Wednesday, September 7, 2011

No, the other Doctor Spock...

When I found out my new job would involve the Caribbean, my first step was to pull up Amazon to find books on the region's history and politics.  Two years ago I was supposed to go to Japan to work as a political-military planner, and I read at least half a dozen books on East Asia security issues.  All for a ten-day exercise. This week I even bought a reference book for Windows Office 2010 after realizing that my Microsoft skills are not quite up to the level I need to work efficiently as a staff officer.  

I mention all of this because the other day it dawned on me that since I became a father, I have not read a single parenting book.  Of course, I read "What to Expect When You're Expecting" before my daughter was born.  And I will occasionally thumb through my wife's parenting magazines.  But beyond that, I have sadly made little effort to educate myself as a father.

This bothers me.  Raising my children is the most important thing I will ever do in my life.   So why haven't I conducted at least the same level of preparation that I would for a six month deployment? I came up with a handful of semi-plausible but ultimately insufficient justifications:

My wife is the parenting expert in our team.  She worked as a nanny and ran a day-care center before we were married.  She has read as many books on parenting as I have read about airplanes.  Other mothers often seek her out for advice and recommendations.  But this shouldn’t excuse my ignorance.  Sure, it often makes sense for a couple to divide up household responsibilities based on knowledge and expertise:  I change the oil in the car, and she tells me why my shirt doesn't match my pants.  But when it comes to raising our children, it’s a team effort.

Parenting is primarily instinctive.  Children are unique, developing at their own pace with their own personality.  No book could possibly capture all the nuances of our family's situation.  There is some definite truth here, but leadership is also primarily instinctive, and yet I read countless books and articles on that topic in the hopes of gleaning new insights.    I should approach parenting the same way.

Parenting books often provide contradictory advice.   Of course they do.  So do the books I have bought on financial management, auto maintenance, and religion.  Oliver Wendell Holmes said he valued “the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”  Only after considering all the relevant facts, reading from a variety of experts and thinking critically can we reach our own solid and straightforward conclusions.  This applies to every subject one might ever hope to master. 

A friend of mine once told me, “Parenting is easy.  You turned out fine. So just do what your parents did and your kids will be fine too.”  I completely agree with the last two sentences of that statement.  The fault lies in the first, which assumes the ease that I might replicate my parents’ efforts.  Parenting is tough, and I need all the help I can get.   I just downloaded “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters” by Margaret Meeker on the advice of a good friend.   A good first step, I think.

If you have a good parenting book or article to recommend, please post in the comments section.


  1. Kevin, try NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.
    As far as good advice on parenting - I know that one thing I've learned with 5 of my own is that the strategies and techniques that we develop with one child often fail when applied to another. My father-in-law (chair of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins and father of 2, at least one of whom I think turned out nearly perfect) thinks that the details of how you parent are not crucial as long as you 1)love unconditionally and 2) set boundaries. Peter

  2. I own only one parenting book, and I haven't even read it all the way through. I do a quick scan on days when I'm on the verge of a nervous breakdown - "Setting Limits with You Strong Willed Child." It really should be called "Mom, keep your cool and your kids will too." It is primarily focused on the parents' behavior. It's for those of us who turn into 8 year-olds and can't seem to control our temper yet we expect our kids to do so. I blame my short temper on my Mediterranean blood. Maybe if the kids would let me take a siesta or have a glass of sangria here or there, I wouldn't be such a grouch sometimes. Now, there's a parenting plan I could get behind 100%. Cristina

  3. Well said, Pete. Thanks for the recommendation.

  4. Cristina, I got a good chuckle from your comments. Definitely agree with your siesta and sangria plan! I will definitely need to check out your book, because we have a very "strong willed" three year old on our hands.