Saturday, April 30, 2011

Book Review: Parenting with Love & Logic

Finally carrying out my threat to review this book:

There are two parenting books that I'd heard a lot about before I actually read them. The first was What to Expect When You're Expecting. That could have been titled What to Freak Out About When You're Freaking Out. I didn't like or value that book so much. Paige and I dismissed it pretty quickly. The second was Parenting with Love & Logic.

After hearing about it for so long, I didn't know whether it would live up to the hype. It did. The last time I said that all parents must read a book, it was Nurtureshock. I stand by that assertion. I saw a relative stranger reading that book this week and dove into conversation about it.

Love & Logic has evolved from a book to a whole industry of workshops and counseling. The book offers a system and a framework for approaching parenting that can be used universally. Parents need workshops and counseling in that framework, though, because it's rather counter to how many parents approach parenting. Notice that the title is not Parenting with Command & Control. In that alone, we realize that this book applies to parenting children who have reached a certain level of logic.

I valued some things in the book and would argue with other things. First the pros:

  • Giving kids choices in which you can accept both options. Giving kids autonomy within bounds both helps them not to fight against us as authority figures and reminds them who's in charge. As intuitive as this concept is, parents fail in doing so every time. Example later in this post.
  • Making problems the child's problem, not the parent's problem. I find this far less intuitive and have to try to retrain myself to it. If we give up control and let our kids experience natural consequences, they'll learn a lot faster than if we constantly nag about rules and enforce rules with constructed consequences. When we do the latter, we become the problem, and the problem gets forgotten. Example of this later, too.
  • The flipside: responsible kids feel good about themselves. It's not really possible to build childrens' self-esteem through praise and trophies and all the ways we try. Kids believe more in themselves when they accomplish something.
  • I find it interesting and helpful that the authors recommend being empathetic with your children when they have made choices that end up less than good for them. It's not natural for me to respond to a problem presented by my kids with something like "Wow, what a mess. Let me know what you come up with." I could see, however, that it might be really awesome if I could discipline myself to do that.
  • Finally, Fay and Cline talk about failing when it's affordable. If kids learn responsibility and how it feels when they fail to show responsibility when they're young, they fail at low risk and low cost. Forgot to bring your trumpet to school? Oh well, no trumpet for you with your band friends today. Forgot to file your taxes? You get it.

So much of the helicopter parenting we see today results when parents fail to teach their children responsibility. They mop up all of the messes with teachers and coaches and nowadays - no lie - employers. Reading Love & Logic has reinforced a simple fact that is so easy to forget when kids are little: they'll live with me for less than 20% of their days on earth. Each day, I can either prepare them for that or pretend it's not true.

Now, the book is far from perfect.
  • Oddly enough, the example dialogs fall flatter than the principles. Often, a book that presents a framework only gets better when the authors delve into practical examples. Here, the examples have two problems: First some of them include a note of psychological cruelty that doesn't make me think of healthy relationships. There are scenarios in which kids face consequences and Fay & Cline would have us say "I'll have to think about what the consequence is going to be later. Try not to worry about it too much." The first sentence I'm fine with; the second sentence features a sadism I try to keep out of my parenting. Second, the dialogs only contain pretty perfect responses on the part of the kids. We're to believe that phrases take on a hypnotic power when used as the authors recommend.
The book opens my eyes to my own parenting foibles and (of course) helps me see how all kinds of other parents fail like crazy. It's a lot more pleasant to be around Love & Logic families. With the new lens, I rejoice when I feel like I got it right in a situation, and I'm dismayed when I do it wrong. A success while reading the book:
  • Charlie's supposed to put his backpack away in the coat closet when he finishes his homework. I walked past his backpack in the dining room once in the evening and again in the morning. Before Love & Logic, I would have called him on the spot to come get it (to follow the rule). I steeled myself and walked past it. The next school day, it was still there when I left the house a few minutes before Charlie walked himself to the bus stop. Three minutes after the time he should have left, my cell phone rang. In tears, he told me he couldn't find his backpack. Full-on Love & Logic might have had me keep quiet even then, but on that day, I needed him to catch his bus. I told him it was in the dining room. He thanked me with feeling and caught his bus. That night, I asked him what he'd learned that morning and he said "put away my backpack".

I probably should tell on my own failures, too, but I can't remember useful examples right now. That's not to say I don't notice and mark them and try to do better the next time. I do, however, have two observations of other parents examples this week:
  • Mom on the playground at the end of the childcare day. "We need to go. Give me a chance to be proud of you by coming over here right now." Exqueeze me? The child who'd been taught this kind of faulty logic did not comply. I didn't need Fay & Cline to know that she'd have succeeded better and been happier had she said: "We have to get home quickly. Do you want to walk to the car, or do you want me to carry you?"
  • Dad of the trailing sibling at a little league game. "If I see you put one more thing in your mouth [eating], you're going right home and straight to bed." The kid saw right through this threat. The sibling's game wouldn't be over for another 45 minutes. Dad was the only parent present. Would he pull his sister from the game to make good on his threat? Of course not. The child ate more snacks later, and that father had put himself in a position to do nothing about it.
A few interesting notes.
First, we read the book in a group at church that has both parents of young kids and parents of teens. The parents of teens read an edition called Parenting Teens with Love & Logic. The book energized and interested the parents of younger kids but didn't make as much of a dent in the parents of teens. Those parents seemed to think the situation was more hopeless and static. Second, both books end with sections of examples called Love & Logic Pearls. Reading that section, we found that we could skip some pearls because we're not there yet and others because we don't have problems with the issue (e.g. bedtime).

All in all, I conclude that this book will really help most every parent, taking what really helps and leaving that which doesn't do it for you.


Anne H. said...

Nicely done review for a simple blog post. I wish I'd read this book when David and I were young parents. We didn't read any books that I recall, but just muddled through. Fortunately we had good kids and they turned out ok, though our son was more of a challenge than our two daughters.

Mainly I'm struck by how quickly it goes by, as you alluded to. Now we have grandsons and we very much appreciate the parenting they're getting. It must be very hard for folks who did a reasonably good job as parents only to see their grandchildren being brought up poorly. We're blessed!

Jacksons said...

I second your recommendation Jeff. Mom taught Love & Logic classes for years when she worked as a counselor. It is practical advice that I wish I turned to more frequently. I also appreciate the Teaching with Love & Logic offshoot.

Christy said...

Matt and I have read the book (well, actually I think I read the book) but we both attended a class over several weeks. It is far from perfect as Jeff says, but it has helped me learn to BACK OFF and let my kids figure it out themselves. What a valuable lesson to me. I recommend it to anyone with young kids.