Thursday, December 4, 2014

Stop, Look, and Listen

Sometimes I am asked to review or write blurbs for books about parents, caretakers, and kids.

I have to admit that I haven't read many parenting books, except for two skinny ones on teenagers and how to cope with messy rooms, safety issues and such. My 17 year old recently told me she had read them as well, perhaps before I did, so she knew what was coming. There they sat on the shelf, so why not get a jump on Mom? The books forgot to add a section on wily teenagers and how to get a jump on them.

Today I am looking through Susan Newman's Little Things Long Remembered, which is essentailly a list of  hints on how busy working parents can remember that they have kids. Apparently, the kids are "little things" long forgotten.

Open this slim book and hit on concise tidbits to put into action. The action is basically to turn off your cell phone and do something with or for your child.

Yes, there are lots of specific ideas about trips and treats, or making some craft together, but overall this is a book for adults who are too busy, self-absorbed, and frazzled to even remember they have children.

Many parents will find it useful, but I found it to be a depressing statement about parenting in Western culture.

Do we really need to be reminded, for example, to "act silly" (p. 31), talk to kids while we ride in the car together (57),  or "come home early to be with a sick kid"(p.92)?  

I chose these three examples randomly but imagine 135 pages of such sadly obvious hints.

I'd like to believe that this is an unnecessary book, that all parents and caretakers routinely take time out of their days and nights to be with their kids, to interact with them, because that comes naturally, because that's what it means to be a parent or caretaker. If not that, then what? 

In my worst moments, like when reading this book, I also wonder if we are, as a culture, at risk of inflating the self-esteem of our kids with the inane phrase "good job" for some tiny achievement while ignoring everything else about them, the good as well as the bad.  

It seems to me that parenting can best be summed up not in a list of cloying advice but in the very words we use to teach children how to cross the street: Stop. Look. And Listen. 

 Stop. Look. And listen to the best days of your life. That's all you and they need.

Sure, we all get busy and preoccupied sometimes and if you need a book to get back on track as an engaged parent, try this one. Skim a few pages and then drop it and get back to being a parent.

The Anthropology of Alzheimers

Anthropologists are not often in the news, and they are even more rarely in the spotlight for discovering what might be a connection between...