Teach Your Children

I loved this book, and I’m happy to offer a giveaway copy of it.  I hope you will read my thoughts and then leave a comment – I will choose a winner on Sunday night.

As I read Madeline Levine’s Teach Your Children Well I kept hearing Sweet Honey in the Rock in my head.  Over and over again I heard them singing the famous Khalil Gibran words: “your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”  I gasped with surprise – and, well, with not-at-all surprise – when Levine quoted the first line of this famous passage towards the end of her book.

More than once Levine’s thoughtful, articulate book moved me to tears.  Tears because I often feel overwhelmed by the task of mothering Grace and Whit in this world, because I feel dismayed at the immense pressures on them and at my role in these, because I want so desperately to do right by them.  I have never read a book about parenting that felt more resonant and more in tune with my essential beliefs about raising children than Teach Your Children Well.

Levine’s central theme is that raising our children to become well-adjusted adults in tune with what truly makes them happy is becoming harder and harder in a world whose definition of success grows ever narrower.  She discusses important aspects of childhood whose precipitous decline has dramatic impact on the well-being of our children: outdoor play, unstructured time, being allowed to fail, the opportunity to try a wide range of activities and sports.  All of these are focuses of mine, things I fight to protect in Grace and Whit’s lives, and more often than I wish places I feel judged and out of sync with the world around me.

The book’s points that I found most moving and also most unnerving were about resilience.  I agree fiercely that resilient children are most likely to grow into content and robustly mature adults.  But I also recognize that resilience is no great strength of mine.  This dissonance strikes fear deep in my mothering self: how can I help my children develop a trait I myself don’t have?

“If there’s a heartbeat to this book, it’s about the value of self-reflection,” Levine writes in her book’s concluding chapter.  I nodded as I read this and tears sprang to my eyes, because this single sentence deeply confirms a long-standing belief of mine.  That belief is that we can probably distill the central task of parenting – and of life – into this: learning to listen.  To ourselves, to our children, to the world around us.

Teach Your Children Well discusses these three kinds of listening and reflection.  Levine challenged me to think long and hard about what I value most, as an individual and a family.  Her chapter called Editing the Script reminds us that we have the power to make choices about what kind of parents we want to be (we are not, for example, destined to be the parents we had).

Levine also posits that witnessing our children in all their manifold and multicolored facets is a difficult but possible act as well as one with enormous power. She says many children feel talked “to” by their parents, and reminds us that “you do not build your connection to your child through verbiage.”  You do that through listening, and through hearing.  This is how you understand their internal landscape, how you build empathy, and how you allow your child to feel known.  This profound empathic connection with our children puts us in a position to help protect our children from the deafening clamor of a society so focused on achievement that it threatens to obscure their ability to hear their own internal voice

Finally, Levine urges her reader – and all parents – to think long and hard about the assumptions that are deeply embedded in our society and to be proactive about changing the established norms that we do not believe serve our families.  This needs to be more than just reflection, she asserts: “We are at a tipping point.  Either we will continue to show a lack of courage, or we will become proactive and decide that our children deserve a reasonable childhood, schools focused on the joy of learning, empathic parents, and protection from the excesses of a culture defined by materialism.”  All parents need to both reflect on the environment in which their children are growing up and, in many cases, act to change it.

I believe all parents, and all people interested in the well-being of our young people, should read Teach Your Children Well.  I am delighted to offer a giveaway copy of this wonderful and important book.  Please comment here and I will draw a winner early next week.

Harper Collins provided me with a review copy of Teach Your Children Well.

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  1. Posted November 15, 2012 at 5:55 am | Permalink

    This will be a book I will read, winner or not. I so often say that we are at a tipping point. That our children, our schools, our parents can not sustain this life we are living. I fight constantly to change the norm in our own family but fight a constant battle with both my children and myself as I wonder constantly if I am doing them a disservice as I limit- limit activities, limit commitments, limit access to tv, movies, games that are so inappropriate for children their age. This sounds like a very important read.

  2. Posted November 15, 2012 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    thank you for this generous offering, lindsey…always grateful to and for you. we too often feel judged and out-of-sync because of our lifestyle (parenting) choices, but remain committed to them as they most truly reflect our deepest values. this mamahood journey is ripe. look forward to reading this book.

  3. Posted November 15, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    I was very interested in this book when I first read the NYT review over the summer (and the articles that followed). Your own review is excellent, and confirms that this is a book I need to read! I share your same general stance on parenting, that in a generation we’ve lost so many of the critical ingredients of childhood and need desperately to get them back.

    What strikes me here is that so much of Levine’s words about connecting to and interacting with children is what I learned in my training as a counselor! I guess that is to say that EVERYONE — children and adults alike — needs to feel heard rather than talked to (or at).

  4. Posted November 15, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    I’ve been wanting to pick up this book! enjoyed the price of privilege too. thank you for posting about this.

