You can learn ANYTHING from a book, right?
May 30, 2006 2:58 PM   Subscribe

Having grown up with very little good childhood memories and the absence of both parents, I'm trying to read/learn as much as possible on parenting before my child is born.

A little background: divorced parents, brought up by grandpa who had Parkinson's and was very much crippled by it; grandma who had to work all the time. Got left on the sidewalk in a stroller once by my mom who had weekly visits, who took a walk around the block and was convinced by my aunt to come back for the baby. Met my dad at 11, got transported halfway across the globe to live with his family that I didn't know about. Constant neglect during the first few teenage years where I was isolated to live alone. (And then I got kicked out. At 15. Best thing that ever happend to me, really.)

Needless to say, I'm not learning parenting from the parents. I thought I could do it from reading books. But as the day closes in (5 months to go) I'm starting to panic. I'm not normally a child-friendly person - I dote over, yet have no idea how to deal with, other people's children. I'm a horrible babysitter where the children lord over me.

My question is, how many others here are in the same boat and managed to bring up kids that are not messed up? What helped you along the way? What books did you read? What books should I read? Does parenting come naturally?
posted by Sallysings to Human Relations (26 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Do you know any people whose parenting you admire?

What you need is mentoring. For me, back in the day, I got it from friends at church.

But as Dr Spock said, paraphrased, you know more than you think you do.
posted by konolia at 3:05 PM on May 30, 2006

One way to look at this is that you have a clean slate - you get to decide what type of parent you wish to be, and you certainly know what type not to be.

I don't believe parenting comes naturally, not good parenting anyway. Every parent should study and decide how they want to parent, whether they come from a good parental back ground or not.

I suggest you look into Dr. Sear's books - he's written some for father's/mother's, and for discipline. If you tend to let kids lord over you, then you need to especially learn how to gently and effectively discipline (which won't be a worry for the 1st year or two, so you have plenty of time to learn).

Loving you baby will most likely come naturally, though for some it is not automatic, takes a few days, weeks, months to kick in. All you need to do when they are under a year old is love them and care for their physical needs, there's no need to be some kid guru.

Otherwise you will very much learn as you go, every parent does. You aren't any different than any other new parent. You will find what works for your family (one reason I like Dr. Sears is that he's a huge proponent of doing what works, being individual, he does not insist you behave x, y, z).

Become friends with those in your birthing classes, join playgroups, etc. You will be able to see how others deal with children and you can then discuss or research to your hearts content to find out if their way is a good way for your family.

Btw, I felt much like you. Scared to death I would be a crappy parent and ruin my children forever. It's an extremely important job, raising kids, so be proud of yourself for wanting to do the best you can. I think that means you are already being a wonderful parent.
posted by LadyBonita at 3:27 PM on May 30, 2006

There are a lot of challenges in the first few years of being a parent and no one (well, that I know) really remembers what their parents did when they were 3. So no one really has any of what to do, other than go with their instincts, talk with other parents or read a book.

I had pretty great parents and I am often at a loss as a parent with my own kids. I never worry about it, but I'm certainly not perfect. Good books have been a real blessing in helping me deal with my kids in a more reasonable manner.

So, I would say not to worry, go easy on yourself and, if in doubt, go easy on your kids. We've been reading this lately and it's been really helpful.
posted by GuyZero at 3:50 PM on May 30, 2006

