Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort
I read many parenting books. It isn’t necessarily in hopes of solving some problem, as much as it is an attempt to better myself as a parent. I’m not in the camp of people believing that simply birthing children makes you suddenly an expert on raising them. I find that many people rely heavily on how they were raised. Of course, many in our generation find themselves wanting a bit more for their children. In fact, this has been the desire of almost every generation, but our generation this is a desire to be better, not necessarily to want more for them. We want to be better, not buy better. (Hope that made sense.) To me, reading parenting books makes me think about what I am doing as a mom. For me, it isn’t always about solving that next problem or learning a new trick. For me, it is about being intentional in how I raise my children. I read parenting books to help me think about those things that I do that could be improved. I read parenting books to challenge me. I read parenting books to connect with others in my profession and do what I do better. That is one thing I love about blogs and blogging. I feel like I get to pick the brains of parents around the country. In reading their blogs I get a little view into how they do what they do, into what makes them tick, into what their world of parenting is like. It makes me think. And thinking is good.
In reading parenting books, you rarely find one you’ll agree with 100%. The trick really is to take the good and leave the bad. The book is a good book if the good outweighs the bad. The books is bad if the bad outweighs the good. Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves did contain quite a bit of good. However, it also contained, in my opinion, an awful lot of bad. The good in this book was very good. The bad was bizarrely bad. I ended up giving the book 3 stars, placing it squarely in neutral ground, though it is far from neutral.
I’ll start with the good this book had to offer. It is true that far too many people do not view children as people. Our society tends to place them somewhere around a well loved pet, not a fully formed person. For some reason, the trend has remained that magically at 18 a child becomes a person, capable of having their own opinions only at that magic point. However, that isn’t as it should be. This book offers great perspective on treating children as persons, equal persons. Considering their needs and desires as you would the needs and desires of any other person in your life. I wish that message could be sung from the rooftops. Respect children! Treat them like people! You’ve been talking to an adult when a kid tries to interrupt, the child is told they are interrupting, please wait. However, have you ever been talking to a child and have an adult interrupt? Usually, the conversation with the child is simply dropped. Rarely will you hear an adult say to another adult, “I am speaking with this child. Hold on just a moment.” We just don’t show children the same courtesies we expect them to show. I cannot tell you how many times I hear that children need to show some respect, when they are never shown respect. I’m not sure how people justify such treatment. Seems that all persons should get common courtesies, regardless of age.
“Many small events… don’t require solutions even if the child reacts with tears or rage.” (p.100) What a great point! I don’t have to rescue my child simply because they are upset. If I’m there, that is all that the child needs. It is not my job, place, or duty to “fix” everything for my child, even if they react negatively. I think that many parents fail to see the value in letting a child be mad and not trying to “fix” them being mad. This book was great at pointing out that children should be free to express all emotion, even negative emotion, and there isn’t something you need to do in letting them express their emotions other than simply listen. “We cannot stop the rain for out children and it wouldn’t be good for them if we could.” (p.145) Ah, don’t you feel the weight lifting? Finally, someone willing to say that I don’t have to stop the rain! I don’t even have to provide an umbrella! It is a common theme these days to shield kids from all bad. If a child is upset, we must do absolutely everything to make the child happy. But that isn’t life for you, is it? When you are upset, does someone rescue you? When you are unhappy, is it someone else’s responsibility to make you happy? I do agree with Dr. Aldort on this point. Negative feelings are not the end of the world. A child being upset over rain when they wanted to go to the park isn’t something to fix. Sometimes life sucks. Sometimes the outcome isn’t sunshine and roses. Sometimes we sing the blues.
I also found many of her communication techniques to work wonders. Simply listening and validating my children has been a big game changer around here. I am listening, I am there for them, but their feelings are their own. I feel that they’ve been owning their lives more and relying on me a bit less to provide them their happiness or solutions to their negative emotional state. I’ve noticed a particularly evident change in my Imogene (she’s 6) that she feels more “at home” expressing herself these days, good or bad, and she doesn’t blame others for her feelings so much. She’s also gotten much better at her problem solving skills since I’m not jumping in with suggestions every time she encounters another child who doesn’t want to play with her or some other disappointment. I’ve learned to stop invalidating her feelings by insisting things aren’t “that bad” or that “there is no reason to cry.” Just because I don’t understand, doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel the way she does. And simply because I don’t understand, doesn’t mean she shouldn’t feel the way she does. We all react differently in similar situations, so who is to say how any of us should or should not feel? I might think it is downright silly to be crying about one little girl at Chick-Fil-A not playing with me when I’ve got 5 other kids who are happily playing with me. I don’t understand being upset about that. But that situation really upsets Imogene. She has a very hard time when she encounters people who prefer to not play with her. Just because I don’t get it, I’ll admit I’m just wired that way, doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t be upset about it. But just because she is upset about it, doesn’t mean that I need to DO anything about it.
