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This is meant for parents of older children than I’ve yet recommended, but the information in it is both a valuable (if potentially painful) glimpse of possible futures and helpful for looking at any damaged family relationship.

When Parents HurtWhen Parents Hurt by Joshua Coleman.

This book is aimed at parents of adult and to some extent older teen children who have a painful relationship with those children. The key message in the book that is particularly relevant for all parents is this, “It is possible to be a devoted and conscientious parent and still have it go badly.” That’s a sobering message for parents in my position, still hopeful that good efforts and a therapy fund will be enough for our kids to end up OK. For parents where the relationship is already bad, that same message is, I think a little more comforting. I’m always interested in reading about the evolution of parenting advice, and Coleman talks here about how society now places a historically unprecedented degree of responsibility with parents rather than kids for how those kids turn out. It started in the 1920s with the behaviorists, who believed that with the right training, any child could be trained to have an ability or temperament. Though psychology has long since disproved that idea, its hold on popular parenting theory seems only to have increased, with the result that everyone involved seems to take it for granted that if something is wrong with the grown child, it is the fault of the parent. Coleman addresses issues like how to heal feelings of guilt, deserved or now; balancing the reality of the child’s feelings with the realities that caused your behaviors or imagined behaviors; how to try to heal relationships; and knowing how far across the gap to build the bridge yourself before giving up. He talks about the very real problems of difficult children and temperament mismatches between parents and adults; divorce wounds and parental alienation (when your ex convinces your children that you are evil.) There is specific advice on problem marriages, adult children who “fail to launch” their own lives successfully, when children cut of contact with their parents. There is more general advice on parenting teens: Teens learn about expectations and being their own person by failing to meet expectations and seeing what happens (really the same kind of boundary testing that kids from toddler up engage in, I think, but magnified.) And, though it doesn’t seem that way, they lash out with hurtful accusations because they feel powerless themselves. He has a sample behavior contract with teens, and advises parents to start thinking of themselves as consultants rather than managers. Towards the end, there’s a chapter on addressing your own past in your parenting, which I found very helpful and which would probably be even better read by newish parents than those with adult children. I found it very difficult reading the stories of parents with angry children, and the thought of my own children ever refusing to have contact with me breaks my heart. But forewarned is forearmed, and the explicit warning that parents are far from the only forces shaping our children is good to keep in mind. The advice on conflict resolution, while aimed specifically at parents, seems more generally applicable.

For family conflicts from other points of view than just the parents, books like Byron Katie’s Loving What Is, Healing from Family Rifts by Mark Sichel, or several of Deborah Tannen’s books could also be helpful.
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There have been a couple of books about parenting in other cultures recently that I just haven’t wanted to read. Just from the descriptions, I could tell both that the basic premise is “Americans are parenting wrong” (as if an entire nation could possibly all parent the same way) and that what they were advocating was a return to strict authoritarian parenting, which I am not interested in. This book, on the other hand, sent out a siren call.

How Eskimos Keep Their Babies WarmHow Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm by Mei-Ling Hopgood.

Hopgood is a southeast Michigan journalist who moved to Buenos Aires with her husband, also a journalist, and had her first child there. She started noticing that the Argentinean parents were breaking some of the hard and fast American parenting rules about giving children early and consistent bedtimes. She investigated further, talking to American sleep experts and her Argentinean friends and pediatrician, looking at sleep in other cultures as well. The Argentineans keep their children up late because everything happens late in Argentina – nine p.m. is typical dinner time. They say that it’s important for children to be with their families, and of course, a society that stays up so late also doesn’t get started as early in the morning as ours. The book has eleven chapters, each looking at different parenting practices and how they are treated in different cultures. Each has a primary focus on American vs. one other main culture, but other cultures are drawn in, too. She looks not only at the practices but the values that inspire them, looking at how other practices might and might not fit with typical American values, finally discussing what she took away to try with her own daughter. The sleep chapter, for example, brings in how the Western/American practice of insisting that children sleep in their own beds in their own room is quite rare globally. Americans want their children to become independent as soon as possible, and encouraging independent sleep is one way of doing that. Other cultures value togetherness more, and find the idea of leaving children and especially babies to sleep alone horrifying. Her chapters cover cultures and issues like the Chinese and early potty training, Kenyans and babywearing (aka going without strollers), the French and healthy eating, Mayans and working children, Lebanese Americans and keeping family close, Asian school success, Japanese letting children fight, Tibetans valuing pregnancy and (me forgetting the cultures) independent play & socialization by peer group, and super-involved fathers. For each issue, she looks at what she might I liked that there was a balance of attachment-parenting style issues like the babywearing and sleep schedules and things like keeping extended family close or the Japanese tolerance of children fighting that aren’t attachment parenting issues per say and that I haven’t seen discussed as often.

