A few months ago, I was digging around in my books and pulled out Gabor Mate's In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts. For those of you who don't know of Mate, he is a physician working with the homeless, drug-addicted population down on Hastings Street in Vancouver, BC. I lived in Vancouver during my graduate studies at UBC, so I am familiar with the issues in that area of Vancouver and am a fan of Mate's humanizing approach to drug addicts and addiction in general.
Throughout the book, Mate addresses the link between addiction and ADHD, which he argues is often present well before addiction takes hold.
As a mother of a pre-teen boy in American, I've been confronted with ADHD and ADD more than once. My son's kindergarten teacher really pushed for my son to be tested, so I took him to his pediatrician. The man, a father of four sons of his own, told me he'd rather test the teacher and treat her for ADD than my son.
I won't get into the whole ADHD/ADD discussion here, but my interest in the subject led me to dig further into Mate's work and to find he co-authored a parenting book.
I was intrigued. Mate's co-author is a Canadian clinical psychologist by the name of Gordon Neufeld, PH.D. Together, they wrote the parenting book entitled Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers.
This is, hands down, the best parenting book I've ever read. I borrowed it twice from the library and just ordered it on Amazon, so I can go through it again with a highlighter, pen and Post-It flags. I began a Microsoft document of important quotes, but eventually I gave up because so much of the book is 'important,' it's difficult to limit the number of quotes I found myself transcribing.
The basic gist of the book is that our modern social tendency toward pushing our children to engage with peers as a way to boost self-esteem and help our kids find their places in the world is not only misguided but wrong....and creates disastrous effects.
I could write all day about this book, about my experiences as a mother and about how much the author's perspectives resonate with me, but I'll limit myself to my usual 10 points and hope, if you find any of this compelling, you'll read the book yourself and leave me long-winded comments, jumpstarting all kinds of conversations. :)
To that end, 10 Points from Hold On to Your Kids:
1. This book is not for the faint of heart. There are no stick-figure drawings and little sum-it-up sections for parents to skim. The authors go into data, studies, anecdotal stories and in-depth analysis. This book is a bit of an intellectual and emotional investment rather than a quick-read, top-five tips sort of pamphlet-turned-book, which have become shockingly common in the parenting repertoire of late. Basically, this has psychology and sociology mixed together to create a solid foundation for the author's beliefs. Go into it knowing you'll need some quiet time to read and think without distraction.
2. This book will challenge many modern parenting paradigms and flies in the face of much of what we're told about 'good parenting' by many famous child psychologists. At the core of their argument, Mate and Neufeld posit children need adults and parents far more than they need the company and influence of their peers. Mate and Neufeld write about day care, divorce and other hot-button issues throughout the book.
3. The authors show, in depth, what happens when children orient toward their peers rather than their parents and other responsible, mature adults. They argue that it's basically the blind leading the blind when kids attach to each other and learn social skills from each other. I'd never thought of this before, shockingly, and this book was eye-opening to me when I really thought about the results of kids teaching each other how to be responsible members of a community.
4. This book is about attachment parenting but not in the way many Americans have come to view the concept. It's not about baby wearing, long-term breastfeeding or a family bed (though the authors certainly don't argue against any of that). This book is about attachment to the family and adults as a way to create a solid foundation from which children can then go out into the world and explore. Mate and Neufeld created, for me, an attachment parenting world that was much less strident and judgmental than the one I feel has become common in the American parenting discussion.
5. The authors argue that a certain amount of emotional and psychological maturity must exist before kids can develop healthy friendships with each other, and this maturity takes time. Lots of time. So, when we push our kids to develop meaningful friendships with each other at early ages, we're asking them to do something they simply can't do based on their maturity. The authors explain the negative effects of doing this throughout the book, including actually lowering kids' self-esteem or, in the least, creating self-esteem that is dependent on peer approval (always a recipe for disaster, even among us adults).
6. I saw a lot of myself in this book, a lot of the limitations of my childhood and a lot of how that has manifest in my adult relationships, in my own sense of self and in how I'm able to relate to others even now, at the age of 42. As I view my own childhood through the lens of this book, I can see how important the community of the Mormon church was in my upbringing and how naturally that community adhered to much of what Mate and Neufeld argue for in their book. I can also see now why it was so damaging to have that community removed from my life at the age of 13, even if I didn't understand it to be problematic then. I was, to be honest, kind of glad not to be attending church three hours every Sunday. :)
7. One of my favorite quotes from this book is: “What is praised as getting along in children would, in adult life, be called compromising oneself or selling oneself short or not being true to oneself" (Neufeld & Mate, 243).
8. Another excellent quote is: "Given the importance of self-esteem and the supposed significance of peers in shaping it, it seems only right that we would do everything in our power to help our children cultivate friendships and to compete favorably with their peers, to make them as likable to one another as possible. Today’s parents are gripped by a fear of their children being ostracized. Many parents find themselves buying the clothes, supporting the activities, and facilitating the interaction that is believed necessary to enable their children to win friends and hold on to them. Such approaches seem only right, but they only seem right" (249).
9. The authors address many cultural norms that we, particularly in America, value but they argue are not positive in young children, namely independence at early ages, nonchalance, attachment to peers and social media use. There were times when the authors explain how parents use these things, kids spending time with friends or glued to social media, as a way to get a break from the daily weight of parenting, and readers, I relate. This is one of the moments during the book that I had to put on my big-girl pants and be honest with myself about my own willingness to slough off my parenting responsibilities to others (even if the other is Minecraft) to give myself a break. The irony, of course, is that my 'break' is scrolling through my Tumblr feed.
10. There were points in this book I found dramatic and over-reaching. I certainly don't agree with everything the authors argue, and some of their examples seemed inflammatory, some of their arguments a stretch. I recall one argument about song lyrics or the Beatles that made me think: um....we're getting a little off-point here. An example of a quote from that book I found a little inflated is when the Neufeld writes, “If socializing were the key to socialization, gang members and street kids would be model citizens” (241). I think that statement is inflammatory and needs a lot of qualification to seem relevant here. That's just me.
Overall, even with a bit of drama, the book makes solid points and arguments. As a parent, I find so much of what Neufeld and Mate write about relatable and relevant. It isn't an easy book to read because it's 'heavy' in some parts but, more importantly, because it will shine a light on some of the parenting mistakes you may be regularly making, and that's never easy - at least for this mama. But I've concluded that the only thing I can do as a mother is to continue trying, continuing learning, keep on thinking hard and looking back and making the next step forward better than the last.
Here is an interview with Gabor Mate on attachment parenting and conscious parenting:
I can't think of any aspect of my life worthier of my thoughtfulness and attention. If you can make your way through the first three sections of the book (and I argue they're worth getting through), the last two sections (four and five) give us some idea of what we can do moving forward, even if our kids are peer-oriented already. It's a hopeful read, in the end.
I hope everyone is having a splendid week. We're on spring break, and it's absolutely lovely having everyone home for the week.