It’s that time of year again: summer vacations, downtime, beaches, leisurely afternoons curled up with a book…. what are we talking about; we’re parents! There’s no downtime, especially during the summer months. No matter; we all still need to carve out time to read something other than our Facebook newsfeed. To make that a little bit easier, we asked Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick of Photosanity to review some of her top picks for summer reads for moms and dads.
Finding time to read as a parent is really hard, we know. Some days we’re lucky if we remember to brush our teeth! For those of you in the baby or toddler years, it may feel like you’ll never read a book again… but fear not, one day your children will be older and perhaps immersed in books themselves, or strong enough at swimming that you feel comfortable sitting beside the pool with a book – this happened for me last summer (my kids are 5 and 8), and it was revolutionary! I also listen to a lot of books on Audible while I’m in transit either walking to my office or riding the subway to and from the city.
Here are some of my favorites reads for parents – and no they are not all parenting books! They are great reads, regardless of whether you have kids, but I found them relevant to parenting as well as to life.
The first two are particularly helpful post-election reading while not being about the election or about politics at all. The first is a little bit of an easier read, the second is more nuanced, but both have the power to fundamentally shape your approach to both parenting and life.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck
It’s because of Dweck that we read so much in parenting literature about praising for effort rather than outcome, talent or intelligence. We’re supposed to say “I like how hard you worked on that” rather than “Great job” or “I like how observant you are” rather than “You’re so smart!” but this can feel very counter-intuitive.
Mindset is worth reading to understand the thinking and research behind these directives. Dweck goes into detail about the difference between a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset, applicable in all areas of life from business to sports, art, creativity, education, relationships and more.
She proposes that while we are all born with inherent talents, skills, and traits, none of them are fixed, and all can be learned. Failure, then, is not a reflection on who you are or what you are capable of, but rather an opportunity to learn and improve. A growth mindset leads to higher levels of not just success but the ability to overcome adversity to find satisfaction and happiness.
In fact, my son’s second-grade class has been studying the growth mindset too! You can check out http://ideas.classdojo.com to see videos on concepts such as “your brain is a muscle,” “the magic of mistakes” and “the power of YET.”
Rising Strong presents a different but compatible take on overcoming adversity. Brown talks about an approach to resilience that looks at how you can take a “face down on the arena floor” type of moment and get curious about what put you there. She proposes that if you can look past your initial reactions and get to a deeper understanding of where those responses are coming from and own where you are, you can then get the courage to write your own new and more courageous ending.
She talks about the importance of owning our stories so we “don’t spend our lives being defined by them or denying them”, of how empathy and compassion are necessary to bring about healing, and, this was one of my favorite parts, about how her research found that the most compassionate people are the ones with the strongest boundaries – having boundaries was what enabled them to stay out of resentment and therefore be more compassionate.
Another concept I found very powerful was the idea that your life can be better when you assume that people are doing their best – this keeps you out of judgment and allows you to focus on what is, rather than on what should or could be.
The next two books are actually, believe it or not, fiction books! To be honest, they are probably two out of a handful of fiction books I’ve ready since I first became a parent over eight years ago when my days of lounging around reading books purely for pleasure came to an abrupt end. However, both these books rekindled my love of fiction and make me aspire to read more.
The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd
This was the book I read by the pool last summer, and I was entranced. I had loved The Secret Life of Bees, Kidd’s earlier bestseller, too, and this book did not disappoint. It’s the perfect summer read without being what we think of as a frothy summer read – it’s engaging, meaningful, addresses difficult social issues, yet it is also is quick, riveting and inspiring.
The book follows the story of two characters who we meet in 1803 when one of them, Sarah, who is turning eleven, is gifted her own slave, a ten-year-old girl named Handful. The story is told in the first person, switching between the two girls, and following them through childhood up until 1838.
A fictionalized telling of the true story of Sarah Grimke, an early abolitionist and women’s rights activist, this book is a moving read.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs
Ok, I admit that I watched the movie before reading the book – and I’ll tell you right now, the movie had some parts that were too scary for my 8yo and 5yo and, to be frank, a little much for me. But those parts have a much more minor role in the book which my 8yo immediately wanted to read after seeing the movie… and I did too.
The book is actually categorized as for teens, and while there are some plotlines and themes that probably went over my 8yo’s head, he really enjoyed the book and the two sequels (which I haven’t read yet). If you have a child that is reading Harry Potter or Percy Jackson, this series is not that far of a stretch… but actually, my point here is to recommend this book to you, not your kids!
It’s always hard to know how a book would read if you hadn’t seen the movie, but this book, which I read a month or two ago, similarly reminded me of how I should read more fiction. In our distracted, multi-tasked lives, it’s a treat to get immersed in an imaginary world filled with mystery and wonder yet grounded in very real feelings and a great story.
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Ok, this last book is a parenting book, but it’s the only parenting book my husband has ever read and it totally changed the dynamic in our household. A timely read for when your patience starts to fray with your kids over the summer.
Whether you have a two-year-old or a teenager, this book is a life-saver! As I said, it totally changed the dynamic in our household when both my husband and I read the book and started applying some of the strategies we learned from it – and the strategies don’t just apply to kids, the concepts behind the strategies apply to communicating with grown adults too.
The basic concept is to listen to and validate your child’s feelings and then engage them with coming up with solutions, and although this sounds easier said than done, what is so great about this book is that they break it down into step by step scripts and give tons of examples for many different situations and ages. The book also has these amazing cartoons that show how you might typically react in any given situation, and then gently suggests an alternative way of handling the situation that may seem counter-intuitive but really works.
Everyone I know who has read this book swears by it, and I think it can be adapted to a whole variety of parenting styles and philosophies. Just know that the book needs multiple readings as its effects “wear off” and you slip back into bad communication habits. We are definitely due for a re-read and in fact, it might be a good yearly summer read.
Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick is a family photographer turned photography coach for parents. She founded Photosanity to help parents find joy & connection through photographing their kids. Born and brought up in the UK, Alethea lives in Brooklyn with her husband and her two sons, Liam, age 8, and Jack, age 5.
Alethea has taught workshops at the Apple Store, Brooklyn Baby Expo, Brooklyn Babybites (now Mommybites) and online through Photosanity.com and other platforms. She has been interviewed on 1010WINS and featured in The Daily Mail, Cool Mom Picks, Apartment Therapy, Ask Moxie and Mom365.