“Mothering Without a Map”: A Book Whisperer Review

Book WhispererEven those who have a great relationship with their own mothers can appreciate how the mother-daughter bond colors the way they parent their own children. Suddenly and without warning, we begin channeling our own childhood soundtrack in recipes, songs, and other traditions — for better or worse (“Because I SAID so…”).

In Mothering Without a Map: The Search for the Good Mother Within, journalist Kathryn Black recounts the experiences of dozens of women who struggle to become the best version of themselves as they take on the life-changing challenge of motherhood.

motheringRaised by her grandmother after her own mother’s death, Black writes about the loss of mothers in her chapter entitled “Ghosts.” Having two children who experienced the trauma and loss of their first mother, the subject of attachment — how they attach to us, their adoptive parents, and we to them — is an ongoing topic of interest. In MWAM, Black references the research of psychologist Mary Main, who identifies attachment “types” in order to address the ways adults pass along their childhood experiences (including traumas) onto their own children through dismissiveness, preoccupation, or secure autonomy.

“Other researchers found that being able to reflect clearly on [how they treat their own children] wasn’t related to personality, self-esteem, intelligence, education or other social, economic, or demographic factors. What distinguishes the autonomous adults is that they understand themselves and others and can relate a coherent narrative about their pasts.”

If you’ve ever wondered if unresolved issues with your own mother is having a negative affect on your ability to connect with your own children, this book might help you to identify those areas in need of healing. Although the author does not address the need for forgiveness from an explicitly Christian perspective, she does offer the reassurance that “one doesn’t have to have had a good mother to become one,” and how even “wounded daughters” can indeed become “healing mothers.”

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The Book Whisperer: “Parenting from the Inside Out”

Book WhispererHappy New Year!

Each time I make something for dinner that one or both the children don’t like, the familiar refrain resounds: “Tell us the story of the baked beans!”

When I was about six or seven, my mother made homemade baked beans for dinner, which I refused to eat. After an hour of watching me poke at my plate, my mother said to me, “You may be excused, Heidi. Maybe you’ll eat a good breakfast.”

The next morning, I ran down to the kitchen expecting to find a steaming plate of oatmeal or scrambled eggs … and found instead the baked beans. Again I refused to eat them, and went hungry until lunchtime. That night for dinner I was given beans a third time, and I ate them — reluctantly — only when my father informed me that I would get the beans the next morning in my oatmeal. (This story is always met with a resounding Y-u-u-u-c-k!)

So when the kids balk at eating dinner, all I have to say is, “So… you want that in your oatmeal tomorrow?” Problem solved.

Long before we become parents, we form impressions of what constitutes a “good parent” from the adults in our lives. Our own parents, for better or worse, provided our first model; other cues came from friends and extended family members.

* The aunt who consistently gave up a career in nursing in order to tend to her growing family and bedridden mother-in-law.

* The neighbor who allowed her daughter use mascara in eighth grade to cover up the fact that her lashes were blonde in one eye and brown in the other.

* The church friend who invited every new family at church for “impromptu” dinners of chicken parmesan.

Sometimes these models were not so heart-warming: the parent who drank or spanked excessively, who exaggerated her children’s misbehavior to win sympathy but refused to come clean with her own dark deeds, who yelled at the kids for making noise while he watched T.V. instead of turning off the set and engaging them in conversation. And all too often, these children grow up and find themselves saying and doing the same things with their own children, despite their firm intention never to repeat the same mistakes.

So what is a parent to do?

In Parenting from the Inside Out, Dr. Daniel J. Siegel and Mary Hartzell explore “the extent to which our childhood experiences shape the way we parent …. and offer parents a step-by-step approach to forming a deeper understanding of their own life stories that will help them raise compassionate and resilient children.” The authors help parents to identify the “toxic ruptures” in the relationship between parent and child, and the interactive dialogue that must occur in order to repair the damage. Each chapter includes “inside-out exercises” to help the reader apply the lessons of their own lives in order to strength the parent-child bond.

