I have been reading quite a bit these past six months. Once upon a time, the only books I was able to read were those picture books and board books that my children checked out of the library. With two active children under the age of 5, as well as a part time job, I rarely had time to sit down and think, let alone read a book. Nowadays, my children are older and I find that with twenty minutes here and there waiting for one child to get out of school or another to finish a piano class, I am able to make my way through a book. It is a simple and wonderful way to spend time waiting.
Recently I received Renee Peterson Trudeau’s book Nurturing the Soul of Your Family. I have to be honest. Over the last three years, I have steered clear of parenting books and have instead tried to parent in the way that has felt right to me and my husband. When I come up against a new parenting situation, I try to take a step back and think about the circumstances, as well as my physical and emotional responses to my child (and/or my child’s behavior). I no longer subscribe to a specific parenting method or approach. My husband and I parent the way that feels right for our family, and we accept that the way we parent may not work for all families.
I am a big believer that every family needs to find their own ways to work and grow together–what is best for one family may not be what is best for another. That said, I am also open to discussion and learning from others. Again, I may not find another family’s practices or traditions to work well within my own family, but I do find it helpful to talk with other parents, consider new ideas, and think about how others’ ideas could be adapted to work within my own family. I then go back to square one, which is my intuition. I ask myself, “Does this idea or approach feel right to me?”
When Nurturing the Soul of Your Family arrived, I was skeptical. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to read another parenting book that told me how I was being a bad parent. I didn’t want to read about how another parenting method was the new, superior way to raise children. I have had quite enough of that in my years as a mother. While many authors of parenting books have good intentions, many of these books contain recommendations and parenting advice that not only is at times confusing but can cause parents to feel guilty that they are not doing a good enough job. I have read many parenting books that have made me feel that I am a sub par parent. I have come across literature with advice that felt either condescending and/or impractical.
Fortunately, Nurturing the Soul of Your Family is not another parenting book that prescribes the best way to parent your child. What Trudeau does do with this book is to describe ways that families can connect with each other; for Trudeau, the most important way a family can spend their time together is to do so “with intention–as opposed to moving through life as if we’re in a never-ending tennis match, frantically reacting to whatever is thrown at us.” Trudeau considers herself a parenting expert though; she writes: “Having worked with thousands of parents, I’ve observed that when parents take time to nurture themselves, their families naturally come into great equilibrium.” She then quotes cancer survivor Audre Lorde who said, “Self-care is not about self-indulgence, it’s about self-preservation.”
Admittedly, I am no parenting expert but I do bring baggage to Lorde’s wisdom about self care. As someone who struggles because I strive so much to be better tomorrow than I am today, I tend to be pretty hard on myself. As a mother, I have always felt guilty about taking time for myself or putting my needs before those of my children and my husband. Unfortunately, I also tend to blame myself when something within my family goes wrong.
Trudeau writes: “Relationships improve when we enhance our emotional well-being and perspective.” She then links this idea to the notion that when we feel emotionally well as parents, we have a better chance for our children to feel good and behave in a way that we want them to. Trudeau challenges the notion that families are destined to be dysfunctional with discord, drama, and feeling disconnected. Her book is a collection of ideas on how each family can find their own ways to connect and enjoy time together.
Each chapter begins with a personal anecdote that lead to a revelation for Trudea; in chapter one, she talks about her tendency to ignore her basic needs and how this lead to her not taking good care of herself. This story then leads into specific ways that parents might take better care of themselves, how self care helps us as parents, and then closes with a section of evaluation and reflection. Other chapters explore the following topics: personal peace and feeling whole, focusing on the people in our lives rather than our personal technology devices, the healing power of spending time in nature together, dedicating family time to really understanding and getting to know the individuals in our families, celebrating our family’s specific values and traditions, doing less but experiencing more: slowing down and being present in the moment for one another, making hard choices so that we can live in alignment with our family’s specific values, and finding a support system and being humble enough to ask others for help.
Trudeau addresses issues that many families deal with everyday. She shares her personal experiences, as well as the stories of other families she’s worked with, to bring her readers to consider how they themselves handle similar problems. She challenges her readers throughout this book to think about how they currently operate within their families and to reflect on how they’d like to experience their families. Trudeau is an advocate for simpler living, valuing people above material things, spending time together in nature, and disconnecting from technology so that families can better connect when they are in the same room together. She advocates that families think about their values and mission and that they work together to create a shared vision.
As I completed my reading of this book, I did get the feeling that Trudeau does have ideas about the “right way” to live and operate as a family but that she also has good intentions. She asks her readers again and again to think about their families and what choices their families can make to be more connected so that everyone in the family feels loved. Her prose is clear and easy to read. Her stories are engaging and her book comes across as helpful rather than prescriptive. This is one parenting book that I intend to keep on my family bookshelf for years to come. Thank you Renee, :-)