I love to read and each summer am tempted by the magazines and newspapers that are full of their top picks of newly released books that will help you pass your time while sitting at the beach or lounging by the pool. The challenge for parents of young children is that sitting by the beach or lounging by the pool, while you relax with a book, is not going to be happening. The reality is that you will be doubling as a lifeguard, wondering why you never thought of having a whistle that you could blow for a 10 minute break on the hour, every hour. These days my reading is mainly done before bed or while sitting at a playground, well away from any water danger, stealing a few minutes to get through a chapter while everyone plays peacefully.
As I perused the most recent summer reading lists I thought about the books that have accompanied me through the summers recently. I realized that they have been a selection of books about family life or parenting. Books that I sought out with the intention of adding to my parenting knowledge so that I would be more prepared and we would have a more enjoyable summer. As someone who became a fuller-time Mom four years ago, after eight years of working full-time, I have no problem admitting that I knew I could use all the help I could get when it came to planning an entire summer with me at the helm. The books below have really made a positive difference for our family well beyond the summer season. I am only including the books that I have found myself recommending time and time again. I have listed them in the order that I read them in the hope that there are some undiscovered gems out there for you to find this summer and beyond.
I started this summer with a trip to the library with my soon-to-be five year old, Donovan. I had to laugh when I realized that I didn't just have to leave the library with a stack of books for him but that I could actually check out a book or two for me as well. This realization happened on the same day that I made a picnic lunch for both of us and found myself cutting the crusts off of my sandwich when I actually like the crusts! That day at the library I had the good fortune of being drawn toDinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach (http://www.dinneralovestory.com/). This is a combination cookbook and memoir about her family's dedication to having dinner together through each stage of their married life both before and after children. I could not put this book down! Not only did I find fabulous new recipes but I also found myself appreciating the everyday moments a lot more. Realizing that the family dinners that are currently characterized by a quick search of the neighborhood for Cole (9) before we can all sit down together, visions of Donovan raising his hand so that he can join the conversation, and Madison (12) starting a story numerous times due to various interruptions from her younger brothers, will eventually become the family memories we will look back on and cherish.
Last summer we moved from Beijing to North Carolina, our second international move in two years. Before the move I made sure to find our well used copy of Slurping Soup and Other Confusions: true stories and activities to help third culture kids during transition (Ahmed, Emigh, Gemmer, Menezes, Tonges, Willshire, 2011) (http://www.slurpingsoup.com/). Although written with international moves in mind I feel that this book can really help any family with the moving process. Whether you are moving city, state, or country, day-to-day life can be vastly different. Regardless of your age creating a new social circle and leaving your old one behind brings up all kinds of emotions for everyone. I found that when a whole family is managing both the logistics and emotions that come with a move anything that makes it a bit easier is very welcome.
The summer of 2011 we spent the entire summer in Napa, California with my family. In hindsight this was the step that helped us to make the decision to relocate to the US, at the time it was a way for us to avoid the pollution that gets worse in Beijing during the summer months. I will be forever grateful that two weeks before that trip I found the book Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children, by Dr. Thomas Gordon (http://www.gordontraining.com/parent-programs/parent-effectiveness-training-p-e-t/). Full disclosure, after reading the book, taking the course on our return, and becoming a certified instructor of the material, to say this book had an impact on my life would be an understatement. That summer marked a turning point in our relationship with our son Cole. Prior to this the books that we had read had us vacillating between various punishment and reward regimes that simply were not working. I will never forget an interaction with Cole when I acknowledged that we all need some time on our own to play without the interruptions of someone (in this case a younger brother) and set him up with his own special play place in the backyard. For once I listened, really listened to what he was saying and understood what he needed. We had a great summer, definitely enhanced by my stronger understanding of relationship dynamics and we have never looked back.
Two books by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish were especially helpful my first summer as a fuller-time Mom, How to Talk so Your Kids Will Listen and Listen So Your Kids Will Talk and Siblings Without Rivalry: How to help your children live together so you can live too (http://www.fabermazlish.com/). To be honest the titles say it all. I found the illustrations in both really helpful and made certain skills really easy to recall. I have just found myself picking up Siblings Without Rivalry again since the kids are older now and the situations I am facing with them are different.
Last but not least, I will forever be in awe of Stephen Covey and the fact that he managed to find time for monthly one-on-one time with each of his nine children when they were growing up. I read his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families when I only had one child and the stories remain vivid with me today 10 years after first reading it. Last summer I bought his son Sean Covey's book and workbook The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens for my pre-teen daughter, nieces, nephew and god-daughter as birthday presents. Madison and I enjoyed working through the goal setting together and she was fantastic at setting out a daily routine for her first year of middle school thanks to the workbook activities.
Not only have my summers been enriched by each of the books above but each one also helped me to enjoy my role as a parent even more. Now off to the pool to play lifeguard.