  5. Peggy
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    This resonates so deeply with me. I am constantly thinking about and struggling with how to raise empathetic and kind children. Too often, we are all so caught up with schedules and activities and the next thing on our list – we forget to just sit and talk and listen to each other. I hope to make time to just listen to my girls today. Thank you.

  6. Neil Radick
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Thank you for the opportunity to win this book. More importantly, however, thank you for your ongoing writing.

  7. Susan
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    So many books, so little time…I love it when you recommend a book. Keep reading and letting us know what you think. It helps me tremendously to have someone (whose book review advice I trust) vetting all the possibilities out there! I want you to know how much I appreciate you sharing your opinions here – – it really does make my life better.

  8. Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Oh! Oh! Another post in which I find so many things I think about and work toward. I just had a conversation with my therapist this week (ah, yes, therapy) in which I asked her bluntly if the fact that I am not doing study prep with my son for the statewide fourth-grade testing is a mistake. I explained that it just goes against (1) what I think the test is for (to evaluate my son’s standing in relation to rest of the universe of children and to prove that the school is doing a fair to good job of teaching) and, more importantly, (2) the idea that my son has to find his own natural levels and place in life, with me standing strong and steady at his side, witnessing his strengths and weaknesses and rooting for him ferociously in full acknowledgment of both. Of course for me I had to let go of any idea of elite-performance perfectionism in my son because of his neurological issues, but in a way now, I see that’s such a gift, because my only expectations are that he do WELL ENOUGH. In fact, just yesterday, I got his very first report card that did not mention behavioral issues in class. I kissed him on the head and said, “Wow, doesn’t that feel great? YOU did that!” I get so flustered by exactly this, Lindsey, to quote you: “Levine’s central theme is that raising our children to become well-adjusted adults in tune with what truly makes them happy is becoming harder and harder in a world whose definition of success grows ever narrower.” And you know what? I am in the act of setting MYSELF free from those same expectations; I met all the so-called “rules of success” and though it gave me a savings account (for which I am humbly grateful as it’s kept from from even more disastrous disruption in these very hard years), it did not give me anything that truly matters to me about how I live my life. Well, with one exception: My work has always been about being in a conversation with women about how we make our lives make sense, and that is a deep and rewarding privilege. In any case, in setting myself free from these expectations, I hope that my son can learn to master the dual challenge of supporting oneself (which matters, and to pretend it doesn’t is a different kind of heartbreak, see also: ex-boyfriend) and steering oneself toward heart missions and discovering work that creates value, purpose and worth. Screw the rest of it. It means nothing. Thanks for letting me sound off!!!

  9. Angela
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    This is such a timely post! I struggle with knowing if I am doing the right thing, doing too much, doing too little in this journey of parenthood. As my mother used to say, “Slow down and just listen…you will know”. Thank you for the opportunity to win this book. Whether I win or lose, it is a book I will read. Thank you.

  10. Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Oh! Also! Must read the New York Magazine article about Andrew Solomon’s daring and challenging new book Far From The Tree. I am sure the book is fascinating, but it’s what the writer struggles with in the REVIEW that is really gripping, honest and true. I think you will love it: http://www.vulture.com/2012/11/andrew-solomon-far-from-the-tree.html

  11. Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    I want to just follow Stacy around and read all of her comments. 🙂

    This is definitely going on my list to read. I was putting O to bed last night and I asked him who he played with at school that day. He said, nobody, I played by myself. My first thought was oh no, why is he playing alone? I started to say why don’t you play with so and so, but I miraculously stopped myself. I don’t want him to feel bad about it so I asked him why. He said “mama, sometimes it’s nice to play alone”. I said, yep, sometimes I like to play alone too. This reminds me I need to listen more, rather than try to force him to be a certain way. Being quiet, playing alone, are not bad things.

    Everyone around me is already having their kids tutored. At 3. That can’t possibly be a good thing. Maybe I’ll buy copies of this book and anonymously leave them on front porches. 🙂

  12. Posted November 15, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Lindsey, I challenge you to listen to your inner child and be an example to your children. I understand that you ‘work’ to maintain your lifestlye. Why don’t you follow your true desires and write, as you do so beautifully for a living? Take the risk and untangle the burden of society’s expectations from your life with action, not only words. I say this with love, k

  13. Delanie
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    I love your writing, and many things you have written stay with me. I would love to read this book.

  14. Ash
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Even if I don’t win this book, I will be sure to read it soon.

    And I don’t think you can be a parent and not be resilient. I always say after a tough day with the kids that parenting gives you many, many chances at redemption and renewal, oftentimes within a mere 15 minutes.

  15. Patricia Dolan
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Thank you! I am thrilled as the prospect to receive this book. It speaks so clearly to me and many nuggets of wisdom one can receive. I think of the song ‘Teach your children well…too…I am honored to be apart of the drawing.

