Saturday, March 22, 2008

Mommy Research

My favorite type of thesis-writing (avoidance) procrastination is to read another book. Apparently, I am not unique. Wandering Scientist admits to reading many parenting books in her post, Reading Ahead.

When I was on bedrest (week 14 to week 37!), I read stacks of them. When Iris didn't follow the scripts, I referred back to those books. Either the books are all wrong, or Iris is all wrong. Like I wrote earlier, Iris did not read any of the parenting books and had no idea how she should behave.

[Sure, lots of books claim their system trains any baby to eat/sleep/potty train/clean up. Let them come over to my house.]

Recently, a trusted friend recommended the child development books by the Gesell Institute of Human Development, written by Louise Bates Ames et al. My friend said that, at every age, the books gave her insight into the development of her children. But, which one should I read? Iris has been diagnosed as highly asynchronous in her development; she is chronologically 7, but she exhibits behaviors from terrible twos on up to adulthood.

I went to the library and checked out everything they had between 5 and 9 inclusive. The have such cute titles:
I read a couple of them, but they got repetitive. In fact, they resemble Tarot cards. I could read anything into them I wanted. I skimmed through the rest. They can be reassuring, though.

The basic premise is that cognitive development, like physical development, goes through growth spurts. Children behave badly in inconvenient ways when their cognitive growth is most rapid. They can't help it. They are adjusting the best that they can. Once they adjust, they will behave like semi-reasonable human beings again. Unlike physical growth spurts, the results are not visible. You have to watch for subtle cues.

On an airplane, I met a mother that was reading Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. (I started a conversation with her when I turned around to ask her to tell her child not to kick my kidneys repeatedly. It was going to be a long flight and I need my kidneys.) I also checked that out from the library and read it.

What a relief to read about children more spirited than my own! The book has many good tips for how to avoid meltdowns. We had already stumbled upon many of them through trial and error. I highly recommend reading that book, whether you have a spirited child or not. Chances are, you will encounter spirited children in your child's classroom and this will help you relate.

I also found some comfort in Counseling the Gifted and Talented , edited by Linda Kreger Silverman, particularly chapter 7, Counseling Families.
Most parents are not joyously enthusiastic to learn that they have a gifted child. When I share test results with parents of exceptionally gifted children, the tissue box is always close by. For some, it is as big a shock as being told that their child is developmentally disabled. They mourn the loss of their fantasy of having a "normal" child whose needs will be easily taken care of within the regular classroom. Any exceptionality places a heavy burden of responsibility on the parent, but parents of other exceptional children have societal support and sympathy, whereas parent of the gifted have neither.
The first time I read that passage, my mind changed the wording to, "They mourn for the loss of the 'normal' childhood they hoped to give their children." It took me several months to work through that grief.

The best piece of parenting advice I ever read came out of a knitting book. (I wish I could recall which one.) The author counseled placing a stitch marker every 20 stitches or so while casting on. Why? Because, when a child calls for your attention, you should never make them wait more than 20 seconds before giving them your undivided attention. It is appropriate to tell them, "Hold on until I finish this repeat. Then I will attend to you." (There are exceptions like they are bleeding to death or the house is burning down.)

There you have it. Parenting in a nutshell (and from an unlikely source!). Children learn that attention will be paid, but they might have to wait a few seconds for it. In other words, you should put on your oxygen mask before helping your children with theirs.

This precludes me from knitting any lace with repeats greater than 20 stitches for a few more years.


  1. I suspect I'll be reading the book about spirited children soon.... At what age do you think it will first be useful?

  2. I think the book will be useful for every age. Babies that have trouble sleeping are more likely to be spirited. They just notice more about their environment than the average person.

  3. I love this blog. I think because a) it's great and you are a little scarily overachieving, b) I have a daughter that age who is like Iris but not as much so and c) my name is Grace and d) I live in LA and e) I am an enviro-nut and we drive a Prius and f) I am an OCDish knitter whose hands must be kept busy at all costs and g) I am a plant nerd but sadly h) I never had the nerve to persevere in math and science in college due to many of the issues you describe - there was no Jenny-like figure at my college, only the male professors who REALLY objected to the place going co-ed. So overall, having never read any blog more than once, mostly because of the second child effect, meaning that someone is screaming every five minutes and needing attention, I have to say I will be reading this one and feeling a little less uniquely Grace-y than I used to, sort of like I am a shadow Grace - a new feeling for me, as Grace was such an unpopular, granny name when/where I grew up, and Lisa and Tracy ruled the day. Oh - and I also was trying to find this book but kept googling the wrong title, so thank you for putting the whole long thing up there.

  4. This is Grace, Bad Mom, here:
    Thanks for the boost of confidence. I have always thought of myself as an underachiever. Really.

  5. I think I get to be bad mom - i am actually posting this instead of running to pick up children, and was already late because one of your posts made me get out my felting book which I was looking at last week unable to choose which bag to felt. My husband went to Berkeley and Caltech, so you are actually sort of like us put together. And I found out i was pregnant with my daughter in Jan 2000. I am trying to work but keep reading old posts. (Is this an inappropriately weird and intimate tone for a posted comment? I am new to this blogging protocol stuff... and tend to be generally foot-in-mouthish.) ok, totally late now.

  6. This was a nice post. Boomerang to simple parenting lessons from knitting at the end, then Grace2 chiming in with charm.