My shoulder hurts just thinking about her tale of trying an airport with a toddler and a ring sling, rather than any kind of two-shoulder carrier meant for older children, and I wished that she had found a Babywearing International person to consult on finding a better carrier for the purpose. However, I have finally learned, I think, how it is that babywearing cultures can keep babywearing so much longer than most Americans can manage: we are, collectively wimps. We start giving up on one-shoulder carries at about 15 pounds (this from my own wonderful babywearing advisor) and most people would consider a typical two year old too heavy to wear regularly. I know I find my thirty-pounder just too heavy. But the Kenyan mother she quotes, with a child a pound heavier, is used to carrying 50 and 60 pound sacks of grain; she considers him so light that she wouldn’t want to waste her money on a bulky stroller. I had mixed feelings about Hopgood’s conclusions from the French and eating chapter, too; she came to the conclusion that the solution is to expose children to real adult food earlier rather than later, to make time and space for eating and take it seriously – and to insist on children trying at least two bites of everything. I agree with everything except the last, based on the research of my favorite nutritionist Ellyn Satter, who advises the parents selecting the food, place and time and letting the children pick entirely how much and of what is on the table. On the topic of Asian school success, I was interested and gratified to read that it isn’t all a result of the Tiger Mother-style pushing whether or not kids are interested. Yes, there’s an element of “your success or failure reflects on the Family Honor” that doesn’t sit too well with American culture – but there’s also the aspect of Asians being convinced that success is mostly a matter of hard work, whereas American tend to believe that success comes from innate talent. The value of focusing on the effort rather than just the end result is something that has come up over and over in my research, from Montessori theories to Nuture Shock. It’s especially valuable for my family, as my son needs to know that the dyslexic label isn’t an excuse for failure but a guide to focusing his effort. And, quite curiously, I’d never heard about Japanese letting kids fight until quite recently, when I had two separate Japanese-American families talking about it. M., born in Japan but in the U.S. since high school, was shocked when she took her toddler to a Japanese play group. “They didn’t stop the children from hitting each other!” she said. K., an American who had her first child in Japan confirmed. “The schools are so strict – they just wait for the kids to start school and let them discipline them,” she said, adding that her child had a hard time attending both Japanese and American preschools, one where fighting wasn’t allowed and one where it was. But Hopgood, talking with educational experts, gives a different reason for allowing conflict: children need to learn that their behavior can upset people, and they’ll learn about real reactions best if they get to experience the real reaction. I don’t think I’d be rushing to send my child off to Japanese preschool myself with that philosophy, but at least it makes a little more sense.

The whole book is driven by curiosity and the message that there are millions of good ways to parent rather than judgment or a sense of parenting failure. I found it fascinating reading that’s light enough to be compelling and backed up with enough research (sources given!) to be legitimate.
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My good friend Dr. M. is on a Quest to get this book better known, specifically to get enough grassroots support behind it that the program it describes can be expanded to the Ann Arbor area.