During the month of January, I’ll be reviewing parenting resources. If you have a good book to recommend,write to me at Heidi(dot)hess(dot)saxton(at)gmail(dot)com.

The Book Whisperer: “God Found Us You” by Lisa Bergren and Laura Bryant

Book WhispererMerry Christmas! While my family and I are unwrapping our presents, I wanted to share this resource for families whose children experience emotional upsets during the holidays or at other times (such as birthdays) that are typically “happy” occasions.

In Handle with Care, Picoult refers to a “language of loss” that parents and children endure in the most intimate family relationships. Within adoptive families, these losses can be especially complex — if for no other reason, because of the number of people involved in the family bond.

God found us you

As parents, however, we must be willing to see – and help them articulate – the pain of our children as it surfaces. Sometimes the expressions of grief will surface at unexpected times. For example, the other day I was reading my children a book entitled God Found Us You, by Lisa Bergren and Laura Bryant (HarperCollins).

This happy, gentle story about a mother fox and her adopted baby fox, who asks her to tell him the story of how he came to be with her. The kind of books adoptive parents love, because it ties up the future in a lovely, reassuring bow. We read it to our children, hoping it will give them the feelings of love and security we so much want them to have.

The first I read this book to my kids, however, their reaction was mixed. While they want — and need — the reassurance of my love for them (just as Mama Fox reassures her little one), the book also brought some unsettling feelings to the surface.

“It is those who have been most deeply wounded by grief that have the greatest capacity for joy.” I can’t recall where I heard this bit of wisdom, but it seems to fit here. We cannot “fix” or wipe away the pain, cannot silence this language of loss. But if we are doing our job as parents, our children will find in us the compassion they need to make sense of their world.

The Book Whisperer: Two Special Books on Adoption

Book WhispererTo kick off my first “Book Whisperer” column, I thought I would share some wonderful adoption resources. If you have other recommendations, why not send me a note?

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The Book Whisperer … “The Art of Spiritual Writing”

Book WhispererArtSpiritualWriting_BlogTour-socialAt Ave Maria Press, I enjoy working closely with authors to help them “develop their craft.” Rewriting and platform-building are two of the most challenging tasks for any writer, so I am always looking for helpful resources. Vinita’s new book, The Art of Spiritual Writing, is one I highly recommend for those new to the spiritual writing genre, or for authors who simply want to write with greater clarity and conviction. (For those looking for a good resource on platform building, I recommend Mike Hyatt’s Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, now available on Kindle for $2.99.)

In The Art of Spiritual Writing, Wright articulates well the difference between “private” and “public” writing, and outlines the process that every writer needs to engage fully in order to connect with readers. She also makes it abundantly clear that the spiritual writer’s calling is different from that of a teacher or preacher — and yet there are some sobering similarities.

“The writer of the New Testament book of James warned Christians not to hanker after … teaching positions, because the responsibility was great, and when a teacher made an error, it affected many people,” Wright explains. “The same is true for writers, and especially true for writers who broach the realm of spirituality. We hanker after those book contracts and speaking engagements. But should we be so eager? Do we realize, from day to day, the power we wield when we send our words out into the world?”

Novice and veteran writers (and editors) alike will appreciate Wright’s practical advice, such as . . .