Relax! Mother of an 8-year-old here. I'm not an expert on child-raising, far from it, and things are still on-going for me, too, so I can only share 8 years worth of personal experience, but I think the fact that you asked this question here says that you are a better parent (-to-be) already than your own were to you, because you're willing to put your time and thoughts into how to be the best parent you can be. Unlike you, I had a pretty much stable childhood and so I'm not sure how qualified I am to ease some of your anxieties, but I was the kind of person who couldn't stand children and cared little for babies before I had one of my own. So when I was expecting my son, I was scared to death that I wouldn't be able to bond with him when he arrived. Well, lucky for me, I can say with confidence now that my son is the best thing that ever happened to me, in spite of the pitfalls that come along with child-raising. And believe me, things DO happen. Not trying to scare you, but just try to be ready for anything! : )
I don't have any book recommendations, but I find that books that deal with the emotional or psychological aspect of parenting basically just tell you what you already know to a certain extent, and the books about the physical aspects of your baby (like how big they're supposed to be at a certain age, or what diseases certain symptoms might point to) just make you paranoid that maybe your child isn't well, or isn't growing as much as s/he should be, etc. So my advice on reading is, go ahead and read whatever catches your attention, but try to take the information with a grain of salt, so to speak.
When your baby arrives, try to get out of the house as much as you can with him/her. Go to the park, or to a mother-child gathering of some sort, anywhere, so that you're not stuck at home alone everyday with your baby. Make friends, and talk to other moms. I think parenting is a succession of surprises, both good and bad, and all you can do is to take things day by day. You're only human, nobody's perfect and you'll have your bad days, but your child will love you regardless because you're his/her mommy. Good luck, my thoughts are with you! : )
posted by misozaki at 4:15 PM on May 30, 2006

What comes naturally is parenting the way you were parented. Presumably, that's not your goal. Happily, there's nothing inevitable about it, especially if you remain mindful of harmful patterns in your past.

My Mom was a big reader of Dr. Spock.

My sister reads a lot of Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers.

It may be helpful to hook up with other mothers, preferably for whom this is not their first child, so you have people you can ask questions of (and you can babysit each others' kids to give each other a break!).
posted by joannemerriam at 4:27 PM on May 30, 2006

"Mommyblogs" are your friend. Try "ClubMom" as a starting point. Not all of them are lame, seriously.

Finding a mentor is an awesome suggestion. Try to hook up with a mom who has a child a few years older than yours [will be]. She has a little perspective on her own mistakes and triumphs, but still is probably young enough to relate to.

There are times when I have no idea what to do as a parent, and no one I trust who I can ask. So I either do exactly what my mom did with me, or exactly the opposite of what my mom did with me, depending on the situation and how I feel my mom handled it. It sounds to me like you might do a lot of the opposite of your mom, but a lot of the same as your grandma, since she must have done an ok job by you, if not your mom.

Good luck!
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:40 PM on May 30, 2006

I'm trying to read/learn as much as possible on parenting before my child is born.

I had a pretty good childhood, but I didn't have much experience with small children before ours arrived. (They're now 4 and 2.)

Books I've found useful:

The First Twelve Months of Life, by Frank Caplan. Describes the first twelve months from the baby's point of view, goes through development milestones, etc.

The Seven Worst Things Parents Do, by John and Linda Friel. Despite the melodramatic title, I thought this book actually gives pretty good advice, e.g. have a few simple rules and follow them consistently, instead of having a lot of rules that you don't enforce. The Friels are psychologists; they've got some other books on dysfunctional families which I haven't read but which you may find useful, e.g. An Adult Child's Guide to What's "Normal".

How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.

Discipline and manners:

1-2-3 Magic, by Thomas Phelan. Basic discipline for children older than two: give two warnings, then a timeout.

Miss Manners' Guide to Rearing Perfect Children, by Judith Martin. Covers things like getting your kids to say please and thank you. To paraphrase, as a parent you have two basic weapons: nagging, and setting a good example.

More specific issues:

Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems, by Richard Ferber.

Toilet Learning, by Alison Mack.

My wife also found the What To Expect books (What To Expect When You're Expecting, What To Expect the First Year, What To Expect the Toddler Years) to be helpful.

Some other suggestions:

Pre-natal classes. We took them through our local hospital.

Mom-and-baby groups at your local community centre or library, if they have any. My wife found them to be really helpful--she learned a lot of baby games, activities, nursery rhymes that way.
posted by russilwvong at 4:52 PM on May 30, 2006

Well, I had parents. They taught me fairly well what NOT to do with children. My daughter is going through her teenage years - she's a wonderful girl, and I'm enjoying the experience. While hardly perfect, she's reliable, respectful, intelligent, popular, and decent. She tries to be kind to all living things (certain bugs excluded).

