Welcome to , an ongoing series at Mashable that looks at how to take care of – and deal with – the kids in your life. Because Dr. Spock is nice and all, but it’s 2019 and we have the entire internet to contend with.
Raising children is both blandly universal and maddeningly specific. Sure, lots of kids are picky eaters, but there’s no way to know why the texture of grape skin is repulsive to your child in particular.
The antidote to this, if there can be one, is creativity. This is where a new book – Weird Parenting Wins, by noted podcaster Hillary Frank – comes in. The book is a careful accounting of the weird proclivities, fears, and eating habits children have, and how parents have worked around and through them with their kids.
It’s the off-registry gift you bring to a baby shower, or the present for your long-distance friend with a rage-y toddler.
The book, less of an advice manual than a collection of “this worked for me and my kid at least one time” bons mots, was written by Frank, the creator of the wildly successful parenting and family podcast The Longest Shortest Time. The format is easily digestible. Organized by categories such as sleep and eating, the text is largely made up of vignettes from parents themselves about the weird and wonderful “hacks” they used on their children. Frank came around to the format after feeling frustrated with traditional advice books.
“The things that were working were things I’d made up or things my friends had made up and shared with me,” Frank explained.
The value of the book lies not in the hacks themselves, though by all means, steal any that look promising, but in the simple fact of page after page of other people going through similar trials. Reading the book feels like the best parts of an internet forum, with none of the acrimony.
Weird Parenting Wins celebrates the multiplicity of approaches to raising children. Where advice books are generally prescriptive and linear, i.e. follow this method and you’ll get this result, this book glories in options. If at first you don’t succeed, try again, because really you have no choice anyway. It’s a book that’s firmly situated in the lived experience of families.
“The whole mission of the Longest Shortest Time is to be inclusive of all ways of parenting. We really feel there are a million different ways to be a parent,” Frank said.
As a catalogue of parental creativity, it’s a joy to read. While classic parenting advice is predicated on changing the child through parental action, Weird Parenting Wins is full of parents accepting that their children are people too, and outthinking them. For any parent who has learned the hard way that their child will not sleep, or eat, or poop, as they “should,” the next step is how to manipulate them into doing it anyways. And delightfully, some of the stories are from adults detailing strategies their own parents used on them that they’ve not employed again (a good reminder that being accepting of their quirks won’t ruin your children for life).
The title of the podcast applies over and over again, says Frank: “Parenting is just one longest shortest time after another.” While the relentless pressure of modern parenting makes it feel as if every decision has high stakes, “most of these things are just phases. You’re just going to be hit with another one soon,” Frank says.
“Parenting is just one longest shortest time after another.”
Frank’s favorite weird parenting win is one that encapsulates the spirit of the book. The “What’s on my butt?” game is an activity for those times when you just need to chill but your kid wants to play. As Frank describes it: “You lie face down on the couch and you tell your kid to find some random object and place it on your butt and you have to guess what it is. It takes a good long time.”
The image of the tired parent, facedown on the couch like this makes me chuckle every time I think about it. But the heart of the game – here’s a way for me to rest and you to play, for us both to get what we need – is itself a valuable lesson in family compromise.
Frank’s approach, her insistence on the transmission of shared knowledge passed around through a community, feels simultaneously old-fashioned and novel. There’s no campaign for special techniques or equipment, but as you read between the lines you can sense the frustration and difficulty in the situations being described.
Creativity and patience won’t erase the effort, but they will make it easier for everyone to bear. And that’s a lesson that’s worth passing along.
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