I have a very hard time getting through books about parenting. Often I find the author’s voice too preachy, too dry, or simply too authoritative for me to connect with. However, there are a few exceptions, and I’m pretty sure that Permission to Parent, out this month from L.A.-based psychologist and parenting group leader Robin Berman, will be holding a permanent spot on my bedside table for the next few years, if not until my children decamp for college. A refreshing, concise guide to raising kids in modern times, this book differs from many in the parenting genre because even though Berman is an MD, her voice comes across as a sensible parent, not a clinical doctor. Her ability to call bull&*#$ on the many ways that parenting has become a runaway circus train is refreshing. One particularly genius nugget: To parents of toddlers who fear that their kids are already behind, Berman says, “Behind what? Get a grip. Your kid still sleeps in a onesie.”
All ranges of topics are covered with similarly direct sensibilities, from handling toddler meltdowns to being aware of our own emotional states as parents, with end-of-chapter crib sheets on the main points to remember. Interspersed are examples from real parents and anecdotes from Berman’s patients (called ‘tales from the couch’), which provide a rich context for each chapter’s focus. Parents of older children will find the points Berman makes about technology and social media extremely useful—the advent of Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, and the impact they have on our children’s attention and their self-esteem makes so much parenting literature written pre-web feel obsolete. Her opinions about violence in media and the early ages at which we expose our children to scary images should be taken to heart as her experience as a psychologist has shown her firsthand how damaging they can be to young minds.
The big-picture idea of Permission to Parent is that parenting culture in 2014 has swung so far into liberal, no-rules territory that we as parents are literally out of control, and as a result, we are raising kids who are out of control, too. Theorizing that previous generations who grew up with ‘my way or the highway’ parents have vowed to never succumb to such strong levels of discipline, Berman asserts that today’s parent has become way more concerned with being their child’s friend than their strong, decisive, loving leader—which she says they need much more. Setting limits, she argues, is the true way of showing our children love as they look to us for guidance and reassurance. All of her advice is sensitive but serious, and above all, she urges her readers to understand that parenting is as much about raising yourself as it is about raising your offspring. Parenting offers us daily lessons, many of them challenging, and many opportunities to find our highest self before we begin to impart lessons upon our kids. It is a tall order, but one that I think is admirable and extremely motivating.