    With gratitude,

  16. amy
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    This sounds like a book that I really need to read right now. As hard as I try to be the best parent and not like my own sometimes I do find myself following in my own parents footsteps. I don’t want my kids to do the same. I do need to do more listening instead of preaching to them. My son just told me the other day he is going to grow up to be just like me and a lot of the things he does are very much the same which aren’t all good.

  17. Posted November 15, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    I’ve known that quote for a long time, and often refer to it as I take steps along this journey of motherhood. I love reading really great books about how to parent well. Raising children with character is another really good one. Can’t think of the author’s name, but happy to look it up.

  18. Anna
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    I look forward to reading this book! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shared links to your posts with my loved ones – other mothers of young children (as I am), and my best friends from college (our bi-annual gatherings & friendships bear a shocking resemblance to your post “Lifetime friendships in numbers)… so much of the lens through which you view the world resonates with me.

    Thank you as always for your thoughtful writing.

  19. Posted November 15, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    No need to enter me in the drawing because I have already read – and loved – the book. And I agree with you whole-heartedly: rarely does a parenting book speak so eloquently and so powerfully to the concept of a world where all children are celebrated for the talents and passions they have rather than stuffed and molded into categories we – and our society at large – have preconceived for them.

    Thank you for this thoughtful review and for reminding me of so many of the lessons Levine has to teach us. xo

  20. Katelyn
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    I really enjoyed reading your review of this book. I’m looking forward to reading it over the holidays when things (thankfully) slow down a bit. Thanks for the recommendation!

  21. Jen
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    Lovely post. The book sounds like a gem. Thank you, Lindsey!

  22. Tiffany
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for your wonderful reflections on the book. It sounds like a great read and really valuable as a parenting book. As a special ed teacher, I wonder about our schools and especially how the teaching profession has become so challenging for me to balance with parenting. I need to make time for reflection, and this book seems to be a good guide. Thanks for the chance to be in the drawing!

  23. Ranya
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    Sounds like a great book.

  24. Nancy
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    I enjoy your posts…would love to win the book!

  25. Vanessa
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    What spoke to me most about your review was your mentioning her point about not being destined to be the same as our parents were to us. That is something I am so deeply afraid of and something I try to monitor in myself, but I still see it creeping out, especially when I am at my weakest, or most tired. I would love to win a copy, thank you for such a wonderful giveaway!

  26. Christine Barker
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    Hello all of you doing this right now…. I have raised my three daughters, and One of them is about to start this journey, herself in a few months… exciting but also terrifying! I was an early childhood educator and have always believed that little people are just that: little people who are desperate to be listened to and regarded just like others (read just like big people) They don’t see the differences…
    The part I heard loud and clear Lindsey was that you wanted your children to be resilient and that you felt you had no skills to pass to them….My experience tells me that you don’t need to be so worried that you can’t model the behaviour that you want them to develop… It is ENOUGH that you know your own weaknesses, you will show them that they can have abilities that YOU don’t have…. an extremely valuable knowledge. And They will delight you with their competence in dealing with things that you personally could not. My girls are BOLD and Brave and Loving and no doubt will be working Mothers though I was not…. They are their Own people and perhaps because I listened and encouraged and told them they were capable even if I could Not have done what they were doing… they believed me…. That is the secret… belief… trust and no preconceived notions of limits!!!

  27. Sarah
    Posted November 15, 2012 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this beautiful review. I can’t wait to read this book!

  28. Paige
    Posted November 16, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    I would love to read this book. We are the parents of a clever, creative 3.5 year old who seems to be wise beyond his years. We, especially my husband, struggle with how to get him to accomplish his tasks that we know he can so easily do, but sometimes resists. We both have different parenting styles and we could use some insight. Our son is such a fresh slate of joy and curiosity, I don’t want to taint his world with our lack of understanding the best way to present certain things to him. It sounds like the book we’ve been looking for.

  29. Britta
    Posted November 16, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    I was just asking a parent that I respect for some recommendations on parenting books. My daughter is entering toddlerhood, and I feel like getting some different perspectives from a few books might help me in the coming months and years. I’ve now added this one to my list – it sounds great.

  30. Margaret
    Posted November 18, 2012 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    Your review of Waiting for Birdy, one of my favorite books on parenting, brought me to your blog. I look forward to checking out Madeline Levine’s book, as well as the others on your list.

  31. Posted November 18, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    Sounds like my kind of book! I love Wendy Mogel’s Blessings of a Skinned Knee. Sounds like a lot of similar themes.

  32. Posted November 25, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    I’m late to the discussion, but I wanted to say I’m adding this to my list and reading it soon. I think we have similar goals and values in parenting. My girls have “quiet time” every afternoon — hours to fill as they chose. And I do find myself struggling to carve out a space for them in a very pushy world. I hope to get more tips from this book. Thanks Lindsey.

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    […] Teach Your Children — Lindsey’s review moved me to tears. Her vulnerability and ability to speak about […]