There are dozens of things that we can do to improve our parenting skills. One thing that we can do is to help our children develop a love of learning and creative, independent thought.
When I reflect on my own experience as a young father helping my kids learn to read, I realize now that I made many mistakes. A lot of those mistakes were made out of shear ignorance. I tried to teach my children by applying pressure to perform well. And I am not a teacher by trade. I didn’t understand the necessary activities and building blocks needed to aid in developing cognitive ability and language skills. I made reading time a tense chore rather than an enjoyable discovery. I wish I had this conversation with New York Times children’s books editor Maria Russo when my kids were young. Sage advice from our conversation includes “Leave the teaching to teachers. Your job as a parent is to help your children discover the joy of reading.”
In their new book, How to Raise a Reader, Pamela Paul (editor of the New York Times Book Review) and Maria Russo (children’s books editor of the New York Times Book Review) divides the subject up into 4 stages of childhood – from babies to teens – and offer practical tips, strategies that work, and inspirational advice on how to help your kids develop a love of reading. Maria Russo was kind enough to chat with me on Life in HD. I hope you enjoy our conversation.
More information on How to Raise a Reader can be found here.
You’d think, in 2019, that the choice to not have children would be acceptable in our society, but American culture can’t accept the reality of a woman who does not want to be a mother. Motherhood is sacred and revered. Not wanting children goes against everything we’ve been taught to think about the concept of family. Women and girls are portrayed in media and pop culture as individuals driven to get married and have children. Yet in reality, there are plenty of women who would rather not have the stresses of parenting or the loss of individual identity. And the pushback against the stigma of not wanting to be a parent has given birth to the childfree movement in America.
My two loves. I come to you in this forum because, as you well know, my fingers are often far more eloquent than my tongue. I want you to realize that you are living in extraordinary times.
You have witnessed the election and presidency of our nation’s first African-American president and the selection of the first woman to receive the presidential nomination of a major political party and potentially the first woman President of the United States. These are extraordinary accomplishments that should not be taken for granted.
I am very happy that you two watched Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech as well as the speech given by the nation’s first African-American First Lady of the United States. These are not ordinary women.
If you follow this presidential election, you will undoubtedly hear a range of opinions on Hillary Clinton. You will hear that she is just another politician. You will hear that she cannot be trusted. You will hear that she is self-serving. These are not your father’s beliefs.
The truth of the matter is that Hillary Clinton (just like our First Lady) is a phenomenal woman. A woman who devoted her life to public service because of early childhood experiences and the political climate of her youth. Both of these women have achieved greatness and I want you to know that you do not rise to this level without waking your inner phenomenal woman.
As a girl, Hillary Rodham was profoundly affected by the stories of her mother being abandoned as a child. A child often left to fend for herself. Who was there to protect this child? Who was there to shield her from harm? Or coach her potential? And if this could happen to her mother, how many other children in our society must suffer from similar circumstances and neglect? A phenomenal woman takes that kind of experience and internal dialogue and turns it into a calling. Ask yourself, why was Hillary Rodham selected to be the first student in Wellesley College history to deliver a commencement address? She was not of privileged stock. It is because she was identified as an extraordinary, passionate individual… a phenomenal woman.
I am here to tell you that there is nothing particularly special about Hillary Clinton. The phenomenal woman exists in every girl. You just have to wake her up. And I see her in you two already. Imani, you have been identified by your employer as a woman worth investing in. It is because you show promise and rise above expectations. You are awakening the phenomenal woman. Hadiya, you are driven by your desire to exceed as a student. Your being singled out in your summer program as the student who showed the most promise in your major is an awakening of your phenomenal woman. The two of you must recognize her, nurture her and bring her to life.
Being extraordinary is not inherent to special people. It is an individual choice. It requires effort and discipline. It is conscious action. Most of all, it requires belief in yourself and the belief that you can transcend the obstacles that would consign you to mediocrity. It is summoning your phenomenal woman.
I mention our First Lady and Hillary Clinton as examples of extraordinary women and there are hundreds of others. But you need not look any further than your own home for the greatest example of all. Your mother is exemplary. A black girl from a small Virginia town and a non-traditional educational path does not become a Vice President of major company without awakening her inner phenomenal woman. At home, we jokingly say that we know when mom has taken her BB pill. It is just a different way of saying that her phenomenal woman is in action. Just know that when she pushes you, she pokes your dormant phenomenal woman. When she challenges you, she challenges the phenomenal woman in you. She knows, as do I, that you have the ability to be extraordinary in whatever you do. You need only breathe life into your phenomenal woman.
You both have asked me at different times in your life if I was ever disappointed that I did not have a son. I understand the question because I understand the value that our society places on male children. But my response has always been the same. I have who I am supposed to have. The lives that I helped bring into this world are the lives that I have been entrusted to shape and mold. You are my destiny and my purpose in life. You are beautiful, talented young women who can be and do anything that you want to do. You need only exercise your imagination, remove your limitations, and awaken your phenomenal woman. And always remember that our love for you knows no boundaries.
A recent exchange with a family member had me reminiscing about my childhood and how I was reared by extended family and…got me thinking about Adrian Peterson.
Peterson’s recent off-field activities have landed him in hot water with the law and on the wrong side of public opinion as it relates to child rearing. His detractors emerged quickly as did his supporters.
The ass-whooping is lore in the black community and many of us have comical tales of having to procure our own switches and belts to aid in our corporal punishment. There was something about having extra time to think about your transgressions and come to grips with your inevitable thrashing. We have, over time, romanticized and accepted corporal punishment as a part of our hardcore upbringing. If you’ve ever seen a stand-up routine from comedian DL Hughely and others, you have undoubtedly heard them joke about the subject. Former NBA star, Charles Barkley, famously spoke out about the Peterson situation and claimed that it was an accepted fact that hind-parts were not off limits in addressing adolescent mischievousness if you were a southern black.
And it’s not just a black thing. CNN reported that in a 2012 national survey, that half of women and three-quarters of men in the U.S. believe a child sometimes needs a “good hard spanking”. But there are physical and emotional consequences with each swing of the switch. In that same report, CNN reported that numerous studies showed detrimental effects on trajectories of brain development, increased aggression, a decrease in cognitive ability, and decreased levels of gray matter. We aren’t simply beating the shit out of our kids, we are also beating the potential out of them.
The emotional effects are equally damning. We don’t know how every swing of the belt, swat of the paddle or bare hand whacking shaped the relationships that we have, or don’t have, with our elders. I often think about how envious I am of friends and associates who have very close relationships with parents, grandparents or other care-givers. I wonder if my own relationships might be closer and more fulfilling had a different approach to discipline been used.
The day that the Peterson story broke, my social media timelines were flooded with comments like “I got my ass whooped as a kid and I turned out just fine.” Hell, I think I may have written something similar. The truth of the matter, though, is that we have no idea what or who we could have become had a different parenting approach been taken. For the record, I have no doubt that AP loves his children. He just needs a different approach to raising them.
My own approach to child-rearing in general and, more specifically, disciplining, differs vastly from my own upbringing. Love, encouragement, and currency has been the general rule of thumb in the Lee household. And I suspect, indeed hope, that the yield will be long-lasting, love-filled, close relationships with my girls.
What do you think? Does/did your parenting style differ from that of your elders? Do you agree or disagree with the research? Have a funny ass-whooping tale to tell?