Roots of EmpathyRoots of Empathy by Mary Gordon. The book describes the long-running school program of the same name (, which Mary Gordon started in Toronto in the mid-nineties, after over a decade of inner city teaching. It is her solution to the problem of how to help those children that come to school clearly never having been taught how to have a real, healthy relationship, and are thus handicapped for learning for the rest of their school career. In the program, trained parent/baby dyads (ok, the parent is the trained one) visit a school program about once a month over the course of a year. A trained instructor comes along, too, and talks to the kids beforehand about baby development and safety. The babies are carefully screened by age – starting at 4 to 6 months old - so that the children will see the great leaps of development that take place during the first year. Because schools must meet standards, there’s also curriculum around it, supporting math and reading standards at several different grade levels. But the amazing thing is how well the program works at creating empathy, and how helpful that skill is in the classroom. Bullying in Roots of Empathy classes decreases to zero or close to it. There’s measurable increase in prosocial/helping behavior, active stopping of bullying in other classes. The kids are able to suggest lots of reasons why a baby might be upset and how to help it. Watching how hard the baby works to meet its milestones makes them more patient and persistent with their own goals, while learning about temperament regarding the baby also gives them understanding about themselves and their classmates. While my account here is filled with dry facts, the book itself is filled with lots of anecdotes of babies gravitating towards the toughest kid in the class and melting the hard outer shell, of foster kids holding the baby and asking if kids who had never been loved could be good parents. There’s also the sad cautionary tales of teen parents who think, for example, that babies are wimps if they cry for their mothers. As Dr. M said, we can train our own children not to be bullies and to stand up for others, but what about the rest of the people they will run into? And as Gordon says, empathy is not taught but caught. Three phrases: enlightening, heartwarming, change the world.
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The Whole-Brain ChildThe Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Paine Bryson

This current book showcases the most recent research into how brains work and how to harness that knowledge in raising healthy, well-balanced kids. Just what everyone wants, right? And because Siegel and Bryson know that we are all busy parents, they reassure us that their helpful techniques are perfect for using in the stressful, hectic times of life, not just in those imaginary peaceful conversations rocking on the porch swing. They also include frequent cartoons, some for parents, similar to those in “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen…” and some for kids to help them understand how the brain works. There are also summary pages by age at the back which they encourage photocopying. Many of their techniques are about integrating the various functions of the brain, and they have advice for parents with their own feelings as well as for helping kids with theirs.

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Overall, this is a solid book. It’s not one that I’d see being the only parenting book, and while the approach is different, the actual techniques are similar to those covered in older books such as the aforementioned How to Talk So Kids Will Listen… or Becoming the Parent You Want to Be. I have had mixed success with the techniques I’ve tried so far. When the 2.5-year old starts crying because she realizes that she almost got hurt, talking through the event has helped her calm down much more quickly. But trying to explain the wheel to the 7-year-old when he’s already upset, or anything obvious like trying to make him move, has gone over like a lead balloon. He’s upset for a good reason, and he doesn’t want anybody trying to change those feelings. (Distraction, which they do mention, seems to work better.) I never did quite get around to reading the cartoons to him at a calm moment before I had to return the book. Still, some very good thoughts and an easily-absorbed layout make this a fine choice for helping to balance your parenting techniques if you’re feeling stuck or just interested in the latest research. It seems to be getting quite a bit of good press, too, judging by the number of people waiting for it at my library.

Cross-posted to and .
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book coverEarly-Start Potty Training by Linda Sonna. This is one of the two most readily available books on earlier toilet learning. I’d initially selected Jill Lekovic’s Diaper Free Before Three when I decided it was time to read a real book on the subject. After all, now that she’s two, my daughter no longer qualifies as an early potty trainer. And, looking at the chapter headings in my library catalog, I thought that the author was taking an overly cutesy tone that I would find annoying. But my good friend Dr. M. loaned me her copy of this for additional information, so I forged ahead. Read more... )

This method is much friendlier to cloth diapering and general crunchy parenting than Diaper-Free Before Three. It’s also much wordier and harder to skim. But, it does allow for more variations in the age of onset of learning. While I’d give the more succinct Diaper-Free Before Three to parents first interested in exploring the now-strange idea of early toilet learning, Early-Start Potty Training has more information on the actual training and a more realistic view of working with babies and toddlers.
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I am coming to think, second time around, that starting earlier with potty training might be better. This is based entirely on personal and circumstantial evidence – friends who started their kids young telling their stories with smiles versus friends (and myself) starting at the currently recommended age and having horror stories. Now that my daughter has been using her potty a couple times a day for nine months or so, I thought it might be time to do some actual reading on the subject. She’s almost two, so this isn’t really early start anymore. Still, we started as early as we could, given her personal circumstances. Time will tell, and of course the sample is small to tell the difference between method and personality. So far, though, I’m going to say that early start does seem to lead to more fun with the process. I picked this book to read scientifically because the title called out to me from the library. The only other potty training book I have read is The No-Cry Potty Training Solution, which is decidedly the modern late-start approach. If you have other favorites, please do let me know.

