop to pick up a batch of what they euphemistically called "no thank-yous" from among the bunch of clothes I'd brought in the week before.
When we arrived at the consignment shop, the kids were reading quietly in the back of the car. I knew that if I got them out, the 30-second trip inside to pick up my bag of clothes would turn into an hour-long stay as my children made their way through every toy piled in the back of the over-loaded store. I knew this because that's what had happened the week before. So, noting that it was <70 degrees out and that I could keep an eye on the car through the window of the store, I gave the kids instructions to stay inside and not talk to anybody, and I jogged up to the store. I locked the car, but I didn't even take my wallet with me.
When I got inside I butted into a conversation at the front desk to let the employees know I was there to pick up my no thank-yous and that my kids were waiting in the car, so if they could make it speedy, that would be great. One of the young women went into the back to look for my bag, and I stood there watching the parking lot through the window as an SUV pulled up and a woman got out, pausing briefly to look inside my car. I watched the woman walk inside and wait in line.
After finding out how long a wait it would be to have items considered for consignment, she said, "Oh, and by the way...someone left their kids in their car out there."
"Oh, that's me," I said, smiling. "I'm just in to pick up some no thank-yous, and it's taking a little longer than I expected."
She just stared at me. My heart started beating faster, and I felt my cheeks grow hot.
"Look, it's not hot outside," I explained. "I'm watching the car through the window---I watched you pull up just now---and it's not like I'm browsing or waiting 45 minutes to have items looked at. I'm just in here to pick up a bag of no thank-yous."
She raised her chin a little and lifted an eyebrow. "Well, obviously you know what you're doing is wrong!" Then she turned and started for the door.
I would like to say that I just rolled my eyes and watched her walk away. However, that's not what I did. I followed her to the door and said, "And obviously you know it's none of your [gosh-darn] business!" (Immediately I heard a woman behind me say, "Hey! Watch your language!" Really? For a [gosh-darn]? It's not like I said "[fudging]". And where was she when this woman was saying I was "wrong"? I still apologized for my language, though.)
I stood there shaking, angry with myself for losing my cool, irate at that woman for judging me like that, and also terrified that she was going to call the police or talk to my kids or something. When the saleswoman came back and said she couldn't find my bag and would I mind waiting longer, I just told her to keep the clothes, that I couldn't wait anymore. I got into the car with my kids, who were still reading quietly, and drove to the thrift store, still shaking, still sure I was going to see a police cruiser with flashing lights behind me. I knew I hadn't done anything wrong (except for swearing at a self-righteous but well-meaning stranger), but the fear of being confronted by the police about it drove me to distraction. (The police never showed up, by the way.)
I'm glad that the woman was looking out for my kids. I'm glad she mentioned it at the store. If I'd left my head lights on, I would hope she'd alert the store, too, so I could turn them off and not kill my battery. It's the sign of a healthy community for people to look out for each other like that. But when I owned up to leaving my kids in the car, I wish she could have chalked it up to differences in parenting styles and left it at that. Despite this woman's assertion, I do not think I was in the wrong leaving my kids in the car like that. Heck, my parents once left my little brother and I (I was 10, he was 3) in the car when they took our sister into the emergency room, and that took HOURS. I wouldn't leave my kids for that long, but my brother and I were fine, if bored. I've not, however, ever left my kids in the car again, even for a short time. I even feel nervous leaving them in there while I pump gas, and I'm standing right next to the car when I do that.
If that's what it feels like to have a confrontation with a self-righteous parent about leaving my three-year-old and his seven-year-old sister in our car while I stared at them through a window ten yards away the entire time, I can only guess at what Lenore Skenazy felt in the midst of the crapstorm in which she found herself after admitting to letting her nine-year-old ride the subway by himself.
So, there's what passes as my review of Free-Range Kids. The book didn't blow my mind, but I'm glad I read it. It's given me a lot to think about, a little less to worry about, and maybe even a little more courage to own up to my free-range-y choices to other parents. Now if only I can do something about my potty-mouth...(less)
I loved this book for both the practical suggestions (backed by both formal research and informal observation) and for its tone.
Since I began reading...moreI loved this book for both the practical suggestions (backed by both formal research and informal observation) and for its tone.
Since I began reading this book, I've made some concrete changes in our home environment, including reducing the number of toys and books my children have easy access to (I put many into a "library" in our basement until I can work up the courage to donate/sell/throw away), reducing the number of scheduled activities I have for my children, and implementing some basic daily routines, most notably the "flute-practice-after-breakfast" routine.
There have been some small but noticeable changes in the way my children go about their days in the weeks since I've made these changes. We've had fewer arguments about flute practice, and my daughter (age 6.5) has been practicing more regularly and with more joy. She's even begun initiating flute practice on her own without my even prompting her!
My children, especially my 2yo son, are playing imaginatively with everyday objects more than they were before, making an empty toy bin into a car for the stuffed toys and things like that.
