I’ve been toying with the idea for this post for months. This beautiful spring morning so alive with children scurrying around to find pastel eggs hidden for them by a sneaky bunny finally inspired me to write it…
I am asked on a near-daily basis to recommend books about parenting. I have a few favorites that are about very specific parenting challenges. This seems like a good place to give my favorite books and authors a shout out:
- For parents of really challenging children: The Explosive Child by Greene (I think the Collaborate Problem Solving approach described by Greene in this book is good for ALL children ages 7 to 18); Parenting a Child Who Has Intense Emotions by Harvey and Penzo
- For parents who worry about their children’s eating habits and nutrition: Child of Mine by Satter
- For parents of adolescents: Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall? by Wolf
- For parents of children with sleep problems: Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Ferber; Sleeping Through the Night by Mindell
- For parents of children who struggle with learning: A Mind at a Time by Levine
I have many other favorite books for parents; some about specific challenges such as depression, eating disorders, and attention deficit disorders; and some about specific populations such as introverts and gifted children. If you are interested in a specific topic, let me know in a comment and I will share the titles I turn to most often.
Even though I love all the books mentioned above and many others, I have a single book that I think captures the essence of good parenting more than any other. You might be surprised to learn that this book is available in hardcover, paperback, and as a board book. It only contains about 30 pages, and half of these are filled with cheery, brightly colored illustrations. The book is titled The Runaway Bunny, and it was written in 1991 by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd.
For those that are unfamiliar with the children’s classic, it tells the story of a little bunny who is threatening to run away from his mother. He tells her of the various places he will go and the clever ways he will hide from her. For example, he tells the mother bunny, “If you run after me, I will become a fish in a trout stream and I will swim away from you,” and later in the story, “I will become a little sailboat, and I will sail away from you.” No matter how the little bunny plans his escape, the mother bunny promises to morph herself so that she can continue to guide him. For example, in response to the threats above, the mother bunny replies, “If you become a fish in a trout stream, I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you,” and “If you become a sailboat and sail away from me, I will become the wind and blow you where I want you to go.”
Whenever I read those words, I am reminded of what good parents are doing all the time; they are being the kind of mother or father their ever-changing child needs them to be in a particular moment in time. I can imagine different text more suited to human children than bunnies:
Child: If you have to be the kind of parent who checks my homework every day and supervises my studying, then I will make good grades and prove to you that I can do my schoolwork independently.
Parent: If you become the kind of kid who studies independently and earns good grades, then I will become the kind of parent who stays out of your schoolwork altogether.
^ ^ ^
Child: If you want me to buy my clothes at Hollister and dress like the popular crowd, I will dye my hair blue and dress in all black.
Parent: If you want to change your look, I will get you an appointment at the salon and give you a ride to the mall.
^ ^ ^
Child: If you insist on coaching my baseball team, then I will quit baseball and join the track team.
Parent: If you’d rather I not coach, then I will step down; if you switch to track, I will sit in the bleachers and cheer for you and your teammates.
Of course, these ever-changing children do not usually express their feelings and plans as forthrightly as the little bunny. Wouldn’t that be nice!? Human parents have to listen and observe and extrapolate from their children’s words, emotions, and behavior exactly what kind of parent their children need in the moment. For a parent with more than one child, it is often necessary to be different types of parent at the same time!
If you don’t own a copy of The Runaway Bunny, get one now. Keep it on your bedside table for the challenging moments when you are not sure what to do next. Read it as a reminder that what you do next depends on what your child needs in the moment. Don’t get too comfortable in any single parenting mode, though, because as soon as you do, your child will have moved on to a new developmental phase. To parent well, simply follow the model of the mother (or father) bunny!