“Food for Thoughtful Parenting:” Raising families in the e-age


“Food for Thoughtful Parenting: 12 Must-Have Lists For New Parents & Young Families,” Nina Coslov and Tara Keppler. Six Monkey Press, Cambridge, 2009. Softcover, 77 pp., $14.95. Available at Rainy Day, Kiddo’s, Alley’s General Store, Island libraries.

Last week I helped a young friend unload his family’s extraordinary new baby stroller from the new family van purchased to transport their tyke safely in the increasingly complex world of baby raising.

Baby’s parents opted for the economy model stroller. It has cup holders and a built-in CD player but it doesn’t have a refrigerator. In addition to not having a ton of money, my pal doesn’t have a ton of experience in this wonderful, scary, overwhelming realm of Dad-ness.

Now come Nina Coslov and Tara Keppler, whose kids range from preschool to teenage, with a slim volume devoted to simplifying life for maximum kid and parent enjoyment. “Food for Thoughtful Parenting” may be the oddest little parenting book — and perhaps one of the most helpful — you’ll read.

“Food for Thoughtful Parenting” is simple: a book of 60 ideas with short 100 to 200 word “explainers.” The ideas are arranged in 12 lists with titles that are mostly self-explanatory, such as “Thoughts for Newbies,” “Feeding the Family,” and “Stuck Indoors: Feeling Restless.”

According to Ms. Coslov, two of the five tips in “Smoothing the Bumps” resonate the most among readers, based on early returns. Those tips are “Surrender 15 Minutes” and “Say Yes When You Can.” As a reformed over-achieving, in-control Dad, those got me. I wish I had done both more often.

Here’s what the authors have to say about Surrender 15 Minutes — “Balancing children’s demands and a parent’s desire to get things done is one the hallmark struggles of having young children….When tensions mount and you are ready to lock yourself in the garage and scream ‘When Do I Get MY Time?’ try the unexpected and counter-intuitive. Give in. Drop everything and surrender 15 minutes and do whatever your child wants. Sit and read, build with blocks, let them sit on your lap and type on the keyboard.”

Then, say the authors, when your kid knows they are still first in your world, they may wander off content and then you can check your email.

Starting to get what this book is about? It ain’t theory, it’s a bunch of little things that make happier kids, parents, and families.

In their introduction, Ms. Coslov and Ms. Keppler explain their approach: “We’ve gathered these ideas over the years on playground benches, during parking lot chats, and through our own trial-and-error experiences…”

The format is appropriate to the e-generation’s info processing: ideas, short copy blocks, features, and benefits. But it’s leavened with a humanity and commonsensicality of past generations of parents.

Ms. Coslov lives in Cambridge during the winter and in West Tisbury in summertime with husband Howie and kids Zan, 8; Will, 6; and Kate, 4.

Ms. Keppler lives in Watertown with husband Peter and kids Olivia, 13 (aka Liz); Caroline, 11 (aka Bump); and Per, 8.

The two women took a few minutes last week to talk by phone, sandwiched between prepping for the next winter storm and school carpooling, about their book.

“Tara and I met, then I met her kids and she became a mentor for me. She had been parenting a few years before me. I would present parenting issues and saw that her approach was less confrontational than mine. She had less need for control. Today my kids say ‘What would Tara do?’ Ms. Coslov said. “The book is presented in a list format because, well, we live by lists.”

“It’s also designed to provide usable ideas that can be brought to bear in the moment, when you need an idea,” Ms. Keppler said. “Really, it’s amazing what’s available to people who are parenting. Parenting is not about CD players and lots of stuff. It’s about simplifying and underscoring family relationship. And it’s about not over-scheduling. It is about using imagination,” she said.

“Less is more. Noise, activities, and gizmos don’t add [to good parenting], they detract,” Ms. Coslov said.

The women intend their first book to be a useful, guilt-free tool. “A friend said she liked the book because she couldn’t stand reading another book that made her feel guilty about things she wasn’t doing,” Ms. Coslov said, chuckling.

The authors grew up in different parts of Pennsylvania; Ms. Coslov in Pittsburgh and Ms. Keppler in a small town outside Johnstown. Different environments, and they didn’t know each other, but remembered the joys of a similar, spontaneous childhood, which informs the book.

“We lived in a neighborhood where a lot of my parent’s high school friends also lived so there was a strong connection in our community. As kids we would zoom out the door and just play. I’m trying to replicate that here. That’s our resistance to scheduling,” Ms. Coslov said. “It’s fine not to be taking 100 lessons, it’s fine to trust our instincts,” Ms. Keppler said.

Now the authors are entering a new phase of parenting, the oft-dreaded tween and teen years. Is another guide on the way? “Maybe,” said Ms. Coslov. “We’ve been toying with a few ideas.”