Book Review: Happy Parents Happy Kids

I picked this book while randomly going through the parenting section of my local library. The title felt interesting, and my son had recently turned one. As he transitioned from being a little goofball to a little human with his own preferences, I had been thinking about what would make him happy, and how can I be a better parent. It was the time when I was reading a ton of parenting books (I still am), and I wanted to be prepared as much as possible. Being a parent (I believe especially the first time) is a hard job, and I wanted to have as much knowledge and guidance as I could.

The book was an easy read and contained some good advice not only about kids, but also about your own health, your relationship with your partner, your friends, and the system at large (which she calls the Village); it also includes your personal life and your professional life (as John Medina says “You don’t have a work brain and a home brain. You have a single brain functioning in two places”). Being a happy parent means one’s doing good in all or majorly all aspects of life, and only when the parent is happy can they provide the happiness to their kid(s).

While all that is interesting, the biggest takeaway for me was the chapter on distraction, which dealt with the modern life and its distractions, almost all of which comes from having a social media account or having a smartphone. The biggest thing a child of such young age needs from a parent is their undivided attention, and they want it all the time. And honestly, that’s really difficult most of the time, but being a distracted parent makes it a lot more difficult. Why? Because the child senses that they’re not getting their parent’s full attention; and the parent also subconsciously feels that they’re not giving their child their full attention. The child then tries to gain that attention by other ways (shouting, crying, some other negative emotion), and that causes unnecessary friction between the parent and the child whenever this is happening. So one part of being happy parent is being mindful and attentive to the kid when they’re with you. And as I said, that’s very difficult a lot of times, especially when kids are growing up, sleeping less, and having their own demands which are just wild most of the time. But being a parent means that you’ve signed off all your energy over to your kids.

Early on, while my wife was pregnant, we decided that we’re not going to give our son any screen time. He’s turned 18 months recently, and he still doesn’t know what a TV/Phone/Tablet is; the only access to phone is when he’s having video calls with the family. This also means that when we’re with him, the phone is usually somewhere else, and therefore we don’t get distracted by phones. To be entirely honest, this wasn’t always like that. I did use phone around him when he was little and wouldn’t really know, but after reading this book, I keep my phone in a different room.

Another interesting chapter is her critique of the Village, which is the system outside the immediate parent. This includes not only your friends, but also the school, government offices (which are only open when parents are working; but the people working there are parents too), childcare support, nuclear family, etc. Modern life makes it hard to be a parent – there’s hardly any support available. As an Indian living in North America, I kind of understand what she’s saying. Everyone lives in a nuclear family, and the job of child rearing is being solved by throwing money at it, and delegating it out to other people. And that job is failing too, because we have a lot less childcare spaces than are needed. The government, instead of supporting the parents who’re contributing so much to the economy, ends up just kicking the can down the road, and hoping that maybe this is going to get solved on it’s own. No doubt as the countries progress, and both parents work, the birth rate goes down. No doubt not everyone wants to have kids, and that’s understandable, but the people who do want to have it get minimal support from the government.

But it’s not all negative. There are tips and tricks about envisioning parenthood and enjoying it. The practical tips include thinking about what kind of parent you want to be; that would require parking some time to think, enjoying solitude, and being calm and meditative. Resisting goal culture, and having some time where you’re just enjoying your family and not running after activities. (Happier Hour is an interesting book which provides a framework of doing both of these). Understanding your own feelings and emotions, and making sure your kids also understand what emotions really are; everyone needs to understand that emotions are never bad, they just are. (The Yes Brain is a great book to inculcate that in kids).

Like I said, it was kind of book that I wanted to read at the time. It was a quick read, filled with great tips, and Ann had done a lot of research on the topics that she wrote about – everything has been backed up by references and research papers.