book coverDiaper-Free before Three by Jill Lekovic This book was for me a strange mixture of my favorite and least favorite styles of parenting books. It started off with a history of toilet training over time. She looks at literature describing when children used to be trained, advice for mothers from the Victorian era on, and studies of toilet training practices and the ages of beginning and completion from the past century. Read more... )

This is a concisely written book meant for parents in a hurry. I really loved the history of toilet training, but those less interested in the history could skip that and go straight for the methods, which are even briefer. Ignore the bits where she is very dismissive of other methods. You might want a more comprehensive book if you run into problems or want to start potty learning at a different age than she recommends, but overall, this is a book that makes a convincing argument for earlier toilet learning and provides a simple, manageable method for doing so.

Originally posted at .
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I am discovering through my work duties that the nonfiction works of popular fiction authors often languish. This one looked too interesting to pass when it came up on my list of long unread books.

book coverThe Blue Jay’s Dance by Louise Erdrich In this book, Erdrich, author of several authors focusing on Native Americans and prairie life, writes about the first year of her daughter’s life. Although she says the baby in the book is a composite of all three of her daughters, in the book it sounds like she is writing about the youngest of her three daughters. It’s poetic and reflective, honest about the difficulty of parenting a baby while at the same time stunningly beautiful. It doesn’t hurt that Erdrich lives in a cabin in the woods, and the baby’s stages are mixed in with large doses of the natural life outside their window and the woods through which they walk. She writes, as an example of the tough times, of how hard it is to keep a sense of self apart from the baby, how easy suicide seems after weeks of sleepless nights – only her self is so absorbed in the baby that she feels that she has no self of her own left to kill. On the plus side, she writes about breastfeeding, how many great romantic writers’ deep inarticulate longings were really for that feeling of unity and transcendence that breastfeeding brings. Despite the poetry and deep thoughts, the book is slim enough to get through easily, an important consideration for sleep-deprived new parents. The saddest part for me was knowing that the happy blended family described in this book fell apart just a few years later, giving the already fleeting pleasures of a baby and the changing of the seasons an even more ephemeral feeling.

Crossposted to and .
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Amused to be covering this book at the same time as my friends over at Name That Mama.

book coverCinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein Why are girls only allowed to wear or use pink anymore? And why are girls of preschool age suddenly obsessed with Disney Princesses, in all their sparkly but bland glory? Journalist Orenstein sets out to investigate these questions in this fast-reading book which nevertheless has some good scholarly underpinnings. Many of the ideas are not new – the fine line, for example, between telling girls that they are pretty and that they need to be pretty. But Orenstein’s exploration gets everything nicely together in one place, and her personal explorations are entertaining. She talks to Disney executives and visits the American Girl store in Manhattan, noting the dichotomy between the affordable glitz of the Disney and the hugely expensive old-fashioned simplicity of American Girls. She visits the Toy Fair and talks with toy marketers who make everything in pink, and say they are just “honoring play patterns”. She visits child beauty pageants and talks to parents there. She reads unsanitized fairy tales to her daughter and watches for nightmares. The chapter “From Wholesome to Whoresome” examines the sad fate of former tween stars, following which she looks at the on-line culture and teens’ place in it. Parents of girls of all ages will pay almost anything for the illusions of innocence and protection that are marketed in varying aspects to girls of all ages. Although many of the major arguments were familiar, I did learn some new and interesting if troubling facts: Kindergarten girls when asked to write a sentence in which they pretend to be something limit themselves to one of four choice: princess, fairy, ballerina or butterfly, where boys’ choices are much more varied. Toy choices, we know, seem quite hard-wired to gender, even across species, but there is nothing else but mate selection that is as tied to gender. I was really disturbed to read that recent studies asking teens and college girls about their own sexual feelings have gotten answered with how the girls think they look, with no consciousness of their own possibility for arousal. And while I knew that “tweens” as an age group was a recent invention of marketers to create a new market, I hadn’t realized that toddlerhood started the same way a century ago. There are more problems and pitfalls pointed out here than hard-and-fast solutions. I still hope for balance for my daughter and for other girls, for the confidence to be themselves, embracing aspects both traditionally feminine and masculine, and yet still to fit in well enough not be as isolated as I felt especially during my teen years. This is well worth reading for parents and anyone else interested in modern girls.

