There was something fitting about picking up this book over Father’s Day weekend. I first fell in love with it when it appeared on a syllabus for one of my classes in Early Education at UCLA, and, in fact it is, along with its “cousin,” Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too, my go-to book for family dynamic issues. It’s been years now since I’ve read it, and I had forgotten just how much of my teaching philosophy stems from this book, but after spending the evening babysitting my neighbor’s children, I decided a refresher course was in order. (That came out wrong. The boys are delightful and I adore them, but right around the time I was commando-crawling out of their room hoping they wouldn’t wake up as I slid over the creaky floorboards, it occurred to me that it never hurts to take a second look at a great resource.)
Both Siblings and How to Talk are quick reads – perfect for the hectic parental lifestyle – and they include hilariously old-school cartoons, stories from parents, and Quick Reminder pages to distill information for the most harried readers. My copy is also filled with highlighted paragraphs and scribbled notes in the margin; the fact that I never mark up my books leads me to believe that upon first reading, I was absolutely terrified this information wouldn’t sink in.
My teaching career at that point was mainly hinging on a naturally empathetic nature and a high threshold for stickiness and screaming. I didn’t have many tools at my disposal, and I was panicked that I had already been hired by a lovely school desperately in need of teacher’s aides. Even though I wouldn’t be taking point in the classroom my first year, I still felt wildly unprepared (a feeling I suspect many parents share). As an educator and a student, however, I was fortunate enough to have more than my fair share of amazing professors who recommended resources like this one and were paid to spend time discussing the finer details. I learned so much from them, and as I took this information in, I was able to turn my time in the classroom into a wonderful experience.
Not everyone has that opportunity, of course. Even though this book was written in 1980, I’ve met very few parents who have read it, although I know plenty who are bombarded by complete crap on the internet on an hourly basis. I’ve spent a lot of time in the parenting sections of bookstores and websites reading about claims to fix everything from colic to biting to tardiness, and it seems to me that most of the material is designed to make parents less secure (and therefore more likely to buy buy buy a solution).
Faber and Mazlish have a more holistic approach. Everything they discuss comes from a combination of personal experience and study with the esteemed child psychologist Dr. Haim Ginott . Not only have they used these methods with their own children, but they’ve also led workshops on this subject all over the country for many years. They’ve tested what they teach, and they have encouraged their audience to experiment, question, and explore these resources with a critical eye. Through all of this, they are optimistic about the possibility of building healthy, respectful relationships within the family and classroom, and the techniques they present are simple and straightforward.
As I was pouring over the material on Sunday, I couldn’t help but compare these ideas with my own upbringing. At first, I found myself being extremely critical – I could only see the things I would have done differently. After more consideration though, I realized that my parents had used quite a few of these suggestions when raising us. I don’t know if they were motivated by something they read or if it simply came from a natural instinct to be trusting and compassionate, but the foundation was definitely there. I realized that between them and the parents of my closest friends, the combined parenting styles stretched over just about all of the material covered in the book.
Wouldn’t it be great it have all that patience and skill in one family? Of course, but I’m ninety-seven percent sure it’s impossible, and in the end, I don’t think it mattered. Spending time with those families gave us exposure to a wider variety of ideas about limits, discipline, and family roles and helped to shape us into the people we are today. And remarkably, we’re all still friends, most likely because, despite our flaws and differences, we share the same values of love, forgiveness, and perseverance instilled at a young age.
That being said, I wish parents would read books like this because families deserve to live better. Parents, children, siblings – and to be honest, anyone who has to interact with other people – should take time to learn how to communicate more effectively, and Mazlish and Faber make it easy. Cooperation shouldn’t be a desperate and unachievable goal. Shared responsibility shouldn’t be impossible. Respect should definitely not be a one way street. Regardless of age, we all want to be treated well, to have our ideas heard, and to feel like valued and contributing members of our communities. I’ve seen these ideas at work, and the results are well worth the time it takes to read the book.
For more about Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (including details about organizing workshops), head over here.