Books Are My Secret Parenting Weapon

by Amber Leventry
Originally Published: 
Courtesy of Amber Leventry

I saw the number pop up on my phone but didn’t answer it. I knew what it was about, but after the voicemail was left I decided to delete it … along with the six other messages from the same number. My contact was calling me to tell me a package was waiting for me in the building’s vestibule. What I ordered was in a brown paper bag by the door. I was to enter alone and with a mask on.

I laughed as I deleted the repetitive messages of the local librarians telling me I had books ready for pick up as if what I was about to consume was illegal. Borrowing books is the most nefarious thing I am up to these days and I highly suggest you get in on this action.

Some of the books I place on hold through the online directory are for me, but the majority of what I borrow from the library is for my kids. This has always paid off nicely for me. I am a book lover, but when I had kids, I was reading more to them than myself. By the time my own bedtime rolled around, I usually fell asleep a few pages into a book. There was at least an 18-month stretch between my twins being born and me finishing a book. That happens when you add newborn twins to the toddler you already have. But that didn’t stop me from reading to them.

Books have always been a part of our bedtime routine and I still read to my kids 30-60 minutes each night. My oldest child is almost 10 and my twins are now seven, and we have progressed from board books to picture books to early readers to chapter books but no book is off limits. I can’t bring myself to part with certain books, so every once in a while we read Goodnight Moon or The Snowy Day.

Courtesy of Amber Leventry

As draining and crappy as some days are, I can always count on bedtime as a way to connect with my kids. Getting them ready for bed is usually a hell storm, but once we are finally snuggled up together I am able to let go of my irritation. They become sweet instead of defiant and we are all able to laugh and fold into one another again. Not that all days are a wreck, but knowing I have the chance to reattach to my kids at the end of each day through books is comforting. But what’s really wonderful is the fact that we are finally at a place where all three of them can read to themselves. We still have our nighttime ritual, but a glorious corner has been turned and like magic there are now stretches of time when all three children are curled up with books.

I have one piece of unsolicited parenting advice I swear by and never feel bad about offering: surround your kids with books and read at least one a day to them. Going on a car trip? Books. Want to reward a job well done? Books. Want at least 15 minutes of quiet? Leave a bag of library books near the couch and let your child discover it. Need your kid to calm the fuck down? Give them several books and tell them they need to take some quiet time. My kids almost always reach for the books after a few minutes of frustration and usually end up in better moods by the time they reach the bottom of the book pile.

Courtesy of Amber Leventry

Books from the library, book fairs, yard sales, and Goodwill literally litter my van, the kids’ rooms, the staircase, and most surfaces of the house. I can’t resist a Scholastic book order and I have become very efficient at navigating the library’s online catalogue. I have been pushing books on my kids since their conception and I highly suggest you do the same. Yes, I want my kids to have good literacy skills but my focus has always been on the enjoyment of stories. I wanted my kids to know the escape, entertainment, and comfort of being read to. And now they are starting to get this from reading on their own.

My oldest has been a strong reader for several years and it’s common for her to take herself somewhere quiet to read. The twins are a bit behind in their reading ability but I recently suggested they try to re-read the small chapter books I read to them recently. I like to hook them on series—in this case the series we have been reading is Dragon Masters—because this takes some of the brainwork out of trying to figure out what will interest them, and investing in characters keeps them engaged in the story and in reading. Because my kids already knew the story, I was hoping it would help them read the words on the page. Something finally clicked and the better they got at reading, the more they wanted to do it. Mornings are now filled with all three kids eating breakfast while reading their books. Angels were singing on a Monday I swear to God. I am also now yelling at them to put their books down and get ready for school, but that’s better than yelling at them to stop wearing their siblings’ underwear on their heads while they procrastinate the inevitable.

My oldest daughter stumbled to dinner the other night with her nose still in her book. I told her I was happy she was enjoying the story, but I asked her to put it down for 10 minutes to be present with the family. She huffed a little and said, “Fine. But I prefer the land of fiction.” I knew exactly what she meant, and I patted myself on the back a bit for raising a bookworm. The best part is that I am slowly starting to envision chunks of quiet time where all of us are snuggled up with our favorite books at the same time on a lazy day. It has taken years to get to this point, but my efforts are paying off. I prefer the land of fiction too.

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