Crossposted to and .
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book coverSneaky Fitness by Missy Chase Lapine and Laryssa Didio Everyone knows that kids need exercise, and that the only thing more certain to make a wiggle-worm hold still is to tell him or her that they need to get some exercise to be healthy. Lapine of Sneaky Chef fame joins with exercise therapist Didio to create this book of fun ways to make fitness a bigger part of your kids’ lives. The first part is an introduction on why kids need fitness and why it should be fun. For me, the best part of this was a list of equipment for active play that every kid should have, including some items that I need to look up as I’ve never heard of them. Then, the rest of the first half of the book is games for fitness. They are roughly organized by the age group they’re designed for (preschoolers, early grade-schoolers, tween and teen), and include when and where they should be played, equipment needed, time frame, and (rather unnecessarily in my view) the calories burned. In my opinion, the game ideas were not really earth-shattering – things like taking a parade through the house or jumping during tv commercial breaks. The book suggests a lot of activities for commercial breaks, which I notice particularly as we watch only dvds. I really feel that it’s better to cut down on overall tv time than to rely on commercial breaks. Still, the ideas sound like fun, and it’s often helpful to have a list of ideas to turn to when your brain inevitably freezes under pressure. The index lists the games organized by type – rainy day, beach, snow, inside, etc. The second half of the book contains new Sneaky Chef recipes. These seemed to focus on snacks and treats, with fewer regular meals. I would be especially interested in trying out the strawberry cupcakes, even if cupcakes are supposedly no longer the thing. I don’t think too many people need convincing that fitness is important for kids, and this is a good source for simple ways to keep kids active.

Crossposted to and .
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I saw this book sitting on the picnic table at a birthday party this summer, and straightaway put my name on the wait list at work. I'm so glad I did.

book coverRaising Happiness by Christine Carter Carter makes a convincing argument that raising our kids to be happy is worthwhile. Not trying to make them happy, but teaching them how to find happiness in what life deals. And it turns out that making things happier for the parents can make things happier for the kids as well. This book has ten concise chapters, each with a specific focus, like fostering generosity or gratitude, or how to get over periods of the day that consistently lead to unhappiness, such as the morning or evening rush. She’s summarizing a lot of solid research here. You could read it somewhere else, but her approach has two advantages: it’s all neatly in one place, and each chapter has concrete and doable action steps for busy parents to bring about the goal. Try them all or just one – you and your children will end up better for it.

Cross-posted to and
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book coverGood Night, Sleep Tight by Kim West What to do with a baby who just will not respond to Elizabeth Pantley’s gentle methods, whose sleeping patterns are resulting in significant sleep loss for both the baby and the caretaker? These were the questions that led me to look for an approach somewhere in between Ferber and other cry-it-out methods, which are very hard on both parents and children, and Pantley’s very gentle suggestions. This was the book that I came up with. I was expecting to have some problems with her approach, and boy, did I. But overall, if one ignores especially her breastfeeding advice except as it bears directly on sleep, the kernel of her method for teaching babies to fall asleep on their own seems straightforward and less traumatic than other popular methods.