And my daughter has lightened up about the order in which we use the colored plastic cups and flatware. She used to scream at me and my husband if we forgot and gave her a blue cup before the green cup. The order was green, light blue, dark blue, yellow, orange, pink, pink, and woe betide the parent who tried to go out of order. There were no discussions about the cups, and we made no changes directly related to the cups, she just stopped getting angry with us about them. Which has been quite a relief.
Of course, my son has also decided that the toy room is much too neat, so he goes in and up-ends three or four toy bins at a time into the middle of the room. That's not so cool, but at least it doesn't take long to pick everything up.
I was already in the habit of simplifying our home, but this book really helped give me the confidence to cut deeper, and to remove toys and books without my children's input about which we kept and which we got rid of. The books were a real change for me, though. I knew the kids (and I) were somewhat overwhelmed by the number of books on their shelves, but I felt like I just couldn't get rid of any of them. Books are unequivocally good, right? But once I halved the number of books, they've been much more engaged with the ones they have left. And they don't even seem to notice that any are missing.
One area that I'm going to try to work on a little bit more is verbal clutter. From the book:
"In our era of spin and counterspin, when words are parsed and split, where news stands beside opinion and embraces blogs, meaning is often drowned out. Just as it's hard to cherish a toy lost in the middle of a mountain of play things, when we say less, our words mean more."
Although I fear that if I really take that to heart, I might blog a lot less.
The tone of the book was the real refreshing piece, though. Payne clearly delights in childhood and the whimsy of children. His anecdotes and suggestions are peppered with images of children interacting with each other and with adults and the funny and adorable things they do and say. I felt a sense of peace and well-being reading such a sunny view of childhood. Not that Payne isn't realistic about the struggles of parenting and children's sometimes not-so-desirable actions, he just doesn't focus on them. He treats children as human beings to be loved and guided rather than creatures to be trained and manipulated, and "misbehavior" as a sign that something in the child's environment might do with some changing.
Payne talks about how one of the biggest differences between parenting now and parenting a generation ago is how much data about our children we have available and how many "experts" we have to consult to make sure we're doing this really big job right. But in this, too, he offers reassurance.
"For all of the measures we now have at our fingertips, by and large children defy them by being both more 'normal' and more extraordinary than any scientific measure, or means of quantifying them."
This rings true to me, and it promotes the freedom we as parents have to love our kids and to let go of worrying that we're not giving them an "ideal" childhood, whatever that might be.
The only thing that I thought was a little lacking was that Payne is very much focused on two-working-parent homes. As a stay-at-home mom who homeschools, I would have kind of liked a little bit of information directed towards me or that at least reflected my demographic. However, I know I'm in a pretty tiny minority, so I don't hold it against the author for not including me and my friends. His suggestions are significant and applicable even to those of us who do not see our specific situations in his case studies.(less)
Yes, I didn't really like this book. The style is too cutesy for my taste (text in multiple colors, silhouette pictures of happy couples, the orange r...moreYes, I didn't really like this book. The style is too cutesy for my taste (text in multiple colors, silhouette pictures of happy couples, the orange ribbon bookmark).
It's set up with suggestions from real parents for keeping the romantic fires burning followed by endorsements by the professionals (and a lot of quoting of John Gottman). I found the professional statements to be patronizing and, in some circumstances, unnecessarily alarmist. Like in the section about yelling in front of your kids. Yes, yelling in front of one's kids isn't good. I doubt anyone would argue that. But warning about increases in babies' blood pressure when their parents fight isn't the same thing as offering support for those wishing to not yell in front of their kids. Does telling smokers that their health is at risk get them to quit smoking? Clearly not. It's one piece, but it's not the one thing that's going to effect a lasting change in their behavior, especially since it's a pretty universally accepted fact at this point rather than new information.
And the section with the list of euphemisms for the marital act and Mom's and Dad's genitals? Yeah, I found that kind of disturbing.(less)
The closest thing to a balanced view of vaccinations that I've found. Bob Sears goes through the vaccines one by one, and brand by brand, finds all of...moreThe closest thing to a balanced view of vaccinations that I've found. Bob Sears goes through the vaccines one by one, and brand by brand, finds all of the research that is out there, and delivers it in a mostly unbiased way. He clearly supports vaccinating children, but admits that there are some unanswered questions that might give parents pause and explores the limits of the research we currently have available. He is respectful of parents' concerns and also of their role as the ultimate decision-makers for their children.
Before reading this book, I was afraid to vaccinate my second child at all, even though I believed it was important from a public health standpoint. This book helped me to design a schedule that met my need for the safety of my individual children and my need to participate in the health of our larger society. And it helped me to approach my doctor with confidence when presenting my schedule and my reasoning behind it. I'm not the type of person who'll ever feel 100% confident I've made the right choices, but I feel one heck of a lot more comfortable with my decisions this time around than when I was flying blind with my first child and her vaccinations.(less)
As the homeschooling mother of a preschooler, I never would have imagined that preparing my daughter to read could be so simple. Trelease really makes...moreAs the homeschooling mother of a preschooler, I never would have imagined that preparing my daughter to read could be so simple. Trelease really makes the case for the importance of reading aloud to one's children (even if they attend school outside of their homes), and includes a fabulous directory of read-aloud books. Every book we've picked up from that list has been right-on for my daughter (including James and the Giant Peach, which I thought would be a little old for her, but which she loved).(less)
I will preface my review by saying that I recognize that I might be biased about this book because it reinforced many things about parenting that I al...moreI will preface my review by saying that I recognize that I might be biased about this book because it reinforced many things about parenting that I already believe.