So, there is a great amount of good that can come from this book if you have the particular ability to take the good and leave the bad. If you are one that fixates on what is wrong with a book, then this may not be the book for you. In fact, it will likely drive you nuts.
Most of the personal stories given in the book seem outright fake. The interactions between parent and child or counselor and parent just don’t feel real to me. Perhaps much was condensed so that the point was easily displayed, but the stories just didn’t sit right with me. None of them felt real, which gives you the feeling that either you’re doing something incredibly wrong, or the whole thing is wrong because the stories are fake. I wish she’d left those stories out. To me, they don’t illustrate her point, but seem to create these fake parent and child relationships that you’ll never attain.
I often felt Naomi Aldort went too far. That she had a good point and I was with her, until she went too much to the extreme and threw the point off a cliff. It seemed many of her points went from me nodding in agreement to saying, “Whoa Naomi! Too far. Too far!” I feel like I took her basic points and then had to throw the rest out of my head.
I felt like she was asking the impossible at times. I get that “power games” (where a child empties the garbage over and over while you pick it up while play acting that is is a big deal, but not trying to stop the child) can be a good tool for kids who are feeling a bit helpless, I just don’t have the time or the energy to play anytime my kids says to. I cannot possibly come up with the energy to chase Emery around every evening at bedtime so he can feel powerful. Often I just don’t have the time for a game of throw the sippy cup on the floor. There were multiple point like that that could make a parent feel like a big, fat failure because they just can’t do that today or right now. I don’t feel bad that I can’t chase Emery down to let him have some power. I give him other opportunities (and many of them) to flex his autonomy. Emery would play “power games” all day, every day, but that wouldn’t allow me to do the things that need to be done with the other kids, the house, myself, and my husband. I’d spend every waking hour making Emery feel powerful.
Dr. Aldort and I also disagree on expectations. I know that my living room being relatively clean is my goal. Dr. Aldort feels that as such, it is my responsibility to keep it that way and should my child trash it, I can verbalize my wish that it be clean, but I cannot expect them to help clean it. In my world, family just doesn’t work that way. We all have to pitch in and do what helps the whole. There are many goals that my children have that I help meet. Likewise, I expect their participation and cooperation with some of my goals. I don’t expect them to steam clean the carpet or keep all the toys on the shelves at all times. I do expect that they pick up their own things when they are done with them and that they pitch in on family cleaning day for the good of all. Mom is not a slave. Community works when everyone works for all, not just when they personally see benefit. I think it is ridiculous to conclude that we should have no rules, no expectations, and no discipline simply because some do those things wrong. I think we need to be realistic in our expectations without having none. I think we can disciple gently and appropriately for the child and situation without having zero disciple. I think my children can be told “no” and not have it damage them. (Remember that whole “not stopping the rain” bit? I’m not sure where that was in this concept of Dr. Aldort’s.) Discipline is not a bad word. It is not synonymous to spanking (though many that use physical discipline have great difficulty seeing gentler approaches as discipline.). Discipline is not bad. I know the extreme sort have ruined the word for the rest of us, but there are positive ways to discipline a child. I won’t get into all that right now, but there are plenty of books and websites about the subject. It isn’t spanking a kid or nothing.
I was also very confused when Dr. Aldort told me I should not praise my children. She seems to believe scolding nor praise should take place. Everything should be matter of fact and avoid trying to steer them on way or another. I want praise when I accomplish difficult things. I anticipate my children wanting the same. I think this is just one instance of Dr. Aldort throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Some people use praise to coerce their children toward certain things. So, no one should praise their children. I think that is very short sighted. I think praising a child in the things the child is proud of or does well is a good thing. And I can’t imagine stopping myself from telling my daughter the picture she spent hours making is lovely because I don’t want my daughter to think I only want her making such pictures. That’s just silly.
So, if you can leave the bad and take the good, read this book- it will do you good. If you are one that fixates on the bad- avoid this book, you’ll hate it. If you are a slightly insecure sort of parent who easily feels they fall short of expectations- avoid this book, it’ll make you feel worse. If you can read her expectations and feel they are silly and not feel personally assaulted- the good in this book could outweigh the bad for you. I, personally, gleaned quite a bit of useful information from this book. Even in the things I disagreed with, I found that it helped me put into more concrete terms why I would disagree with it.