Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Top Five Parenting Fails in Kids' Books*

I have always been a bookworm. I have several family members that like to talk about how young I learned how to read, and my mom loves to tell the story about needing to hide the TV Guide because I was starting to figure out when "specials" were going to be on. As I grew this never changed; in Middle School I was a consistent member of the 20-Plus Book Club (kids who read 20 or more books outside of their assigned reading in the course of a year got special recognition). I carried that love into high school and college as well, places where reading outside of my assignments became a means of stress relief or conversation with others. Since then, reading has been a means for me to escape reality, grow myself personally, continue learning, or read along with friends or family.

The point is - my whole life I have loved to read, so when we found out that we were having children I got incredibly excited to stock our shelves with my childhood favorites and became giddy when I realized I would be discovering all sorts of new books. Both of my kids love sitting on our laps or beside us and getting stories read to them; on an average day - including bedtime - our kids hear at least 5-7 stories read to them. Reading is huge in our home, which is exactly what I had hoped for.

What I wasn't expecting was the perspective I have on these books now that I'm a parent to cloud a bit of the story. Sometimes I have this nagging running commentary in my head and need to bite my tongue because my 3-year-old and 18-month-old haven't really honed their adult wit yet - so it would be completely wasted on them.

Instead... I have decided to share it here. Aren't you lucky?

So in no particular order... and, uh, if you haven't read these books - I'm totally spoiling them. You've been warned.

1. Are You My Mother? Here we have the classic tale of the baby bird who goes off on a search for his mother. In his travels he meets a chicken, a kitten, a dog, a cow, an old car, a plane, a boat, and finally a "SNORT" (excavator). Why, oh why, was this newborn bird left alone in an exposed nest before he was ready to go out on his own? Well, because Mom was completely unprepared for his arrival. Seconds before the baby bird is about to be born, Mom realizes she ain't got no stinkin' entrees!!! Maybe it's just me - but whether you breast or bottle feed, home birth or hospital birth - YOU HAVE THE FOOD READY MAN! It's not like it's a surprise that there's going to be a baby there eating food soon. You have the time to get it ready. So, Mama Bird, maybe next time you're expecting a baby - wrap that egg in some leaves to keep it warm and get your worms ready. Then you're not leaving a newborn in a nest by itself going off wandering looking for you before he's ready to fly. What if that dog was hungry, huh? I'm just saying.

2. We're Going on a Bear Hunt! This entire book is a parenting fail - an example on what not to do on a family outing. Yes, let's bring our children out on a BEAR HUNT as a fun family activity. Anyways... they head out on this questionable expedition and waddle through some swishy grass (yay fun - ticks!), then mud (which, I mean, who didn't love walking through mud as a kid, fine). After the mud is when the parenting gets a bit sticky. Mom and Dad don't have any towels, parkas, boots, or first aid kids and bring their kids through a deep, cold river, then dark woods where they proceed to stumble and trip, then a snowstorm. A SNOW STORM. A BABY AND TWO KIDS WITH NO PARKAS AND NO BOOTS AND NO HATS IN A SNOWSTORM. This after they had already gotten wet from mud and river trudging... bring on the hypothermia, folks. Way to be! Then, when the kids are presumably wet, tired, cold and miserable - they tiptoe into a cave to find themselves face to face with a large, scary bear. This of course means that the parents now have to drag the wet, tired, cold miserable children back through all of the things that made them wet, tired, cold and miserable in the first place back to their house - WHERE THEY LEAVE OPEN THE FRONT DOOR before going back to shut it and hide from the bear in Mom & Dad's bed. The amount of parenting fails that happen in this book are mind-boggling... maybe that's why kids love it so much?

3. Guess How Much I Love You This was on my list, but when a fellow mom gave it a vote on my Facebook blog page I knew I wasn't going crazy. Here this poor little rabbit is just trying to tell his Dad how much he loves him in as big of terms as he knows how. He jumps as high as he can, he reaches as high as he can, he stretches as far as he can, and he imagines as far a distance as he can to express his love. And it's sweet, it's incredibly sweet. Why, oh why, oh why does Big Nutbrown Hare have one-up his kid at every turn? He shows off his biggerness but stretching, jumping, and reaching higher than this poor little bunny can - when really he can just be like "Oh, Little Nutbrown Hare - that is SO SWEET and SO BIG how much you love me!! THANK YOU!!!". The end is what kills me though... Little Nutbrown Hare is all like "Oh, well I love you to the moon!" and then goes to sleep. And even in that moment of sweetness with his little adorable little bunny asleep on his lap, Big Nutbrown Hare can't savor the sweetness. He still has to get in the last word... "I love you to the moon... and back." Maybe you're thinking I should lighten up, it's just a sweet expression of how a parent loves a child. No. You stop that. Show your kid you love them by letting them love you, Big Nutbrown Hare. Let the kid think he's so big. They like that.

4. "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!" This one sneaks the bad parenting in on you... there's an assumption that the trick-or-treating is supervised (lots of parents stand on the sidewalk while their kids go to the door) and that the party at Violet's has parents hanging out in the corners. But then there's Linus and Sally alone in a pumpkin patch in the dark with scary dogs (OK... just Snoopy) on the loose. Ok, ok... maybe there's a parent off to the side keeping an eye on things and letting Linus have his imaginative moments hoping for a Great Pumpkin to appear in this the most sincere of pumpkin patches. Fine. But then Lucy has an alarm set for 4:00 AM to go and fetch Linus out of the patch, where he has been laying all night long wrapped in nothing but a worn-out security blanket and a pair of shorts. ON HALLOWEEN NIGHT. Why was this not stopped at 9:00 PM? Why was this child allowed to sleep out in a pumpkin patch in 40-degree weather? WHERE WERE THE PARENTS I ASK YOU?? WHERE???

5. "When a Dragon Moves In" This is a newer story about a little boy who builds a sand castle during his beach vacation and a dragon moves in. The dragon, it becomes obvious, is an imagined dragon who is both awesome and mischief causing - protecting the little boy from beach bullies, sticking his fingers in the brownies, spraying sand all over his older sister. After the latter happens, the parents put an end to the "dragon business", the boy destroys the castle, and builds another one the next day. So... why did the parents fail? They brought their kid to the beach, let him play in the sand, and disciplined him when he taunted his sister. Seems fine to me! But... what I didn't mention is that all along the way the parents do nothing to encourage this kid's imagining of a dragon. I mean... a DRAGON!! DUDE!! It's a DRAGON! They don't play along AT ALL! They correct his dragon's roar to tell him it's the roar of the ocean, they disregard his insistence that a seagull's feather actually belongs to a dragon, and do nothing to encourage his creativity. Isn't that part of our JOB as parents? I can't tell you how many times I've been "scared" of a dinosaur stalking me in my kitchen while I cook, have pet a series of "tiny horsies", and made sure that my kids have gotten their various other imaginary pets returned to them that have been placed in my hands. Get out of yourself guys and just play along for heaven's sake! Let the kid dream (without spraying sand on his sister, of course)!

Look, don't get me wrong - there's a suspension of disbelief that I generally allow when I read stories to my kids. I don't ruin their experience by poo-pooing on the parents and I certainly get excited at the parts that I think they'd find exciting. I let myself drift back to the times of a small child sitting in my room or on my mom's lap or my grandmother's kitchen table with books and remember what that was like - and I try to provide that to my kids.

But... someday... when they're old enough... I'll let them have a laugh at the parenting faux-pas in their favorites too.


*These are only books that I've read. I'm sure that there are others out there - and I would LOVE to hear them so leave a comment!

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