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book coverA Place to Play by Elizabeth Goodenough This is a collection of ssays and photographs to go with the Michigan Television documentary “Where Do the Children Play?” (which I have not seen.) I found it interesting and somewhat depressing, as it turns out that experts are figuring out what kids need for healthy play, and city planners and parents are giving them exactly the opposite. Kids need to be outside, unsupervised. They need to be able to meet other children without having to be driven to them. They need sticks, rocks and water and to be allowed to get dirty and watch things grow. They need green hidey-holes where they can see and not be seen. This is told in essays by experts from around the world, people who’ve studied play in the past and present, in inner cities and other countries. Perhaps someday we, like Europeans, will have Adventure Playgrounds that more closely match what children need than our climbing structures, and licensed play workers who are trained to facilitate healthy play without controlling it. Perhaps someday we’ll learn to value the creativity that comes with dirt over the neat, ordered play of structured playgrounds and video games. Someday.

The most recent issue of “Brain, Child” had an article critiquing Last Child in the Woods and the idea of nature deficit disorder that Louv puts forth there; he’s also got an essay in this book. I agree with the article that it’s more important to spend time as a family than just to be outside, but I also think that A Place to Play answers some of her critiques of Last Child in the Woods, namely that what he’s calling for can only be accomplished by middle and upper class families with a stay-at-home mother and safe access to nature. In A Place to Play, they specifically talk about city housing designed to be both affordable for working-class people and to give children room to play together, as well as landscaping daycares and school yards to allow for more real contact with nature. These methods may not be currently popular, but they are possible and have been done before.
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book coverNurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman Our “common sense” about children reflects a lot of thinking that hasn’t held up to testing, usually along the lines that children react like adults. This book by award-wining science journalists tells what newer research shows about various aspects of child development. A few areas were already familiar to me, but most of them were new. They are all discrete and entertaining articles, to make for good dipping into. Topics include the negative effects of praise (by now familiar to me), the importance of sleep, the impossibility of kindergarten iq testing, teaching self-control, why children lie and what it means, infant speech development and why educational videos don’t work, why watching typical preschool tv shows makes kids more aggressive, how to keep siblings from fighting, and why teens feel that arguing is showing respect. Many of the articles would seem to require systemic change to actually implement – things like starting high school an hour later or delaying gifted program testing until third grade. Some are hopefully possible, like being conscious of your own lying behaviors in front of your children or being more conscientious about putting them to bed early. But mostly, this is just a fascinating look into the way children and teens work. Someone else please read it so I can talk about it with you!
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book coverThe No-Cry Nap Solution by Elizabeth PantleyThis is one that I wish had been out when LB was small. Pantley does her usual thorough job, outlining how much sleep infants and young children need and when they need it. As in, both how much sleep they need total and how long they can stay awake, at different ages, before they need to sleep again. She talks about why nap problems can be more challenging than night-time sleep problems to solve. Pantley tells you first only to try to fix something if it’s a problem for you; if nursing your child to sleep in bed is working for you and getting your child enough sleep, there’s no need to change anything. Where there are problems, she says right up front that this isn’t going to be a quick fix. She then goes into individual problems to help parents put together a solution to work with their child in their family. Problems covered include things like “will only sleep in the car”, “naps are not long enough”, “child is resisting naps”. After reading through all the ideas, you can put together your own nap plan. The upside of having all the ideas that worked for her numerous test families listed can of course also be a downside: you have to read through all the ideas to pick out the ones that sound most like they would work for your child and in your family. A friend recommended Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s Sleepless in America for a personality-based approach to solving sleep problems; I haven’t read that, although I really enjoyed her Kids, Parents and Power Struggles. We’ve been working with Baby Godzilla using the Pantley methods for a couple of weeks now. We haven’t yet reached the gold standard of her being able to be set down in her crib drowsy but awake by anyone and sleeping for an hour and a half to two hours. But she is going down into the crib much more easily for me and sometimes allowing Daddy to put her down – which is enormous progress.
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This book was a thoughtful and very timely gift.

