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When You’re About to Go Off the Deep End, Don’t Take Your Kids With You
ISBN: 0973493801

By Kelly E. Nault
Review by: Kate Falvey

12/01/04

My six year old tucks her dolls in for the night, smoothing their quilts, cooing endearments, and humming a sweet medley of night-night anthems. Max, one of her twins, has been acting up, fussing and refusing to settle down. “I’m sorry to say this, Max,” says my little mother with earnest absorption, “but you’ll have to learn how to control your behavior. You’ll have to rest while I give your sister dance lessons tomorrow.” Of course, I recognize my own voice in rational, “courage-of-my-convictions” mode, doing an on-the-spot parental joust with the dragons of unrest, fending off doubt with a jab of explanation and a clearly meted consequence. This week it was two days of no Advent calendar trinkets after an unbecoming scene over a Hello Kitty notebook at a school book fair. Last week was full of exasperated instructions to “sit-for-ten-minutes-and-think-about-your-behavior” after several bouts of escalating mouthiness. I try to be strong. I try to be clear. I try to be fair. Consistent. Respectful. Understanding. Appropriate. All that. But the grade B fifties movie creature that is the underbelly of my parenting rears up from its black lagoon with all its haggard, swampy unreason, crushing fen-soaked copies of Baby and Childcare, Touchpoints, and Put Yourself in Their Shoes and eating time-outs for breakfast.

In the appealingly titled, When You’re About to Go Off the Deep End, Don’t Take Your Kids With You, Canadian “parenting expert” Kelly E. Nault cheerily suggests that my “pendulum of parenting” – arcing from sweetie to meanie in one easy tick – is the result of being out of synch with the 21st century – and of attempting to impose old-timey authoritarian dictates on kids in a de-stratified world. Where are the social models for subservience that bolster the old “do as I say” commands? In the past, that’s where – in our old cozy pre-feminist homes, where ordering kids about made more unambiguous, undermining sense. Today’s kids are apt to balk when a figurative whip is cracked. What they need is a Mom who merits respect – an “Ultimate Mom” who exudes and diffuses a frankly positive energy, who takes seriously her job of raising empathic and self-aware future citizens of our fractious world community.

It’s hard not to be just a little impatient when confronted with Nault’s insistent, exclamation-point driven blue-print for family harmony. On the other hand, her relentless belief in betterment is catching, her dauntless promise of enjoyable children and guilt-free parenting is downright refreshing. I’ve always been a sucker for enthusiasts of the Pollyanna Glad/New Age flower child stripe – and though Nault comes credentialed with a graduate degree in (Adlerian) counseling psych., years of field experience, and a long stint as a surrogate mother to two troubled boys, the strength of her advice is in her unabashedly girl-friendy vulnerability. She would be insufferable if she weren’t, somehow, so likeable.

That said, it is fun, especially in the wee hours, when the house is free of winsomeness and whining, to hear Nault egging me on the way of the Ultimate with her tips and action steps and diary entries and work-book exercises, with her web-site hotline, her emotionally intelligent how-to strategies, her perky sayings, sub-headings and doodles -- with her ultimately relieving, ultimately helpful, ultimately comforting encouragement. And here's another heartening perk: 10% of the book's sales go to the Make A Wish Foundation.

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