I lost my temper yesterday, and I had extreme mom guilt last night. To be honest, I'm a pretty patient person, and I don't lose my cool very often. Almost never, actually. Being an older mom helps with patience, I think. I know I'm generally a more patient person at 43 than I was a 23. I also wanted to be a mother for such a long time, I think I developed a serenity reserve where, most of the time, I just don't sweat the small stuff. But, Elie's been out of town all week on business and neither Theo nor I sleep well when he's gone. Theo is missing Elie, and maybe he has a little extra dose of spunk since starting school. Anyway, tired mama plus tired toddler, and I lost my temper because Theo was ignoring me when he was standing too close to the edge of the embankment leading down to the bay. And then he bit me for the first time--probably in response to me snapping at him. It might also have been a playful bite, because it's very unlike him. It was surprising. And I got mad.
And then I felt terrible.
We recovered quickly. I know it's not that big of a deal. We ended up having a nice evening, singing silly songs during dinner, 'fishing' in the bath and then reading more books than we should before bed. Saying prayers, singing more songs and cuddling, encouraging independent sleep. It all ended well. But I still wish I could take back my anger and have a redo.
This parenting job is harder than I could have ever imagined. And I so desperately want to do it right. Not to mess it up. Not to say or do something that makes him think less of himself or limits his faith in his own innate goodness and possibility.
And so, I have read many, many books on parenting philosophies and discipline, starting before he was born. I'm sharing the ones that sit on my nightstand, literally. Some I have read cover to cover. Some I have skimmed through and found useful wisdom to apply to life right now. A few nights a week, I will pick one up and read a few pages or a chapter, especially if I've faced some parenting challenge that day and I'm not sure I handled it quite right.
I know there are other books out there. I've read many other ones that are popular. But these are the ones that resonate most with Elie and me and our parenting style. To sum up our philosophy, we treat Theo like he is a human being, albeit a small one who doesn't quite have full reasoning abilities yet. But we treat him with respect and we expect him to treat us with respect. Manners and politeness are important, politeness to him, to us, and to family, friends and strangers. We believe kindness begins at home, and part of kindness is having a sense of civility, and above all, empathy. Elie and I try model kindness and empathy for Theo, because he learns what we do.
Here are the books on my nightstand.
If I only read one parenting book, this would be it. Janet Lansbury's approach to parenting is centered on creating a relationship with your child based on mutual respect, beginning with infancy. Her book contains clear, actionable advice on handling different situations or problems that you might experience during the toddler years. She also has a website with additional resources, and a short podcast, Unruffled, where she answers common reader questions.
I love this book by Daniel J. Siegel less for it's parenting advice and more for explaining how a toddler's mind works. He describes how a toddler thinks and reasons (or not) and how brain development changes as we age. It's a must-read if you are interested in brain development. It also really helps you to understand why your child does the things they do, so it helps you to keep your emotions in check and respond appropriately.
Often as a parent, I think, "Well, what do I do now?!" Trying to come up with appropriate consequences or how to handle certain behaviors can be baffling. That is where this book comes in. Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright have developed a model of response to toddler or child behaviors -- attune, limit set, problem solve -- for respectful, empathic parenting. In their book, they outline common scenarios and give you the actual words to say in the moment.
By the same authors as Now Say This, The Happy Sleeper has been our go-to resource for infant and toddler sleep. We first used their book when we transitioned Theo from our room to his crib, and we have continued to refer to it over the years as his sleep has developed and changed. We even did two phone consults to ask specific questions related to our situation and Theo's sleep personality. This is the book we recommend to all new parents, and it's the one book I wish I had read before Theo was born.
You may have already listened to the podcast of Dr. Shefali Tsabary's conversation with Oprah about conscious parenting. If that piqued your interest, then dive into the book. This one is less a how-to guide and more of a philosophical approach to parenting. What kind of parent do you want to be and what kind of relationship do you want with your child? How can you put your own ego aside and have a relationship of mutual respect.
Not everyone will relate to this book, but I sure do. I'm not positive, but I suspect that Theo is a highly-sensitive child. He has many of the traits, including being sensitive to the way clothes feel (he dislikes tight or restrictive clothing) and being sensitive to smells, noises and new experiences. It has been really helpful for me to read, to see how his needs might be different from other little ones his same age. The book was also and incredible Ah-ha! for me, because I saw myself! As I was reading, it was like a lightbulb went off. I'm not picky or odd about some things--I'm just highly sensitive. If you suspect your child is highly sensitive, this is a great book for you.
I hope this list is helpful for you. The cliches are all true aren't they? It's the hardest job, and the best job. You never knew you could love anyone so deeply and completely. And you want to do it perfectly, even though perfect doesn't exist.
Not only do I hope these books help give you the tools you need when you don't know what to do, I hope they help you to be kind to yourself. Because really, that's what we need to hear. You're doing great, mama (or daddy). Just love and be kind. And when you're not, say you're sorry and give extra-strong hugs and cuddles and read too many books past bedtime. xo
Photos by Matthew Land Studios