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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