A Heaping Spoonful of Salt

Hi. I’m Kirsten, and I’m a bookoholic.

There, I said it. I’m sure you’re surprised: somebody who likes to write is also fond of reading? What are the odds? You just never know…

Anyway, I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. When I was in middle school, my mother had to gently suggest to me that, if I closed by books when in the company of my peers, I might make friends more easily. Though my social skills have improved since then – slightly – my love for books has not abated.

Fiction comprises the bulk of my reading material. My favorite way to end the day is to immerse myself in the worlds of Tolkien, Austen, J.K. Rowling, Chaim Potok, Anne Tyler…or one of a multitude of others. Recently, though, I determined to include some more nonfiction in my reading time.

I’m not entirely sure why; something about self-improvement or expanding my horizons, I suppose. Regardless, I have followed through with my resolution to incorporate some nonfiction into my evening routine, and have found it to be…rewarding. Mostly.

I can devour C.S. Lewis like there’s no tomorrow. Philip Yancey, Ann Voskamp, and Nancy Pearcey have also succeeded in captivating me. They inform, inspire, stimulate, and prove that well-expressed thoughts can engage the mind as well as a good story. What gives me trouble, though, are the parenting books.

Oh, the parenting books. They exist in abundance, and I assure you that many of them are excellent. Really. But the truth is, every time I read one, I have to follow it with an effective chaser. Like The Hunger Games, or Terry Pratchett. Just something to clear my head.

The thing is, parenting books take so many different angles. One might suggest that consistent, firm discipline is the key to teaching obedience, while another proposes frequent heart-to-heart talks with children about love and honor. One will assert that children can and should be taught to obey at all times, while another reminds the reader to be patient with our children, remembering that they are sinners just like we are.

The myriad approaches, recommendations, and solutions clog up my brain to the extent that an actual parenting issue can paralyze me into inaction. “Ack! They’re fighting! I should go separate them! No, wait, I should let them figure it out themselves. No, I need to coach them through this so they can learn how to resolve conflicts in the future. Hold on, no, I…hold on, why is it so quiet out there?”

Don’t get me wrong: I do appreciate these authors and the thoughts they have shared. It helps to have some different perspectives – and, besides, doesn’t every parent long for a handbook? Ultimately, though, any self-help or self-improvement book – whether it concerns parenting, relationships, finding your bliss, whatever – is limited by the fact that the author doesn’t know you, or what you wrestle with in your life or your parenting.

Let’s say, for example, you have trouble forming close relationships because you tend to erect emotional walls; a book recommending that you set boundaries may be redundant for you. Or if you struggle with disorganization, you might not benefit from a book telling you that the secret to happiness is to loosen the reins and stop trying to control everything. And if, like me, you’re a mom who already feels guilty every time you take a break from playing with your kids so you can get some work done, you sure as heck don’t need to read that you should ease up on the housework in order to spend more quality time with your kids.

Are all these books a waste of time and trees, then? Usually, no. But I have concluded that, any time I read a book containing any sort of advice, it’s okay to take it with a grain of salt.

Maybe even a generous helping of salt.

And frankly, all the mental filtering and salting and analyzing muddies my head after a while. When it comes to my kids, my primary goals are to love them, pray for them, and teach them to love Jesus. The rest is just just details.

Meanwhile, I think it’s time to pick up a new novel.

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