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Parenting Books: Momtrends Top Picks

best parenting books

There's good news: the two most important parenting books of the year are here to help you and they don't rely on fear and self flagellation. I think we've had enough of the mommy wars out there telling us we have to do this and we must do that in order to raise good humans.

My end goal: I want my girls to be fine without me. I've been reading a lot about grit and the results of helicopter parenting. I don't think we're doing a service to our kids to act as support staff instead of parents. I came up with two winners on my quest to find help raising my girls as solid citizens who are independent, kind and smart. Along the parenting journey, I've developed a mindful parenting style (along with Mr. Momtrends, of course) but I am not perfect and I need help.

We all say we want independent kids. But do our actions match?

Time to read up on the topic. I started with the book by Jessica Lahey called The Gift of Failure. Jessica gives us permission to let our families be perfectly imperfect and embrace the bumps along the way. She advises giving kids the room to fail and learn from these failures. Time to exhale. Jessica tells us we don't have to raise perfect kids and document every step along the way on social media.

Through quiet experimentation, we can allow our kids to make choices. With this freedom there will be mistakes. But here's the thing, if they start early with making BAD, small decisions, they will learn. When things go awry and the stakes are low, they will be integrating the consequential learning into the process. Kids who fail early are prepared to make better choices on big decisions.

gift of failure

I got the chance to talk with Jessica about the book and ask some follow-up questions. I wish we could all have her on speed dial when moments of parenting crisis arise (you can reach her on Facebook here). These are some of the goodies I pulled from our chat:

Many of us want to give our kids a leg up on the competition and work hard to remove obstacles along the way. Stop it. Jessica's wisdom: "Kids who are able to learn to how to self-advocate will get a great education wherever they go." Why? Because these kids can actually ask adults for what they need. They can seek out mentors. If we raise kids that need our help every step of the way they won't even get the full benefits of a university like Harvard. The notion that there are only 25 "good colleges" out there and if your kid doesn't get into one of them he or she is doomed to live at home playing video games for the rest of his or her life is bunk.

All those parents doing it perfectly, how do we compete? How do we deal with all those perfect kids we see on Facebook--the ones volunteering in Haiti, winning the state chess championship and also scoring the lead in the middle school play. I believe in my soul that comparison is the thief of joy. But it can be hard to remember this when everyone else seems to be getting ahead. Jessica advises that our kids are watching us and insists that we model the behavior we want them to have. For me, that means allowing my girls to own their successes and failures. I didn't fail the spelling test, she did. In the same manner, I didn't win the ski race, she did. I'm here to help, but as Jessica tells it, interfering is "undermining our kids."

comparison is the thief of joy

The bad choices they make are as important as the good ones. My soon-to-be 6th grader is deciding on her language choice for next year. She's thinking about Latin because they take a cool trip. I bit my tongue and called Jessica. She told me to let her make the choice, Jessica says, "she will be more invested in the decision."

While there's so much more goodness in this book, I want to share one last bit of wisdom. When it comes to sports, parent like a grandparent. Jessica knows that kids are dealing with pressure to perform in sports (and art and music and chess, etc) in addition to academics. She found a survey of professional athletes that said what athletes dreaded most about childhood sports was the post-game analysis with parents. Jessica advises that we use the ride home as a bonding experience not an ESPN post-game show. Act like Grammy. Grandparents watch performances with no agenda. Just love. That's what your kids want you to bring to the field. There's much more, buy the book and visit to dive deeper.

Next up it was time to talk money with Ron Lieber, author of The Opposite of Spoiled and New York Times Money Columnist. Ron, like Jessica was generous to chat with me about his book and about the problem of money.

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The Opposite of Spoiled works perfectly with Jessica's book. Both authors want to help us raise kids who are ready to be fully operational adults. Whereas Jessica tackles education and general behavior, Ron's book is about financial IQ. It's full of ideas on how to start conversations about money with your family. Most of us know about sex-ed talks, but we ignore money-ed talks.

Reading Ron's book really got me thinking about how I relate to money. I give my girls a glimpse into the inner-workings of Momtrends Media. They see checks coming in and going out, but they don't know much about our family's day-to-day finances. Fortunately, we've got enough money to more than meet our needs. So money isn't a big concern. Thanks to Ron, I see the error of my ways.

A big change we want to implement after this reading this book is adding allowance into the picture. Currently we opt out of allowance, because there's nothing for them to save for. Everything they "need" we get them. What they "want" goes on the Christmas or birthday list. We hold all the power and that's not fair. It's not that they don't contribute, it's just that I never felt money should be tied to helping out at home. We expect them to do chores to contribute to the family.

Ron believes in the share, spend, save system. Pay kids weekly not for chores, but for life lessons on how to save and spend. Right now the girls know nothing about saving and spending and I need to fix this.

Here are the allowance rules: be consistent and let them make mistakes. Parents must deliver the money week in and week out.Even if they keep buying candy with the spend money. For me, I need to stop thinking of this money as a wage or compensation. Ron tells me to "think of it as a teaching tool." His advice was to think of spending on financial education the same way I do about music lessons or soccer cleats. You've got to invest in any activity if you want kids to get good at anything.

I'm not the only parent with money questions. According to Ron, he wrote this book to solve to a micro problem, his kids were asking tough questions about how much he earned and to solve a macro problem--it is his job at The New York Times to help his reader's with financial questions.

As Ron tells it, his daughter left him "tongue-tied about financial transparency." His daughter was trying to make sense of how the world worked. Her questions weren't just about money, they were about power and justice too. In a nutshell, Ron wrote this book to show us that how we deal with money reflects our core parenting values.

One of the key topics Ron wrestles with is how to fund college. The author laments that teenagers are making major financial decisions with huge consequences without being prepared. There are kids graduating with $100,000 in student loan debt from undergraduate education--and these are kids that haven't thought it through. Remember allowance? Yes, with just $3 invested in your kids each week you are helping them prep for these larger decisions. If we start early with money education, we are preparing our kids to make better choices.

I also asked about giving back. Ron thinks drive-by volunteerism or “voluntourism” isn't a great teaching tool. Though some kids will be positively impacted, "the way kids come to a deep and meaningful understanding about need is by developing real relationships with people that are different with them and having real conversations."

This is difficult to do with one-of volunteer work. Here's what Ron advises, "Keep an eye out for the family that has much less. The family that lives farthest away or has the smallest space. That’s the kid with the fewest playdates of sleepover dates. Try to make plans with that child and that family." I love this tip. Plus as Ron says, "It’s the kind and decent thing to do."

Finally a word about summer jobs. Kids need them. I know we want to use the summer to pack their resumes with coding camp and volunteering and SAT prep. But let them work. Ron says, "Not every summer needs to be about tutoring and enrichment."


According to the college admission counselors he spoke with, colleges want to see kids who know how to work. Ron says, admissions officers are "sick of seeing piles of applications from over-programed children." A child who started a business or a worked at a job that helped forge an identity...those are the kids that counselors want to hear from.

What are your picks for the best parenting books of the year?

This is is not a sponsored post. The books contain affiliate links. Header artwork from Jessica Lahey's home page.

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