I recently bought a book written by Bruce Feiler by the above title. I saw him interviewed on TV and had read a previous book by him, “The Council of Dads”. This isn’t going to be a book review or anything, but I was intrigued by some of the information he told the interviewer would be in the book—enough to buy it. Such as--how to improve your mornings; rethinking family dinners; go outside and play; Warren Buffet’s guide to setting an allowance; the Green Berets’ rules for reunions and more like a Harvard study on modern families.
I can’t say why these things interest me since my children are grown and gone off to raise kids of their own. But family dynamics fascinate me and the very idea that someone has gathered facts from unique sources on how to make a family unit happy seemed like something I should read. (hey, maybe for research on a future fiction book)
There’s no doubt in my mind that what constituted success in child rearing has changed from the time I was a kid, to when I raised children, to now when my daughters are navigating those waters. Probably every generation has had their favorite go-to books on parenting from B.F. Skinner, to Dr. Spock, to Scream Free, or No Regrets parenting to name a few. I’m always amazed at the confidence of any parent to publish a parenting guide or manual. Are any two families really alike? Do enough children fit in a particular mold for anyone to say—if you follow these steps your children will be perfect and you will be an A-1 parent? I don’t think so.
What is refreshing about Feiler’s book is that he only claims to be searching for avenues that may help his own family to function more smoothly and by reducing parental stress, allow them to feel happier. And then he got interested and wrote about his findings.
It’s definitely true that as people live longer more married couples are squeezed between taking care of elderly parents while raising their own children. In the small town where I grew up few mothers worked outside the home. Their main job was parenting. That alleviated a lot of the morning chaos I recall dealing with after I had my children. We were always a two-parent working family and mornings were busy and rushed, not fun or happy now that I stop to think about it. Chaotic mornings give everyone in the family a bad start to their day.
In talking to my younger friends it seems to me as if free time is a thing of the past. I saw a documentary not long ago filmed in California where moms all but lived in the car the kids were involved in so many extracurricular activities. They had devised ways to feed the kids something hot, kept a cooler in the car for cold drinks, and changes of clothes for everyone. They carried lap boards so the kids could do their homework between athletics and dance class or chess tournaments or whatever.
It used to be that meal times were a way to catch up on what was happening at school, at work, and in general in everyone’s life. Feiler now says in most families he spoke with meals were catch-as-as-catch-can.
I remember parenting books I read advising making time for family meetings where everyone got a voice in what they thought would make the daily grind run smoother. Same in Feiler’s book. Another thing that hasn’t changed is making up chore lists and posting them on the fridge or kitchen cork board so every person in the family knew the expectations for their mornings. In my house that lasted about a month. So I found much of his research done in unique places to be the same spin on old methods of running a family unit more smoothly. Feiler does offer some new innovations and techniques making it an interesting, entertaining read.
The fact is I still think there is no simple magic elixir to ensure the happy operation of a family. Individuals are born with, or develop along the way, idiosyncrasies which allow them or don’t allow them to work cohesively within a family. Some households are traditional, some kids aren’t. Some people are able to change and some can be molded to make the family unit run more smoothly. I’m not sure that equates to happiness. But there is no shortage of books available on every aspect a person can think of to make a family run more effectively. I came away thinking as I’ve always thought—there is no right or wrong way to parent. You muddle through the best way you can and give your children the best people skills you can give them. And anyway, wouldn’t life be boring if all families were alike?