Oh, yes, we were all kids ourselves once, so we heard the language of parenting spoken around us–with luck, we heard the language of effective parenting–but hearing it is not the same as speaking it.
We expect ourselves to be great parents–naturally!–as if good parenting were an instinct we were all born with. But parenting is a skill: You weren’t born with it any more than with the ability to speak your family’s native tongue.
Before you became fluent in any language, you had to learn it–one word at a time, with lots and lots of repetition. You learn to parent the same way–one lesson at a time, through practice and trial and error.
That’s where Parenting as a Second Language comes in. It guides you through becoming an effective parent by reflecting on your past, your present practice and your future vision for your kids. Concrete exercises help you master the most fundamental lessons of parenting: clarity, support, connection, consistency, consequences and empathy. No matter your cultural background or particular situation, these discussions are general enough for you to speak your own special dialect of parenting. Remember, parenting is a skill. It can be taught, learned and practiced.
Targeted Age Group:: Adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Twenty-five years of teaching means that I have seen every kind of parent in the book, but the trend among parents towards anxiety and isolation is what inspired me while writing this book. Historically, parenting has always been a community task. No person came to parenting without have already spent a lot of hours not only in the company of children and parents, but most likely being required to care for younger siblings, cousins or neighborhood kids. Today, most of the parents I work with haven’t even done much babysitting. Add to that that we are more likely to live away from our parents when we have our children, and we really are on our own. By the time you have two working parents, there is a perfect storm of no time to parent and no trusted authority. Parenting as a Second Language is designed to guide parents step by step in developing the skills they need to say with confidence, “I am an effective parent.”
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
You probably think of being the parent as the lead role in the movie – the one who carries the story forward. But consider the idea of being a “Supporting Actor.”
In your child’s story, she is the star, the lead, the best actor. You are the supporting actor. Think of Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting or Jennifer Hudson as Effie White in Dreamgirls. Certainly, they were the lead characters in their own lives, but in the lives of the protagonist, they are the supporting actors. Even when our children are very small, we are just holding space for them to become adults. Right from infancy, look for the ways that your child is unique – different from her parents or siblings. She has her own desires, needs and preferences. Within what works for your family, allow space for her to grow into the role she was born to have. Remember, this is her story. That role might be different than the one you have imagined for her. You can guide her, but you cannot be her, and she cannot be you. That’s why the primary verb, the main action you must take as a parent, is to support.
The first definition of support is “to hold up; to bear the weight.” I interpret that to be the support of unconditional parental love. Do you remember that scene in The Lion King when Mustafa holds up Simba for all to see? What parent does not start that way? The baby is born and the news is immediately spread far and wide, sent as announcements, posted all over the Internet on social media.
Now let’s be real here. It is rarely the beauty itself of the baby being touted. Looked at objectively, babies are not particularly attractive (unless they’re yours!). No, I believe that what is being held up to the world is the mere fact of the baby and all the potential he represents. Every baby fills us with hope for the future. In that moment of birth, we do not judge, we do not find anything lacking. Even if a baby is born with serious visible challenges, we are softened by the miracle of its birth. Awestruck, new parents promise to love every inch of that baby for as long as it shall live.
To me, that is what it means to “hold up” your child. To me, it means to be the person who will always love that child to pieces no matter what. Every child deserves at least one adult who will unbiasedly support him. This does not mean that you won’t discipline your child. It does not mean that when your child is caught cheating at school that you won’t back up the school’s consequences. It does mean that you will be faithful in your belief that though your child makes mistakes, he has as much potential to grow and correct them as he did the day he was born and you held him up for the world to see. He is still a human being who has value just by being alive. To hold up your child means to demand respect for him. It means to stand by his side. It means to see the best in him always.
I wish it were not true, but there are certainly teachers and school administrators who label kids with negative terms. This is not only the height of unprofessionalism, to me it is just downright evil. Early in my career I was standing with another teacher on the school yard and she pointed to a kid and said, “that one is going to end up in jail.” She was pointing to a second grader. I was horrified, but she was a veteran teacher with twenty-five years of experience, and my certification was so new the ink on it was scarcely dry. I did not report her to the principal. I was too insecure and uncertain about my own professional standing to do so, but I should have. People who don’t continue to see the room for hope and growth and potential in every single student should not be teaching.
Your job as a parent is to always see beyond the immediate behavior. Nobody looks at a baby struggling to walk and says, “Forget it, Baby. You just don’t have what it takes to walk. You’re never going to be a walker.” No, what we do is appreciate every bit of effort that baby makes. We encourage: “Don’t worry, Baby. You’ll get it. Just keep trying.” Now imagine that your third grader is brought to the principal’s office for pulling her friend’s hair. Instead of telling her how naughty or bad she is, imagine encouraging her good behavior: “Don’t worry, Baby. It’s hard to use your words, but you keep on trying. You’ll get it. It will become easier and easier to express your angry emotions in a constructive way.” Yes, you have to train a child to behave well (I’ll talk more about that when we get to the second definition of support), but you have to start with the unshakable belief that your child is capable of learning and is at heart a good person.
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