book coverGuide to Pirate Parenting by Tim Bete Are your relatives telling you that you are too soft on your kids? Do you want your children to be bringing in income to help support the family? This book could be for you! Learn how long to maroon disobedient children (one month per age), how to train them in pirate skills and manners, and how to convert your minivan into a pirate ship. If you’re tired of serious parenting books or just need some more piracy in your life, try this book.
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book coverThe Busy Family’s Guide to Estate Planning by Attorney Liza Weiman Hanks Usually I read for entertainment, but sometimes there is a need for straight-up information, in which case, clear and concise are the watchwords. I read often about how few people actually have wills, and the topic is mentioned often among friends as something that they mean to get around to soon, but it just seems overwhelming. This book from the popular legal publishing house Nolo is just the ticket. It helpfully goes over the issues that you should consider when doing your estate planning. It’s a ten-chapter book, each chapter on a specific topic meant to be completed in a month – no assumptions that busy parents will be able to get everything together in a week. By the end of ten months, then, you should have a complete estate plan. It starts with choosing guardians, and the actual will is completed by chapter 4. Subsequent chapters deal with living trust considerations, life insurance, bank accounts, whether or not you need a living trust and keeping things up to date. All of this is meant to make sure your kids are taken care of and your friends and relatives don’t have to stress to get things done or figure out what you wanted. It includes a CD-ROM which will generate the legal documents outlined, so you can either draw them up yourself or be prepared when you go to talk with an attorney.
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I am back, with a large a healthy Baby Godzilla to show for my time away. Now trying to review a book that I read all the way back in September… but here goes.

book coverSecrets of Feeding a Healthy Family by Ellyn Satter This is a companion book to Child of Mine, reviewed earlier. This time, though, the focus is on the whole family, starting with adults. Satter defines a family as anyone old enough to be feeding themselves, and begins with what she considers healthy eating habits for adults. She’s starting from the assumption that many adults don’t take time to feed themselves properly and includes a progression towards a positive relationship with food. Current society has a food culture often focused on the negative, and Satter believes that eating should be one of life’s greatest joys. So, start with set mealtimes and concentrating on enjoying your food – no eating while driving or watching TV or even (gulp!) reading. If you’re living with a family, make sure you’re eating together, even if it’s microwave dinners or chips and soda. Once you’re really noticing your food, you might get bored with junk food, so she includes a large recipe section including three-week menu plans. The recipes start with tuna noodle casserole mostly out of cans and progress towards beef stew – nothing really time-consuming to cook, but designed to ease people into cooking. Every week’s menu includes both two-night dishes that use differently food made earlier in the week as well as some vegetarian meals and a variety of meats. For everyone, kids and adults, put out good food and eat until you’re done, whether that’s more or less than you think you “should” be eating. She wants you to focus on your enjoyment and what your body tells you it needs, even if you then end up with a figure slightly larger than the current highly restrictive guidelines suggest.

Detailed appendices go over the research supporting her conclusions, once again highlighting the very tenuous studies upon which the most highly publicized nutritional advice is based – there is very little evidence to support low-fat diets, or to link cholesterol consumption conclusively heart disease. She’s a moderate, she says and the country has been taken over by radicals. She is certainly much more moderate than Sally Fallon of Nourishing Traditions. Where Fallon wants every family to have a stay-at-home parent spending hours in the kitchen cooking only fresh organic food in slow, traditional ways, Satter says that if canned vegetables are all you can afford or have time for, they’re much better than none and you should eat them without guilt. Similarly, both Fallon and Satter point out the dangers of phytates (a form of fiber), which interferes with mineral absorption. Fallon believes that we should all be making our own long-soaked sourdough starter wholegrain bread to deal with this. Satter suggests eating about half whole grain and half white, to provide a balance of fiber and easy nutrient digestion. This is practical and approachable advice, good for anyone who wants a positive relationship with food for themselves or their children.
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Another excellent recommendation from my friend Dr. M. I think the next book by Satter, Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family, aimed at school aged kids through adults, is probably better for us now. But, this is one is still very good. For those book-averse among you (though I'm not sure why you'd be reading this in the first place), she's got a lot of useful information on her website:

book coverChild of Mine by Ellyn Satter This fabulous book covers feeding children from infancy through preschool. Satter has been counseling families with food issues for nearly 30 years now, and the book is full of references to other studies, so this is an authoritative book. If you’ve found yourself engaging in any of the following behaviors with your child, then this book or its sequel, Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family, would be excellent choices: Making separate meals for your child; bribing your child to eat; avoiding eating out of the house; battling with your child to finish rejected food or to eat less. She sets goals for preschoolers such as being able to try new foods, rejecting foods politely, stopping when they are full, and being able to eat out of the house. Feeding and mealtimes should focus on enjoyment for parents and children and on children learning to eat the food of their family and culture.

