One of my personal issues with the education process is the value placed on test results, and not the efforts and strategies utilized by students to achieve those results. So, when I come across a book that addresses the importance of how knowledge is acquired, I take notice.
Elaine Heffner, LCSW, Ed.D, has written for Redbook, Parents Magazine, and Disney online, as well as others. She also authored "Mothering; The Emotional Experience of Motherhood after Freud and Feminism." Love that title. In addition to being a psychotherapist and parent educator, Elaine is a Senior Lecturer of Education in Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College. She also co-founded and served as Director of the Nursery School Treatment Center at Payne Whitney Clinic, New York Hospital. And…she blogs.
It is those blog posts that Elaine has compiled into her latest book “goodenoughmothering: The Best of the Blog.” The easy way out for me would be to list of few of the blog headings and leave it at that. But it is the substance of these blogs that is so important, not the snappy titles. I’ll use the article titled “Please and Thank-You” as an example. On the surface it sounds as if Elaine discusses manners. And the reader would be correct. Kind of…. The heart of the article is about educating children beyond discipline; it is about instilling understanding of cause and effect, how behavior interacts with the people around us. Children develop manners through imitation. If we don’t ‘get it right,’ they won’t either.
goodenoughmothering is a wonderful and very enjoyable book. As each ‘chapter’ was once a blog entry, the brevity required Elaine to be clear and concise, and yet provide the expected identification of a problem through data and/or examples, means to resolve the problem, and a concluding summary. The author pulls this off superbly. At no time was I left scratching my head wondering what the point was, or feeling like I’d wandered into the midpoint of a Harvard lecture on the ramifications of colonizing Venus. Oh! Be sure to read the entry “Poop Talk.” I’ll let you guess the topic. Buy this book. It’s a keeper.
Q) Curiosity: When or what propelled you to pursue parent education?
A) I was trained in a Child Guidance clinic and had a wonderful supervisor who taught me how to work with parents. Later on, I participated in developing one of the first therapeutic nurseries where I worked with parents of children with developmental disorders. These children were not learning in usual ways, and I had to think through with the parents how children learn, and how to adapt that understanding in teaching their own children. I heard a lecture by a child psychiatrist who said, “Therapy at its best is education, and education at its best is therapy.” I had become more involved in the education side, but the therapy side lies in knowing how to listen in order to help others hear you.
Q) Parents, some anyway, though most of those will deny it, have historically displayed a tendency to look for the ‘one, true, surefire method’ of child rearing. What do you say to parents who buy book after book on how to raise their children and still aren’t convinced they’re doing it ‘correctly’?
A) I first try to understand why they are so lacking in confidence as parents. Often parents are trying to undo with their children what they feel was wrong in their own upbringing. No book is going to accomplish that. What can help is to recognize that you and your child are creating a new parent/child relationship, not repeating that old one in which you were the child.
Q) Your book “Mothering” resulted in a number of quotes posted on web sites around the world. Example: “The art of mothering is to teach the art of living to children.” That quote is on Oprah’s web site amongst others. What was your reaction when you realized your words, your beliefs, were being shared by thousands of people over the course of several decades?
A) I find that humbling, to say the least. I simply am trying to share what I have learned after many years of life and mistakes. It is inspiring that Oprah put the quote you cite on her website when she herself has been such a positive influence for women. That quote reflects my strong belief that child-rearing is an art – not the science “experts”, and therefore parents, are trying to make it. The key is to hold fast to your own values.
Q) “Mothering” sends a clear message that it’s okay for mothers to be human. Though the book was published in 1980, the words ring true today. If you could alter any advice in that book to fit today’s shrinking world, what would it be?
A) Dr. Spock changed his mind about any number of things, but I would go back to something he said at the beginning: “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” Most importantly, you know your own child/children better than anyone else. Also, by accepting your own failings, you can be more accepting of your children’s.
Q) You still post regularly to the goodenoughmothering blog. Readers are invited to leave comments, and you respond in person. How do you believe technology has altered family life?
A) I would need an entire post to respond to that. The short answer is that family life was being altered by many other factors before technology. Technology is just filling in the blanks.
Q) Any parting thoughts for our readers?
A) Please keep reading and commenting. That’s how I have learned, and hopefully, will continue to learn.
DA Kentner is an award-wining author www.kevad.net