That being said, I really found this book enlightening. Small, an anthropologist at Cornell University, outlines research done here in the West about parenting practices and the nature of human infancy and describes parenting practices in cultures around the world. Her basic premise is that, while parents (and even those without children) often believe that there is a "right" way and a "wrong" way to raise children, what is right and wrong in parenting varies dramatically across cultures.
As a mother, I find myself now looking at my relationship with my daughter through a cultural lens. This book has helped shift my perspective so that I feel better able to recognize when I'm doing something contrary to the best interests of my family because of cultural influences, and I feel more free to make choices that contradict those paths deemed right by my culture. I've actually reevaluated our family's sleeping arrangements when I realized that the changes I had made and was planning to make in the near future were more based on cultural pressures than on what seemed right for my family.
I especially appreciated the inclusion of James McKenna's research on cosleeping/infant sleep. Small's discussion of SIDS was much more logical and based more on research and evidence than a lot of the information parents receive about SIDS from physicians and public health agencies, which is often way too dependent upon scare tactics, in my opinion.
For those interested in reading more about James McKenna's research and about safe cosleeping, check out his 2007 book, Sleeping With Your Baby: A Parent's Guide.(less)
I got the book and DVD set and found the two together to be incredibly helpful in teaching my daughter ASL signs. Some of those first signs are very s...moreI got the book and DVD set and found the two together to be incredibly helpful in teaching my daughter ASL signs. Some of those first signs are very subtle, and seeing the DVD really helped me recognize when she was trying to make a sign versus when she was just kind of moving her hands around. Signing really enriched our interactions and reduced frustration in those pre-verbal months. She's nearly three now and quite verbal, but there are still a few signs she uses, sometimes for novelty, sometimes for emphasis, and sometimes because she's feeling shy and doesn't want to say "thank you" out loud to a stranger.(less)
The first section of the book has the stretching and movement exercises that my daughter likes best and that most closely match what I expected the bo...moreThe first section of the book has the stretching and movement exercises that my daughter likes best and that most closely match what I expected the book would be about. Section Two has exercises geared towards helping children grow up aware of and comfortable in their own bodies, and Section Three has pantomime games that parents and children play together to learn about something else (holidays, music, long car rides). I'm sure the exercises in Sections Two and Three are useful, I just expected the exercises to be more physical, getting up and dancing kind of activities.(less)
I found the "young 2's", "middle 2's", "older 2's" designations to be not very useful for my daughter, but the general layout of the book was very con...moreI found the "young 2's", "middle 2's", "older 2's" designations to be not very useful for my daughter, but the general layout of the book was very conducive to quickly looking up fun, simple-to-set-up activities for toddlers. I especially liked the large number of rhymes and songs. There was a little more of the "when your child does this, praise her profusely" stuff than I'd have liked, but then, I'm a little funny about rewards and punishments. Even for me, though, this didn't detract much.(less)
I checked out this book from the library and plan to buy a copy to have on-hand as a reference. There are so many ideas and recipes (for paint, play-d...moreI checked out this book from the library and plan to buy a copy to have on-hand as a reference. There are so many ideas and recipes (for paint, play-dough, etc). I like that it spans such a range of ages and that so many of the projects involve homemade and found materials. Some of the activities are a little more involved than I will likely get into on a regular basis, but it has helped me feel less hesitant about messy projects. It's not organized as intuitively as I would like, but I'm finding things fairly easily when I go back to look something up.(less)
This book has some really helpful suggestions. Nothing amazing, but helpful. My two favorites were the suggestion of developing routines/rituals (Derm...moreThis book has some really helpful suggestions. Nothing amazing, but helpful. My two favorites were the suggestion of developing routines/rituals (Dermond gave more detail on how to do this than other books I've seen) and the image of an eternal stream of love and as parents, when we're angry, we need only dip into this stream to offer this love to our children (or ourselves or our partners). It helps me when I'm angry to not feel like I have to come up with the loving feelings on my own, that the love just exists and I merely need to access it. Kind of a simple idea when I write it out like that, but I've found it quite helpful.(less)
Jacqueline Kramer gives information about her personal journey through pregnancy and motherhood from a Buddhist perspective, and guidance for all moms...moreJacqueline Kramer gives information about her personal journey through pregnancy and motherhood from a Buddhist perspective, and guidance for all moms hoping to realize the spiritual potential of motherhood. I found the suggestions realistic, and I could really relate to the situations she described. It helped me take another step towards fully embracing and enjoying the "mom" role that I've chosen to make central in my life.
For anyone who reads this book and wants more, visit Jacqueline's website -- www.hearthfoundation.net -- for information about her free online classes.(less)