Read more... )
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book coverThe Passion of the Hausfrau by Nicole Chaison Chaison’s memoir of motherhood hits both the humor and the hurt of motherhood, told in text with comic-style illustrations in the margins. She talks about giving birth – once in a hospital utility closet and once in a feeding trough; about grocery shopping and Halloween costumes with children; about trying to maintain her relationship with her husband. But she also traces her journey to self-actualization, aligning her journey with those of the male and presumably childless heroes in the classics that fill her bookshelves. It’s this angle, I think, that got her a cover blurb from Alison Bechdel, whose Fun Home, while less funny, also journeyed through the classics. Chaison’s version of motherhood requires large amounts of humor seasoned with profanity; for those of similar bent, this is well worth reading.
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book coverThe Vaccine Book by Dr. Robert Sears Many parents I know are concerned about vaccines. For the most part, unbiased information about them is really tough to find. On the one side, people who claim that vaccines cause autism and reduce the ability of the immune system to deal with disease. On the other hand, mainstream doctors who say that this is pure hogwash and vaccines are absolutely safe, effective and necessary. This book, while not entirely neutral (Sears believes at least in the theoretical value of vaccination) does the best job I’ve seen of discussing the proven benefits and risks of vaccines. For each disease we vaccinate for, the book lists what the disease does, how common (in the US and abroad) serious and treatable it is, the ingredients and side effects of the vaccines, and where it falls in the recommended schedule. He discusses for each how important the vaccine is from an individual and a community standpoint. Do vaccines help prevent diseases? Yes. Can they have serious side effects? Indeed they can, and Sears includes discussion of and reference to studies published in mainstream medical journals, including any industry ties the authors had. The one vaccine I was surprised by his reaction to was the new HPV vaccine. That’s one that seems to me very little testing and a whole lot of money to provide a very limited amount of protection from an easily detectable and treatable disease - but he’s wholeheartedly in favor of it.

In later chapters, Sears discusses controversial ingredients and alternative vaccine schedules. He’s especially concerned about aluminum, which is known to be dangerous given intravenously and is regulated in IVs but not vaccines, where it is often present in much higher doses than allowed in IVs. Studies of aluminum in vaccines have looked only at short term, visible effects, when it’s known that the dangers need to be tested for and often effects show up later. This is even more concerning when multiple aluminum-containing vaccines are given at the same visit, and when newer combo vaccines include many times more aluminum than the sum of the old separate vaccines.

Sears avoids giving straight-out recommendations for the most part. He divides parents into three main groups (ignoring those unwilling to do any vaccinations): those who have no problems with the standard vaccine schedule, those uncomfortable with vaccines who are only willing to vaccinate for serious diseases that their child might get, and those who want to vaccinate on a schedule that spreads out the number and vaccines per visit as well as limiting the total amount of aluminum per visit. For the latter two groups he includes alternative vaccine schedules, putting vaccines so that they will protect from diseases as needed. For example, the minimal vaccine schedule skips the controversial MMR vaccine as well as chicken pox, since most parents in that group would prefer for their children just to have chicken pox. He recommends getting the pertussis and rotavirus during infancy, when they can be deadly, and postpones the sexually transmitted Hep B from birth until age 12. Similar changes are made in the “get them all, but spread them out” schedule, which does no more than two shots per visit and keeps close tabs on the total amount of aluminum per visit, including listing which brands contain less when relevant.

Given the limitations of research - looking only at mainstream studies and written by a busy practicing doctor - this book seems as good as one might hope. Sears is open about the fact that he went into vaccine education believing that fears about vaccines are overblown. He’s still in favor of the idea of vaccines, but has found things to be genuinely concerned about, such as the aluminum issue, that are not discussed in the many places that discuss vaccines from an either entirely pro or con standpoint. I looked for information and especially alternative schedules like this when LB was wee, and plan to make good use of it with New Baby.


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