Joyce Brothers, the first celebrity psychologist, emphasized the importance of a happy home life to overall satisfaction: “When you look at your life,” she said, “the greatest happinesses are family happinesses.” Comedian George Burns had a different take: “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.”
Upcoming parenting releases bridge the divide between the idealism of the first view and the cynicism of the second, offering various interpretations of what it means for children and parents to be happy—as well as practical advice on how to get there.
Defining the Terms
An essential component of creating a happy home is knowing what happiness is, Leonard Sax writes in the recently released The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them like Grown Ups (Basic), which devotes three chapters to happiness. Sax, a family physician and psychologist, is the author of three previous books on parenting, which together have sold more than 168,000 print units per Nielsen BookScan.
“Parents are confusing happiness with pleasure,” Sax says, explaining that U.S. parents are undermining their own happiness by letting go of their authority. As a result, American children are overmedicated, overweight, and less happy than their counterparts elsewhere. His solution: parents should actively guide their children’s choices, from the food they eat to the time they spend on their devices.
Meredith Sinclair offers a different route to family happiness in Well Played: The Ultimate Guide to Awakening Your Family’s Playful Spirit (Morrow, June). “It’s about connecting in a genuine way,” says Lisa Sharkey, senior v-p and director of creative development for HarperCollins.
Sinclair’s illustrated how-to guide shows parents how to focus on family play-time. “If we engage in activity-based lives with the ones we love,” Sharkey says, “our endorphin levels will go up and our engagement levels will go up, and at the end of the day we’ll go to sleep tired, happy, and with a lot less stress.”
Personal interaction also figures into Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World by Michele Borba (S&S/Touchstone, June), author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions (Jossey-Bass, 2009). The main ingredient in Borba’s nine-step recipe for creating happy children: connecting them to people instead of their devices. Borba writes that teaching children empathy will open up a world to them beyond their electronics and set them on a path to becoming happy, successful, moral, and kind.
The pervasiveness of technology is not a new concern, of course; in 2005, journalist Richard Louv coined the phrase nature-deficit disorder in Last Child in the Woods (Algonquin), describing the harm done by a lack of exposure to the natural world; it’s sold more than 267,000 print units per BookScan. In April, Algonquin is releasing a companion title, Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life, which offers 500 ways families can incorporate nature into their lives, from stargazing to geocaching.
The Pursuit of Happiness
It took LGBT activist Eric Rosswood and his husband nearly two years to sort through the possible paths to parenthood, including foster parenting, adoption, surrogacy, and assisted reproduction, before finally adopting their son. In Journey to Same-Sex Parenthood: Firsthand Advice, Tips and Stories from Lesbian and Gay Couples (New Horizon, Mar.), he helps prospective same-sex parents explore the best options for family building and considers some of the difficulties and legal issues involved.
Other forthcoming books tackle obstacles to parental satisfaction. Corporate America stars as the working mother’s nemesis in Here’s the Plan: Your Practical, Tactical Guide to Advancing Your Career Through Pregnancy and Parenthood by Allyson Downey (Seal, May). “New moms may be prepared for the challenges of raising a family, but are often sideswiped by problems they didn’t expect—especially at work,” says Laura Mazer, executive editor at Seal.
The book presents a vision for a parent-friendly workplace that allows for sick days when children, as well as parents, are ill, and time off for parent/teacher conferences. It also offers suggestions for dealing with “the mommy bias,” by which women are passed over for promotions and big assignments because they have children.
In Not Buying It: Stop Overspending and Start Raising Happier, Healthier, More Successful Kids (Seal, Mar.), Brett Graff, who writes the syndicated column “The Home Economist,” offers a forgiving view of family financial planning. She separates what she deems necessary expenditures from marketing hype, encouraging parents “to do what’s right for your family and say no to purchases that can endanger your family’s financial future,” according to Stephanie Knapp, acquisitions editor at Seal. The book’s short- and long-term advice covers everything from stroller shopping to college savings plans.
Healthy communication is essential to every relationship, and the parent-child bond is no exception. Parenting blogger Rebecca Eanes has a Facebook following of more than 587,000 people seeking advice about staying positive in the face of tantrums and other emotional challenges. In June, Tarcher Perigee is releasing Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, which mines Eanes’s experience of learning to connect with her kids at every stage of their development.
“Listening to your child can help a lot towards having a happy home,” says Allie Bochicchio, who edited The Gender Creative Child: Pathways for Nurturing and Supporting Children Who Live Outside Gender Boxes by developmental and clinical psychologist Diane Ehrensaft (The Experiment, Apr.). “This book is about letting your child explore who they are, and embracing them, rather than shutting them down or making them be a certain way,” Bochicchio says. Ehrensaft also wrote about supporting gender-fluid children in 2011’s Gender Born, Gender Made.
Heather Shumaker, an advocate for unstructured play, also embraces the unconventional in It’s OK to Go up the Slide: Renegade Rules for Raising Confident and Creative Kids (Tarcher Perigee, Mar.), challenging time-honored wisdom such as “safety first.” “To say safety second is fraught,” says Sara Carder, editorial director of Tarcher Perigee, who also edited Shumaker’s It’s OK Not to Share: And Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids (2012). Shumaker’s books promote the idea of rethinking social norms, Carder says: “The things we think we should do won’t necessarily make our children the happiest and the healthiest.”
In The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need from Grownups (Viking, Feb.), Erika Christakis, a lecturer at the Yale Child Study Center and a preschool director, encourages parents and educators to forego testing and other adult standards in favor of playtime, stories, and other creative, age-appropriate methods.
The notion of easing up on kids also features in The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About The Relationship Between Parents and Children by developmental psychologist and Wall Street Journal columnist Alison Gopnik (FSG, Aug.), author of 2009’s The Philosophical Baby. Gopnik contends that parents today are trying to raise instant grown-ups by obsessively controlling their children instead of letting them learn by doing—and making mistakes.
“This whole idea of parenting as a verb has led us astray,” says FSG editor-in-chief Eric Chinski, who edited The Gardener and the Carpenter. “We need to take a big step back.”
Jill Caryl Weiner is a journalist in New York and the author of When We Became Three (Cedar Fort, 2013).
Below, more in the subject of parenting books.Parenting with Grace: New Parenting Books 2016The Doctor is In: New Parenting Books 2016Reports from the Trenches: New Parenting Books 2016