Born for Love: Why Empathy is Essential - and Endangered, is written by the same team as The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog.
It follows the brain science, interwoven with many personal stories, about how people learn and develop the essential trait of empathy. Empathy is woven into the very fabric of our being, but basically, we learn empathy by being loved by our parents (and other caregivers) from the time we are tiny infants. This tends to happen naturally, as our responses as parents are also practically automatic. The consequences of not receiving this normal loving care (such as those raised in orphanages in Russia and Romania) are serious, but can be addressed to some extent. (Not only empathy, but also things like IQ, immunity to disease and physical balance are related to the nurturing most babies receive at a very young age.)
One part of the book I particularly enjoyed was about a woman who founded an organization that helps schoolchildren learn empathy. Just hearing about how this woman grew up was fascinating.
If we are all born for love, Roots of Empathy founder Mary Gordon was delivered into some of the most fertile ground imaginable. She grew up in Newfoundland, in a multigenerational household that included her three brothers and one sister, both of her grandmothers, and an uncle who was intellectually disabled. Her parents also often took in "strays." Unmarried women who'd gotten pregnant would live with them during their pregnancies, men leaving prison would visit nightly for a free meal. Gordon's father eventually served as the Canadian minister of labor,a dn her mother was an artist. The Catholic family was deeply committed to social justice. AT the dinner table, the rule was that the conversation must focus on ideas - literature, policy, religion, philosophy - not gossip or mundane events. But the table rang out with laughter and spirited debate: this didn't produce sullen resentment.
How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott Haims has been a wonderful read so far. The author is a former Stanford dean who has also experienced the challenges of today's parenting norms from raising her own children. This has led to a easy-to-read (with lots of laugh-out-loud and ah-ha moments) practical guide to what's wrong with parenting (and related issues such as the "College Admissions Arms Race"), how it's affecting our children and what we can do about it.
Her suggestions seem much more manageable than overwhelming. To give you a sense of it, here is a list of "How to Let Your Kid Play" (though, in the book, each item is detailed with information and suggestions):
- Value free play.
- Know your kid.
- Create agreements with other parents.
- Offer materials and equipment that foster imaginative play.
- Let your kid decide how and what to play.
- Work on creating space between you and your kid.
- Develop a capacity to wince but not to pounce.
- Create a culture of free outdoor play.
- Get inspired.
- Encourage change in your community.
- Model play.
I figured that even reading some of the crazy helicopter-parenting stories aloud to my kids would help ensure that I wouldn't imitate such behavior. ;)
I am also looking forward to reading her suggestions in upcoming chapters (I'm about half-way through) on teaching life skills, teaching them to think, preparing them for hard work, letting them chart their own path and listening to them. Good stuff!
Dear Professor Einstein: Albert Einstein's Letters to and from Children just arrived in the mail yesterday. Looking forward to having a little downtime for savoring it. (A girl can dream, right?)