First off, this is obviously not the normal kind of book that I review here and doesn’t signal a change in the subject matter of this blog. This is also not some signal that I am in some kind of parenting crisis or having trouble coping with two four year olds running around the house. I am also not falling into some cult of parenting that will require me to belittle everyone else’s approach to parenting. My kids are also not horrible terrorists setting the neighborhood cats on fire, and I am not a screaming maniac chasing them across the front lawn with a spanking paddle.
But before I say why I got this book, a little backstory is in order to put this into perspective.
When I switched jobs three years ago, my kids were just about a year old. I spent a huge amount of time in the first year and a half of my new job reading dozens of technical books to get my skills upgraded to be qualified to the do the job I had somehow talked my way into. I lugged around thousand page books on programming, and set aggressive goals of 80-100 pages a day. I did this for months on end, reading one book after another. Often, by the time I finished the book, the technology was already out of date, but I began to get better at the basics, and relearned how to study and how to learn. I was never a very good studier in high school or even college, and when my skills really began to suffer at my last job, it took me a long time to realize that it was up to me to keep my skills current.
When I started writing novels again in the summer of 2008, I wrote and wrote and wrote and then the novel was done, and it was, well, not very good. I thought all there was to writing was writing. But – as described a thousand times by others far smarter than me – writing is a craft, and it must not only be practiced, but studied. Once I came to realize that these people weren’t all blowing smoke up my ass, and I started to read books on writing, I began to see how I could improve my skills and make my writing better and easier. I had to get past the idea that I didn’t already know everything about writing because I had already written a novel (or two).
Five years or so ago, when I found out I was going to be a dad for the first, (and also for the second time) my wife and I picked up a couple of books about pregnancy (especially related to multiple births) and one about the First Year. I think eventually we also got one about the toddler years, and I know I bought one about potty training. I read these books as reference books, or in the case of the potty training book, I read it for techniques to help accomplish a certain goal.
But for the most part, as the kids have grown, I’ve learned about parenting by talking with other parents or scanning blogs on the web, or, most often, through trial and error. My wife and I are pretty much on the same page when it comes to how we want to raise our kids, and how we want to discipline them when they need it, and that’s a good thing. To be honest, we don’t have to discipline them a lot. Our kids, I am very lucky to say, are pretty damn good kids. Maybe that’s just my own view, but I also hear that from their teachers and from other people at restaurants and out and about.
That’s not to say that we don’t have challenges. We do. There are moments where no one in the house is really happy with what is going on. There are power plays and stubbornness and tests of wills, and lack of listening and a little screaming now and then. And that’s not just me. Sometimes the kids do it to.
What I realized a while ago (probably after one of those sessions where I didn’t truly like the way I handled something) that while I had spent a lot of time studying for my job, and a lot of time studying for my writing, that I hadn’t spent a lot of time studying to be a better parent. And part of me thought that was ass backwards. What is more important to be good at than parenting?
So I started where I always start when I want to learn about things. I bought a bought. This book. Scream Free Parenting by Hal Edward Runkel, LMFT. If you search on the web, you see that Mr. Runkel has a whole institute dedicated to the practices he talks about in this book. I didn’t buy the book because of that. I bought it because it was the top rated parenting book on Amazon that I found. I had to start somewhere.
And it’s not a bad place to start. The core of his idea is that the only way to modify your kids behavior is to modify your behavior. If you want a calm, rational kid, then you need to be calm and rational. You have to take the stress of dealing with an irate parent out of their lives, and that makes it much easier for kids to communicate with you.
There are a few key concepts he talks about, that really hit home for me:
1. You are not responsible for your kids. You have a responsibility to your kids. You can’t control everything your kids ever do. But you can control how you act and how you deal with them when things go wrong and help them to make better choices in the future.
2. Kids need to understand consequences for their actions. To often parents make promises for punishments that are never enforced (or never could be enforced) and the kids need consistency in enforcement. Not only do they need it, they want it.
3. Parents have a need for space. A planned retreat versus an escape. During the first year the kids were around I always thought that being a good parent meant being there every night to tuck them in. I remember bragging to coworkers that I had not missed a tuck in their first eighteen months. I had been home every night until I went away to a conference in LA when they were 21 months old. After that week, I felt like I had let them down. But I was wrong. I needed that time away, and I needed the occasional break from the family to recharge. And my wife and I still need to get away from the kids every once in a while for a quiet weekend. Not just for our sake, but for the kids as well. Because those who don’t take regular retreats are bound to eventually take an escape. A retreat is something you come back refreshed from. An escape is something you do with no intention of ever coming back.
I learned a lot from this book. I didn’t go into it with the idea that I was a bad parent. Like I said, I don’t think I scream a lot. We’re a pretty calm household. But I do think there are things I got out of it that I can use to improve my skills and to help change my view on the long term things. I’ve already tried a couple of the techniques with my kids, and it seemed to help a bit. It’ll probably take a while to get it right. This surely won’t be the last book I ever read about parenting, and I’ll probably read it again in a year or two. I recommend it to any parent willing to take a look at themselves to determine whether or not their kids deserve a better parent. Better kids start with better parents.