Why Reading Parenting Books Could Be Making It Worse!
After over 15 years of being a parenting educator, and working with over 135 of the best parenting-related authors
on the planet, you may be very surprised to know that I don’t recommend you read parenting books or consume parenting courses in front of your kids if you can help it.
It’s one of countless ways that our instincts as parents are off kilter. I talk a lot in my work about how there has always been an invisible foundation to great parenting. It’s the reason why until the last 50 or so years, parenting books were few and far between. It’s the
reason why parents could have large families and not give a lot of thought to parenting per say. If you go a few generations back, people didn’t think a lot about how to parent, they just went about the work of parenting.
Unfortunately, all that has changed as this invisible foundation to great parenting has been eroded. My life’s work is about teaching you how to harness this real, scientific force. That’s not the subject of this article. However I want you to know that when you read parenting books in front of your children, the effect is often NOT what you think it is. So while I strongly advocate for you to get the help you need so that parenting is much easier, more effective and fun, how you get that information is critical.
There are two reasons why reading parenting books in front of your kids can be bad.
- Even though you may tell them you are learning to be a better parent, many kids jump to the conclusion that you are reading the book because they are a bad child. I haven’t worked with a parent yet who doesn’t have some degree of self-condemnation going on that is actually making things worse. It seems to be the human condition to tend to blame ourselves and be hard on ourselves. So when your child sees you reading a parenting book, they are just as likely to assume that they are a bad child, as that you are learning to be a better parent. If you think about it, them thinking they are a bad child doesn’t usually lead to better behavior.
- Ironically enough, even if your child believes that you are reading the book because you are the one who needs help, that isn’t a good thing either. One of the keys to harnessing this invisible scientific foundation for great parents is being your child’s strong GPS or compass point. When your child has a strong leader who is compassionate and understanding, while still firm and confident, it does great things for him. It reduces his anxiety, tendency to talk back and argue, as well as to be bossy and domineering. In short, strong leadership from us is one of the hallmarks of great parenting.
Part of being a strong leader is faking it until you make it. Imagine if your GPS system said to you ”Well it might work to go this route, but it’s the first time I’ve done this and I’m not sure. Maybe try that way.” How would you feel? Would you feel confident or want to run for the hills? An even better example is suppose you are in a plane and the pilot said, “Hey guys! I’ve never done this before but I’ve been taking training and I’m hoping I can figure it out.” That would be disorienting at best, and terrifying at worst. The same thing happens when our kids really get how lost, anxious and scared we are.
We all value democracy, and don’t want to be too domineering. But the parent-child relationship isn’t one of equals. They need to know that you are wiser, stronger, and more able than them or they will feel anxious and like they have to take charge. Of course you need parenting help. But they don’t need to know that you do need it!
I could say a lot more about this, as not being your child’s strong GPS is a huge modern problem. Wonder why anxiety in children is at epidemic levels? Wonder why kids aren’t listening to adults anymore? Why they are taking their cues from each other and not us? Etc. In some cases other issues started the problem, but the long and short is being a confident, strong GPS for your children is essential to getting and staying on track to great parenting.
So throw your shoulders back, raise your head and start confidently making decisions for your kids. You want to consider their feelings, and give choices, but don’t reference the fact that you are learning as you go! Hide the parenting books, don’t listen to helpful tips in front of the kids and don’t share your doubts with them. Apologize when you blow it, but don’t burden them with a long diatribe about how you won’t do it again, you are so sorry, you wish you knew better etc. Those well-intentioned sentiments make parenting harder, and don’t serve your children well either.
And if you feel you’ve been 100% wrong up until now, that’s fine. Human beings are incredibly resilient. Your kids will adjust as you change. And everyone, including you, will feel better as you get used to standing as your child’s strong GPS.