Five Things Every Spirituality Writer Needs to Know

  1. Nothing makes up for poor craftsmanship. “Writing is a craft, and it is a different form of expression from speaking, teaching or preaching,” Vinita observes. (I’d add that writing a book is a different form of expression from blogging, as sustaining reader interest for two hundred pages requires a different approach than getting a reader to “click through” to peruse 350 words.)
  2. Save teaching for the classroom and preaching for the pulpit. “You want to write so that the matter unfolds and the reader experiences the unfolding. You explore a topic, and the reader comes right along with you. … The writing itself must be seductive. … If you write in a preachy, didactic, and overbearing way, you will attract the audience you don’t want, and you’ll repel the audience you hope for.”
  3. Fiction is about storytelling, not teaching. “With nonfiction writing, often we are building an argument or system of thinking. The structure is probably linear, with one point leading naturally to the next.”
  4. The reader becomes engaged when she has to do some of the work. “Write so that the reader can imagine herself in your situation and growing right along with you. Write with balance: honest but hopeful, encouraging but challenging.”
  5. Personal writing must be transformed in order to work as public writing. “Many of the details that are important to you will be meaningless to readers. … Your task is to pick and choose among the thousands of details, standing back from the story to understand what a stranger would need to know and what would capture the stranger’s interest.” Later in the book, Wright points out that public writing is shaped not according to the author’s needs and preferences, but for the intended audience. “Public writing takes the concrete details of a single, personal experience to generate a discussion of the more universal experience readers will relate to.”

Speaking both as an editor and as an author who understands how difficult it can be, this fifth point is possibly the most valuable skill any writer can acquire. While there must be enough of our own story to let the reader get to know us, and learn to trust us, we need to fully engage the writing and rewriting process, so that our private thoughts are pruned and transformed into something truly life-giving.

The Art of Spiritual Writing is now available as a paperback or on Kindle, through Loyola Press or Amazon.com.

Song of the Beloved (The Love Project, Day 19)

RED-TULIP_From Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen, in which he explains the love of God to a secular Jewish journalist.

The greatest gift my friendship can give to you is the gift of your Belovedness. I can give that gift only insofar as I have claimed it for myself. Isn’t that what friendship is all about: giving to each other the gift of our Belovedness?

Yes, there is that voice, the voice that speaks from above and from within and that whispers softly or declares loudly: “You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.” It certainly is not easy to hear that voice in a world filled with voices that shout: “You are no good, you are ugly; you are worthless; you are despicable, you are nobody — unless you can demonstrate the opposite.”

These negative voices are so loud and so persistent that it is easy to believe them. That’s the great trap. It is the trap of self-rejection. Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity and power can, indeed, present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection….”

He goes on to say that self-rejection most commonly comes in two forms: arrogance or low self-image. If he had been a woman, perhaps he would have recognized a third way: In the compulsion to base our worth on what we are doing, rather than in our identity as beloved daughters of God.

Today’s Love in Action: Do you ever experience self-rejection? When do those feelings most commonly surface? Tape this note to your bathroom mirror or over the kitchen sink: “I am a Beloved Daughter of God.”

“Marriage is like an amplifier…” from “Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious” (The Love Project, Day 16)

gohnToday I was reading Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious by Pat Gohn (Ave Maria Press), and was struck by the following passage about marriage. Can you relate?

Everything I liked or disliked about my man before I married increased in volume after marriage. I ran headlong into a wall of my selfishness and struggles for power, not to mention my own anger issues that erupted from my quick temper…. Putting others’ needs ahead of my own was harder than I had thought. I bristled when I could not control things.

Motherhood intensified my struggles, often reducing me to tears. I was profoundly disappointed with the shortcomings of my loe — my lack of achievement! I was trying to achieve in my marriage and achieve in my mothering the way I succeeded at school and at work, as if there were a performance scorecard attached to my efforts. “No greater love” required something more than the tyranny of perfectionism; it needed my attentiveness, my surrender, my sacrifice.

I don’t know if this is an experience common to all (or even most) women … but I could relate. The greatest challenges, I felt, was not in accepting the weaknesses and flaws of my family, but coming face to face — each and every day — with my own foibles and shortcomings.

I finally turned a corner when I came across this quote by St. Francis de Sales:

Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them – every day begin the task anew.

Today’s Love in Action: What’s the one bad habit or character flaw you hate most about yourself? Got it? Good … now, what virtue do you need to put into practice that serves as the “antidote” to that particular bad habit? How will you start . . . today?