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Not A Book Review: Teach Your Children Well

September 30, 2012

I’ve been stealing time wherever possible to complete Madeline Levine’s new book Teach Your Children Well.  It’s one of those rare books that spoke to me a teacher, parent and lover-of-a-good narrative.  Many of my friends listened as I updated them over the course of my reading; some asked for the Cliff Notes.  I did consider writing a review, but decided parents should just get a copy and plunge into it.

So this is NOT a book review. Or is it…?

Levine’s savvy advice and matter of fact tone give pause to the rat-race that parenting can (and has) become.   Peer pressure  is not just an issue for our kids, but for parents.   Levine challenges parents to reconsider the urge to keep up with our own peer group and American culture which generally includes fixing things, giving kids every opportunity to be tops, and sometimes giving up on what makes us “us”  – all in the name of good parenting.

The reality is that we cannot “give” that type of success to our kids nor should we project our hopes and expectations on them.  We can honor the person they are, have an awareness of what the seminal tasks are at each stage of development and coach our kids (and others) to make good choices given a reasonable set of opportunities. And when necessary, watch as they problem-solve and learn to accept failure and mistakes.

It’s here where the rubber meets the road – where children get to try in age appropriate and safe ways to see what happens when they make choices or to fix things when they start to slip. Then to feel the satisfaction that comes with resourcefulness and self-confidence, to manage the negative emotions that often accompany such “failures” and collect life experience that will prepare them for the complexities which lie ahead.   So many parents get uncomfortable at this stage, myself included.  So uncomfortable that they become the fixers or the console-ers who inadvertently foster a false sense of reality or self-esteem, rather than arming kids with tools they need to be accustomed to being imperfect and adaptive in a world full of challenges and changes.

Levine further provokes readers to check their own values and action to think more clearly about what will truly help kids become independent, well-adjusted and content young people who can solve problems, care of others and act responsibly.  We all know that is easier said than done.  It takes courage, a bit of knowledge (some imparted here, some you’ll cull on your own), faith, and a willingness to be open to outcomes which may honor your child’s strengths and dreams more than your own.  That last one hurts sometimes.  We all hold dreams for our kids, but when you really listen to and know your child, it’s better for everyone if you relinquish your hopes and help your child pursue his passions.

Perhaps one of the most useful aspects of Teach Your Children Well is part two where Levine summarizes much of the research on child development into layman’s terms.  The central tasks of elementary, middle school and high school years are laid out with research, anecdotes and useful advice. Part three lists “seven essential coping skills,” which I love, if nothing else because they dovetail and compliment the traits discussed in Wonder of Children.  Levine’s years of work as a therapist manifest not just in her stories, but in the sage advice and useful tips I can actually hear parents saying.  Click here to read a few of my favorite Dos and Don’ts.

The last sections of the book read more like a self-help book or homework from your therapist. They beckon parents to define and live family values.  Levine concludes with reassurance that parenting comes with an often steep or jagged learning curve. We are learning to navigate as we are learning to guide. What works in some situations, doesn’t work for others – but, it’s essential that each of us identify what core values we will cling to no matter what the terrain brings us.
Writers have long been encouraged to write about what they know and Levine has done just that.  She writes about child development and typical behaviors by both children and parents. She offers advice from years of counseling and parenting. Critics of the book identify her position of privilege in upper middle class suburbia as a bias which is illustrated by several examples she shares –  “In my community Louis Vuitton “speedy” purses look like they’ve been bough in bulk.”  I’m not sure what a “speedy” purse is, but I am sure it’s a costly purse, too.  Nonetheless, each subculture and community has those items which are coveted for status and acceptance.

The overarching message in this book is to know your child, your values and to keep your eye on the end game, not simply keeping your kids occupied and happy as the months turn into years. That can be a tough walk to walk, but the good stuff takes effort and courage.

Parenting take courage. And persistence. And joy. And a whole lot of support. What are you reading to find courage, persistence, joy and support to your parenting? Leave a comment with  a title, author or topic that’s on your mind.

photo courtesy of M. Porto

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Margaret LeDane permalink
    October 1, 2012 1:43 pm

    I love her message and will read her book. Thanks.

  2. October 3, 2012 3:06 am

    What a fabulous non-book review!! You really teased out some of the crucial highlights. If I hadn’t already read her book, I’d be running to get it. I underlined so much in this book. The parenting part at the end is the unique part. We must get ourselves to parent in a more self-reflective way and look inside ourselves to stay firm with our belief and value system, so as to be strong enough to buck the tide. Kid/teen pressure has always been something normal to contend with. But this parent pressure has taken on a life of its own to the detriment of our raising our kids in sync with our core values. Our parenting to keep up with the Jones and ‘if everyone else is doing it how can I not’ is taking over our ability to parent with our eyes on the mark and the good outcome we’re looking for — to raise our children towards their own unique strengths and weaknesses. We’ve somehow lost sight that it’s about them and their interests and not us and our agendas for them so that we end up looking good.

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