I had not a maternal bone in my body. I mostly still don't - but it's different when they're your own children. My best advice is, lead by example. Be the kind of parent you want your child to have. Be honest, be strong, be consistent.

Give careful consideration to the things your family did that hurt you - make sure you don't do those things. You have a wealth of knowledge that children of normal parents don't have. Use it.

You know NEVER to abandon your child for any reason. You know how careless thoughts and words hurt. You know that your child will love you, regardless, and that you are the only parents this child will ever have. It's easier to love you when you're thoughtful and kind, but they'll love you even when you aren't. You know to talk to your child and explain the world, because no one ever did that for you. You know that it's unrealistic to make a child live up to your expectations - you'd be amazed how many parents don't know that.

You know to be there. As much as possible, be present physically, mentally, and emotionally. The years with your child seem interminable now, but they are really very short. Be there.

If you know someone who's a good parent, watch how he/she interacts with his/her child.

Make peace with your past. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Allow your child to make mistakes.
posted by clarkstonian at 5:16 PM on May 30, 2006

I also had a very difficult childhood - my sisters and I often refer to what was learned from our parents as "reverse parenting."

I highly recommend two books for parenting very young children. The first is "Mister Rogers Parenting Book: Helping to Understand Your Young Child" by Fred Rogers. Yes, it's that Mr. Rogers. His style of gentle firm parenting is one I modeled my own on. I still say to both of my daughters every night: "there's no one else on earth like you, and I love you just the way you are." Yeah, it's corny, but they remind me if I forget to say it (and one of my kids is almost out of high school).

The other is T. Berry Brazelton's "Touchpoints" books. His books give great insight into babies' and toddlers' behavior. What's great about these books is that he explains things from the child's point of view.

The fact that you're seeking out this information is a good sign that you'll be a good parent.
posted by Flakypastry at 5:33 PM on May 30, 2006

I had a very good childhood with outstanding parents. However my parents were lucky in that my siblings (3) and I were very easy children who all did very well in school, had a lot of friends, were healthy and so forth.

Their parenting style has actually not been very helpful to me, as my kids are very intense, emotionally volatile kids who have a lot of trouble in school. They are quite impulsive and get into a lot of trouble, not because they are malicious but because they don't internalize good behavior very well -- they tend to act before they think.

However I am finally seeing some progress in my 12 year old daughter as she is tranforming right before my eyes into a thoughtful, caring young lady. And even my rambunctious 7 year old son and his accomplice in crime, my 6 year old daughter, are showing promise.

My point is, that you have to approach each child differently, and what works with one may not work with others. So despite concerned and involved parents, I had to start pretty much at square one myself.

I will second the recommendations for Brain Child magazine (makes me laugh and cry and feel like I'm not alone in this experience), also for 1-2-3-Magic and How to Talk so Kdis Will Listen. The What to Expect books are very informative but tend to be a bit preachy, so take them with a grain of salt.

Here's a few other books:

Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year
by Anne Lamott --often called the most honest, wildly enjoyable book written about motherhood--writer Anne Lamott's account of her son Sam's first year.

Your Baby and Child : From Birth to Age Five (New Version) -- by Penelope Leach

Babyhood -- by Penelope Leach

British pediatrician Leach covers everything, especially your child's emotional health. She obviously loves children, and makes you deeply aware of the wonder of your own.

ThePortable Pediatrician: A Practicing Pediatrician's Guide to Your Child's Growth, Development, Health and Behavior, from Birth to Age Five by Laura W. Nathanson

This one I consider the modern "Dr. Spock"--up-to-date reference on raising healthy children, and understanding child development.
posted by cheripye14 at 5:35 PM on May 30, 2006

I took a series of child development classes before getting pregnant. It was incredibly informative. I'm not necessarily recommending you do this; I had more than one reason for taking these classes. What I would recommend is a parenting class. They're generally offered for free at your local community/continuing education college. There's this ridiculous stigma that people only need to take parenting classes if they're bad parents/abusive/whatever, but that's really not the case. My husband and I will be attending one together.

