Saturday, May 15, 2010

A New Voice In The Sphere of Child-Rearing Books: Reina Weiner's Book

Going against both sides of the mothering spectrum, Reina Weiner’s new book, Strong from the Start: Raising Confident and Resilient Kids, brings the rediscovered voice of reason and wisdom and a great sense of humor to the topic of raising children. Far from trying to antagonize one tribe (the working mothers) against another (the stay-at-home moms), she considers the child first and foremost, prodding us to “encourage [our] kids to think for themselves from the very beginning” as the under title states.

The book is very refreshing in the way that it stands clear from all the traditional literature on the subject. Away from hovering helicopter parents, which she dismisses with elegance and humor, Reina Weiner becomes the heroic standard-bearer of the silent parents, those who dare not assert that they have an identity other than being just Mom (or Dad), that they have a life other than the one revolving around their children. It takes courage nowadays for a young or even middle-aged parent to confess that they do not attend every single event in which their child participates. Try once and the choir of self-righteous mothers (the dads often seem to be able to preserve their identity more) will mark you with the scarlet letter “A” for Abomination (and not adultery, which would be much more fun since we do not live in the times of Nathaniel Hawthorne anymore). Indeed, Reina Weiner has a point and she tells it loud and clear. Too many parents seem to only be living through their children: living-rooms are so child-proofed that they look like the interior of a spatial shuttle when they are not littered with tacky giant plastic toys; time is spent driving the child from the "Mommy and Me" gym lesson to the Suzuki-method violin or piano lesson, to the Tiny Tots soccer game (and then the travel team which will take every single weekend away for 15 years)…. I could go on and on. Do we really want our children to remember us as their servants more than their parents? Do we really want to cater to their needs to the extent that they will not know how to wash their laundry or serve themselves cereals for breakfast?

I am not sure whether Reina Weiner interviewed stay-at-home or working mothers or a mix thereof. One of the reasons some of the mothers seem to be doing “everything” for their children is the apparent “lack of time” while another one confesses that it will be done by her standards if she does it herself! One wonders whether time is lacking because the child’s schedule is so loaded with activities to go to and travel time to consider, that allowing for him or her to get dressed by themselves, would disrupt the entire day. Or is it rather because nowadays mothers are pressured into perfection by the media, the parenting books, the parenting “empowerment” groups, the other mothers they meet? Judy Warner wrote a book a few years back that sums it all: “Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety” and Reina Weiner’s book adds to the theme. I particularly liked when she quoted Marsha who used to say to her kids “Unless there’s blood, don’t call me.” My own European parents had a similar attitude.

Reina Weiner also touches on the necessity for parents to share the same parenting style. This probably is one of the hardest tasks in a couple: oftentimes one of the parents will be the good cop and the other one the bad cop. I know I am the bad cop but I have to be since my husband is not so much the laid back dude (he is not!) as he is the “I did not see/hear it, so it did not happen” kind of guy. Saying yes when the other parent has said no, or even worse, saying yes when both parents originally agreed to say no is warranting mixed messages and hence limit testing sessions on a grand scale by a confused child or teenager.

Reina Weiner shares her “simple strategies” from experience and the reader can only be thankful for her down-to-earth approach to child-rearing, from letting them choose their own clothes, prepare their own breakfast, be responsible for their school bus, participate in family life (wood cutting). The reader also feels empowered by all the positive and humorous reinforcement one receives, especially in the chapter “You’re Still “Numero Uno”, which has become my new title until both my children leave the nest. Reina Weiner’s children, Laura and Daniel, seem to have swum through middle and high schools with just the occasional disappointments, such as Laura being disappointed for not having been invited to a birthday party, or Daniel not making it to a band performance for which he had worked. They handled these learning moments without any “fixing” from their parents, which is a rare occasion nowadays, as most parents tend to come to the rescue even when not asked to.

Of course, not all children grow at the same pace, and some of us face the daily challenge of a child with special needs for whom even Reina Weiner’s mom-tested strategies in trust-building may not work smoothly or right away. With a son who has Asperger Syndrome, I know for a fact that he will not leave the nest yet, and that he may need me for a much longer time than my daughter will. But that does not mean that he cannot learn, with positive reinforcement, trust and LOVE, some simple survival skills, even if it takes him longer.

I am not sure whether Reina Weiner interviewed any parents of pre-teens or teens for her book (as much as it obvious that she talked to mothers of younger children and to mothers of children who had left the nest). She does acknowledge that her own children, Laura and Daniel, grew up in the era before GPS and cell phones, although already with video games. This may be the only weakness in an otherwise extremely positive, trust-building (not only learning how to trust one’s kids but how to trust oneself raising them up) and optimistic book. In this 21th century, children can fall prey to the Internet, and I do not mean sexual predators or other horror stories. Children can fall prey to their peers through cyber bullying, “sexting”, the misuse of social networks, and a few other new things: from anonymous insulting phone calls to a photo being “photoshopped” and uploaded on the Internet , from graphic nude pictures being taken at age 12 and sent to friends “for fun”, from a mother creating a fake Face Book account to the suicide of the girl she “friended” and “de-friended” to the more recent suicide of a Middle School student in Connecticut due to intense cyber bullying, the book is missing one final chapter, on how to keep faith in and trust your kids in the face of greater and more powerful technological adversaries…

Mission Impossible? Not if we accept it and apply Reina Weiner’s mom-tested strategies from the start and relearn that common sense endures while best-selling child-rearing theories are just a fad…

©Sarah Diligenti, The Quill and The Brush, May 2010.