Thursday, August 11, 2005

Who's Raising A Brat?

I went to the library on Monday with the kids and happened to pass by the parenting bookshelf (conveniently located next to the children's area in our library) when a title caught my eye. I picked up the book and looked it over quickly. It looked like a helpful and good read, so I decided to check it out. The book was called I Refuse To Raise A Brat. Aaaaah, you can see where this is going, can't you?

Before I review the book I have to say that checking out parenting books at the library can be intimidating. How can you check out a book with a title like the one above and not assume the librarian (or anyone else who sees you carrying the book) is thinking that this lady doesn't know how to parent her kids and no book is going to help? It also didn't help that my two older kids are climbing the library steps (strictly forbidden without a parent on the steps with them) as I'm trying to check out the book. By the way, whose bright idea was it to put the enticing set of stairs right by the checkout desk, where waiting in line is a given? Anyways, humiliation aside, I checked out the book and I am very glad I did.

I Refuse To Raise A Brat by Marilu Henner and Dr. Ruth Sharon was indeed a good read and very helpful. I have read several books and magazine articles on parenting, and this is one of the better ones that I've read. The book is broken up into easy to read chapters on several parenting issues such as a baby's need to develop independence, handling tantrums or bedtime, discipline and sibling rivalry, to name just a few. Marilu Henner introduces each chapter with examples and experiences from her own life, either when she was a child or now as a mother. Then Dr. Ruth Sharon follows up with her ideas on the topic. After this comes a series of real life questions about the chapter topic with answers given by both Dr. Sharon and Ms. Henner. Finally each chapter ends with a section called "When Little Brats Become Big Brats" that details the consequences of behavior that is not extinguished during childhood but carried into adulthood.

What I noticed immediately was that this book starts with your baby's birth. Most discipline books don't say anything about children younger than a toddler, and usually the methods they suggest are for older children. I found this book gives great advice for a parent of a child of any age, although it may not be useful for a parent of a teenager. It really focuses on younger children, which is great for someone like me.

The main idea of this book is that children who are overindulged and overgratified are being done a terrible disservice and will suffer for it in the long run. Overindulgence and overgratification can take the form of buying a child too many things, not disciplining him or her, shielding him or her from sad or disappointing feelings, over praising, or even doing things for him or her that he or she could be doing for him/herself. They feel a child who is overindulged will not develop the independence, self-discipline, self awareness, and ability to cope with the experiences life will be handing them. Interestingly enough, Dr. Sharon states that children who were seriously overindulged and overgratified will not think of their parents as loving, but quite to the contrary, they will remember their childhood as difficult and not much fun. These children also tend to blame their parents for the bad turns their life has taken as adults.

The practical and real life questions really showed how parents overindulge their children on a regular basis and how we can stop doing these things. I immediately saw some of the practices in the book in my parenting and have already begun to change how I react to given situations. I have seen positive results already. If that weren't enough of an endorsement, here's even more. Because I am parenting with a plan in mind for how to deal with situations, I am no longer feeling bad about how I handle a situation. Just today I had to take a favorite toy away from my six year old son because he was complaining about it relentlessly. I told him that if he said one more negative thing about the toy, I would take it away from him for the rest of the day. Well, he said another negative thing, and I pocketed the toy. That sent him into a tantrum that resulted in a time out up in his room. In the past this would have probably ended up with me yelling at him, along with the time out. Today, no yelling. When I yell, I feel so guilty about it. Not the disciplining, just the yelling. Today, I felt great, because it is my job to discipline, I'm the parent after all. But without the yelling, there was no guilt. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure there will still be days with yelling. But if I can get this I'm the parent/you're the child thing down, I'm sure there will be a lot less. I think the clear lines not only make for a happier child, but I know they will make for a happier mom. Being frustrated by your child's behavior day in and day out isn't a good feeling. Being a parent who makes conscious decisions to parent helps ease those frustrations.

One of the most amazing parts in this book dealt with the fallacy that parents should only want their children to be happy in life.
"This sentiment may seem harmless and loving, but it does a real disservice to a child, assigning him an impossible, unobtainable task. For happiness, as a life goal, is elusive, intermittent, often random, and unpredictable. As an adult, he will pursue one career after another, one relationship after another, never settling down and always in search of what will make him happy. Parents who don't make happiness a goal but who concentrate on the basics - making sure their child works hard in school and takes his chores and responsibilities seriously - will produce a child whose talents and values will bring him success." p.96
Wow! You don't see that in most parenting books. I've often thought that I don't just want my children to be happy, but to also be good, kind, generous and loving individuals who love God and those around them.

My one caveat on this recommendation would be that as other parenting books do, this one talks about how adults' problems in life are a result of their upbringing. And while I agree that a poor upbringing can make things more difficult as an adult, at some point a person has to take responsibilty for him/herself and move on in spite of their past. I'm not saying parenting doesn't matter, I think it is probably one of the most important jobs, ever. However, I've known some amazing people who are responsible, loving adults - successful, good parents, good spouses, despite some horrendous childhood experiences.

This book really takes a lot of current advice and turns it on its ear. It is very practical and helpful, and a must read for any parent of young children.

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