Definitely get yourself support in the form of other parents. Find community activities, join parenting groups, whatever.

You will probably, at some point, run into the rabid debate over parenting styles. Take from each what makes sense and feels right to you, and don't sweat the rest. The fact that being a good parent matters to you is a big, big thing.

You will get lots of unsolicited advice. Take that with a grain of salt, too, and filter it through your own experience and judgement.

Here is a good online resource that may be useful to you.

A book I haven't seen recommended here is Gottman's Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.

Finally, take everything I've said here with a grain of salt, too. I'm pregnant with my first.
posted by moira at 5:38 PM on May 30, 2006

The Book "The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children" is a great, great, parenting book, even if you are not Jewish (like me).

It is a great corrective to the hovering, over-protective, hyperparenting we see so much of today.
posted by 4ster at 5:42 PM on May 30, 2006

I am going to get flamed to death for this BUT

the most useful books I read with respect to parenting were my wife's animal behavior textbooks, in particular the ones which dealt with dog training and behavior modification.

however the only thing you *really* need to know about parenting is the following:

monkey see, monkey do

Your children will reflect you, however many books you read. Having children is one of the very rare times you get to choose what you look like in the mirror.
posted by unSane at 6:40 PM on May 30, 2006

My mom was raised in an abusive and unstable household, and managed to raise me and my five little brothers pretty well, if I do say so myself.

I'm the oldest, and I think I was the hardest for her as a result. She had a hard time controlling her anger over normal toddler things.

Helpful to my mom: seeing other, good parents with kids a little older than me, learning from them -- and also realizing that they still got frustrated, they just learned how not to take their frustrations out on their children violently made a big difference.

My aunt, raised in the same household, didn't have positive parenting role models and wasn't very self aware. She hit her kids, was emotionally manipulative, followed the pattern laid out when she was young. One nephew hasn't spoken to my aunt in years, the other is ... well, he has some character flaws.

My brothers and I, on the other hand, are pretty well adjusted people. We've got our problems, but they're the normal problems everyone has. We can blame our genetics for some, maybe, but not our upbringing.

I'm incredibly proud of my mom for overcoming her past, and incredibly grateful too. How did she manage? Being self aware, trying, trying, trying, trying, trying. That's pretty much it.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:17 PM on May 30, 2006

I'd add one more suggestion to the excellent ones above: The Absorbent Mind by Maria Montessori. It's not a "how-to" child-rearing book per se, but rather a detailed analysis of childhood development. I often found its insights extremely enlightening during my tenure as a child-rearer.
posted by trip and a half at 7:41 PM on May 30, 2006

Best answer: I highly, highly recommend the wonderful Mothering Without a Map by Kathryn Black. It's a book that will not only make you feel encouraged, but optimistic, as her basic premise is that it is possible to be a good mother without having experienced good mothering. One of the things I found most interesting about the book was her assertion that women who have been "under-mothered" and who enter into motherhood more apprehensive than ecstatic actually do a much better job of mothering than they predict -- because they are willing to constantly "check in" and see how they are doing, they are able to respond more flexibly to the ever-changing nature of mothering a small child. And that helps make a person involved and attentive -- and decidedly unlike the kind of parent she worries she might turn out to be. (You can read a little more about the book in an interview I did with the author here.)

On a more personal note, I wrote my first book Mother Shock in part because I felt the same kind of fear, that I only knew how not to do things, that I only knew how not to be a mother. But part of what I learned on the job, so to speak, and in researching culture shock in the process of working on the book, is that motherhood is a transition -- a work in progress, rather than something static. (And that the so-called "maternal instinct" is not something that happens magically or instantaneously -- especially for women who have been "under-mothered" or "under-parented," who may have to work at learning what their instincts actually feel like before they can figure out under what circumstances they can be trusted). I would be happy to send you a copy of the book, if you are interested. Just shoot me an email.

