When I bought my first phone in 2003, a humble and durable Nokia 3310, it came with an extensive manual of dos and don’ts. I unboxed it, proceeded to consume the manual cover to cover and followed the instructions– insert battery into the phone and put it for charging overnight.
Years later, when I was expecting our first child, now almost adult at the age of 10 years, I missed having a manual. Why, in God’s name, did these little yet extremely complex humans not come with a manual?
A decade of raising two kids, who could not be more different from each other, compelled me to get my hands on not one but five books that have helped me so far:
Secrets of the Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect, and Communicate with Your Baby
By Tracy Hogg with Melinda Blau
While What To Expect: The First Year has some great advice on the months after pregnancy, Secrets of the Baby Whisperer helps you get inside the mind of your bundle of joy and unpack it. Babies have different temperaments. It may seem strange that someone who is barely able to tell their elbow from their diaper is expected to have a point of view, but understanding that babies do have temperaments and perspectives, helped me navigate many apparently random behaviors with more calm. Having a routine for the newborn and for me made life much more manageable.
Tracy Hogg’s golden principle–“Start as you mean to go on” has served me very well not just in the first few months but for many years after. Even today, when I am faced with a situation of ‘Should I allow the kids to eat in front of the TV?’ Or similar, I first ask myself, would it be okay if this became a habit? If yes, fine; If not, proceed with caution.
Raising Boys: Why Boys Are Different and How to Help Them Become Happy and Well-Balanced Men
Raising Girls in the 21st Century: Helping Our Girls to Grow Up Wise, Strong and Free
By Steve Biddulph, Paul Stanish (Illustrator)
At some point in time, the four-temperament world (that I learned about from The Baby Whisperer) of infants and toddlers starts to get more complex with gender becoming an added variable. That is where Steve Biddulph held my hand. I started out my journey as a second-time parent thinking I would raise my son the same way I was raising my daughter, of course, taking their temperament into account. I was so going to smash the patriarchy in this generation. While that mission is on track and both my kids help tidy up and make breakfast the day the helper needs a break, each had a different path to this end.
Thanks to Biddulph, I realised that boys typically need to know who is the boss. So, while requesting help with the daughter works better, the son needs to be ordered to help. The book talks through stages of development in case – how boys need the father to pay more attention after the age of 5, how girls need to slowly push the boundaries for themselves. Both kids will need another grown-up who they can turn to for advice in their teens and I need to develop those relationships now so that I can trust the adult they turn to (Yes, parenting is a lot of work).
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk
by Adele Faber, Elaine Mazlish, Kimberly Ann Coe (Illustrator)
So I had a playbook – one quite different from generations before, one that believed that children’s spirit should be nurtured and not quashed with ‘norms’ of yore. Great! But they are still children and while I would love to give them some autonomy and sense of agency (crucial for confidence) where and how do I draw the lines? The daughter has joined a new school and came back crying that she is the only one who does not have the latest iPad –– should I yell at this ungrateful wretch? The son came home in a murderous rage since the teacher told him off for not paying attention -– should I distract him and get him to work harder?
How To… focuses on really understanding what the child is saying and finding ways to communicate your boundaries without burning bridges. Specifically, strategies that come before yelling and punishment and, if it does come to punishment, what is appropriate.
Like in the cases above– the daughter just needed to express something she was feeling for the very first time and would have to deal with always in life, I just had to sit with her and be there; the son benefitted from imaginary punishments meted out to said teacher (he boiled her in oil, in case you want to know) and volunteered that maybe he should not have been playing with his ID card.
What Every Body is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People
by Joe Navarro, Marvin Karlins
This was never intended to be a parenting guide. I originally bought it to deal with some tough Region Heads at work. But it has come in useful in gauging emotions correctly, since children may not be able to express exactly what they feel. Are they cranky because of frustration or insecurity? Were they angry or mean to the kid next door? Joe’s experience with spies and world leaders has come to my rescue.
by Andre Agassi
When I was figuring out my parenting style, the Tiger Mom was very much in vogue. Your child has potential and you owe it to her to push for success. Open was the other side of the story – the perspective of a child who became the definition of success with tiger parenting but resented his parents. His account help me decide whether I wanted success or happiness more for my kids and whether I could let them decide.
Bonus: My current favorite is a show, Madam Secretary, on PrimeVideo. Handling two teens and an adult is no mean feat, and it helps to see an involved dad take on the task.
(Pooja Sardana is an entrepreneur, philosopher, traveller, passionate advocate of gender equality and the mother of two children, a girl and a boy aged 10 years and 7 years respectively.)