Most of all, congratulations on your impending parenthood, and on being brave enough to investigate what you're feeling right now. That right there is indication that no matter what your past, you are totally capable of being the kind of parent you want to be.
posted by mothershock at 8:01 PM on May 30, 2006

Your friendster page says you're in Ontario. Looks like this place might be helpful!

I am a mom of 2, and stepmom of 2 more. I second the Dr. Sears recommendation and add Becky Bailey's Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline; The 7 Basic Skills for Turning Conflict into Cooperation..

Good luck!
posted by Biblio at 8:01 PM on May 30, 2006

Deep communication:

Talk to your child as much as possible pointing out and explaining things in an adult voice. Baby talk, nonsence words, funny sounds, don't mean anything unless you are imitating what the child produces. If at 6months the child makes a rasberry sound, you reproduce it, and the child smiles like crazy and rasberrys you back then you have communication.

Praise, praise, praise. If the child points to a dog and says "du" then verbally respond with some praise and and maybe elaborate. At some point responding to every point and grunt may get tiring but this phase will be over soon.

Nightly reading books and pointing at the pictures in them helps communication.

If you constantly talk, explain things, and are truthfull, then the child will accept what you say as gospel and you can often control behavior with words. Hitting does not help.

Try to get into your child's head and understand things as he/she perceives it. Is opening/closing containers or filling them with water really interesting in that small skull? See if you can make a 1-2 yo laugh just with talk and normal actions - no tickling or funny noises allowed.

What happens when the child learns "why"? So far you have a policy of truthfully responding to every thing the child says. But "why?" changes that because with little effort the child can keep you talking forever. One solution is on some occasions to make a "circular why argument":
Q: Why A?
A: because B
Q: why B?
A: because C
Q: why C?
A: because A.
Q: why A?
A: because B.
Eventually most children will get tired of this and will use "why" for actual interest in the question rather keeping up a conversation.

In summary, You are much smarter than young children. If you have deep communication with them it is easy to outwit them and avoid problems just with your voice.

P.S. My first son at 13months was walking and fairly verbal. He met a similar 13month girl and they seemed to have a showdown. It consisted of taking turns pointing at body parts or clothing items and naming them. Both kids were highly pleased as a result.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 8:20 PM on May 30, 2006

Best answer: My parents also failed me fairly completely, despite their desire to do right. As part of my need to live that out, I hooked up with a crack addict and had my son at 21, then my daughter a year later.

Now 14 and 13, my kids are totally awesome: blindingly beautiful, "best-student-I ever-had," high-achieving, not-of-this-earth superkids. I don't know why. I suck as a parent, they've got no dad, we're broke as a joke, you name it. The things they know about perserverence, responsibility and social grace, not to mention tidiness, are things I couldn't have taught them. So go figure.

I only know two things about parenting.

1. Parenthood is the death of self-complacency.
None of us is perfect, and as an adult you learn to live with your imperfections. You find people who love you as is, and generally you walk around feeling pretty good. Then you have a baby. So precious, so helpless, he evokes in you a ferocious love unlike any you've ever known. He needs so much from you -- you must be ever-loving, ever-watchful, ever-patient, as well as providing everything he needs now and in the future materially, intellectually, and every other way. Your child deserves no less than this, and your love for him would never allow you to do less than this. But guess what? Just because you now see the necessity of being perfect, it doesn't mean you are granted the ability to be perfect. You are just as human as you were before, and you fail your child in countless little ways, with the very imperfections your friends find so charming. And it hurts.

2. All parents give their best to their children.
...And the natural corollary to that -- your parents couldn't become magically perfect when they had you, no matter how much they wanted to. Just as you know you do your best, whatever other parents (or your kids!) might find to criticize, your parents also did their best. Maybe their best was really really terrible, but it was their best. They loved you as much as they could, just as you love your child to the uttermost you can. If you know this, you can forgive them, and yourself.

And I think if you know this you are a little freer to just love your child. To just let him grow like a little plant towards the sun. Virtually every child does, however circuitously, whatever you screw up -- you are proof.
posted by Methylviolet at 8:23 PM on May 30, 2006

The LeBoyer Method
posted by hortense at 10:46 PM on May 30, 2006

From a background similar to yours and having raised 3 good kids (in the opinions of their schools and their peers) the one piece of information that stands out goes as follows: To a child there is no such thing as quality time, there is only time. The more time you spend with them young the less you will have to worry about them older.
posted by ptm at 12:03 AM on May 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

Hang around some veteran moms who are both gentle and firm. Make them your friends and mentors. It will rub off. We need to have parenting modeled for us by someone, and if you didn't get it coming up, it's not too late to learn. Honest.

Bless your heart--I suspect you'll be just wonderful. Falling in love with your kids is the most powerful experience I've ever known, and that love is a tremendous teacher.

And remember, there aren't any perfect mothers. We're all flawed to one extent or another, for which our children paid, but that's the cost of humanity. It helps to forgive the raising you got; it puts your own mothering in perspective.
posted by wordswinker at 3:14 AM on May 31, 2006

some amazing advice here. I too, come from a pretty bad background although not as bad as you describe. My kids are now 16 and 8 and not only do I totally love and respect the people they are, others do to. I shared your deep concerns when I was pregnant as all I could re-call was what I didn't want to do. I believe my parents viewed children as "chattels" or property. Everything we did was viewed through the filter of how it would reflect on them. When I was 11 I mistakenly experiemented with a scissors and my eyebrows! My mother beat me to within an inch of my life because of what the neighbours would say. This was a constant.
I visited with a Bahai family when I was 16 and immediately twigged the difference. They listened to their kids, they didn't dismiss them. If they were wrong they corrected them with respect. So that's what I tried to do. I respect the individuals they are, and I always, always tell them how much I love them and how much I admire them. I definately had a problem with disciplining them because of my experience and feel I could have been better at this. So when all is said and done, just love this individual to the best of your ability and decide a consistent and respectful way to deal with the inevitable.
posted by Wilder at 3:29 AM on May 31, 2006

This is my first piece of advice, and I wish our parents had followed it (yours and mine): If you ever feel like you might even consider harming your child, get help. Have a social network large and caring enough that you could call any member of it and say, "I need a serious break from my kid," and someone would be at your doorstep within an hour, and they wouldn't demonize anyone for it.

My second, always know the adults that your child will be spending time near. If anything about your gut says that you do not want to be near that person yourself, or you just feel funny about leaving your kid somewhere, believe your gut. As your kid gets older (like driving age), ask who the adults are. Hopefully it will be such a habit that you know the adults in their lives that, well, you'll know the adults. Also, ask what time they will be home, or what time they will be getting to the sleepover spot.

Third, read to your baby, read to your toddler and if your teenager will let you, read to him/her. Make it a habit now to sit down for 1/2 hour every day and just read out loud. That way, when the baby comes, it will already be a habit. Doesn't matter what you read to the kid, could be The New Yorker, could be the Dick and Jane books, could even be a cereal box, or parenting books.

Fourth, expose your child to all different kinds of people, poor folks, rich folks, science, math, literature, art, mechanics, everyone.

Last, leave your body issues at the door. If you ever had any, this is the time to work them out and make a conscious effort to never let your child hear you call yourself (or anyone) fat type names like piggy, blubber, or well, any of them. Keep healthy food at home and encourage only the most moderate portions of junk. (For instance, four potato chips as being perfectly satiating, versus an entire apple)

I don't have children, but I'm not too far removed from childhood myself, so I remember very well how important this stuff was, and how I envied other kids who got it.
posted by bilabial at 5:29 AM on May 31, 2006

Response by poster: Thank you very much for all your advice. This is going to get printed out and posted on the fridge - a reminder to myself that no matter how frustrated I get in the near future, I had promised myself that I'd be a good parent. :)
posted by Sallysings at 11:24 AM on May 31, 2006

Mothering and it's respective magazine are great alternative resources.
posted by mic stand at 10:11 AM on June 1, 2006

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