Healing High Fives
Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success, by Madeline Levine, Ph.D.
It’s natural for parents to want the very best for their children.
They encourage hard work in all areas so their children will be on track from a young age to get accepted to the most prestigious universities. To that end, they support rigorous academic schedules, run from baseball practices to theater rehearsals to private piano lessons and often sacrifice sleep and family time in exchange for perceived success.
But in her book, Madeline Levine, Ph.D., questions whether this intensity is really what children and teenagers need to thrive. She gives examples of teenagers who are pressured from all sides, leaving them feeling compromised if they don’t follow an expected path. At one point, Levine says, “the cost of this relentless drive to perform at unrealistically high levels is a generation of kids who resemble nothing so much as trauma victims.” Is it really worth it if the end result is a child who is sleep-deprived, stressed and at risk for emotional or psychological problems? She also points out that by shuttling kids all over town for various activities, parents are sending the message that family time should disproportionately be given to them, instilling a sense of entitlement that could lead to additional problems.
Levine proposes that parents encourage children to nurture their true potential, rather than pushing them to succeed in everything. This will make them more inclined to grow up as well-adjusted individuals who know themselves. Children thrive when they do something well and get a sense of accomplishment, not when they’re told they do everything well or are encouraged to be competitive in all areas. “Our kids are much more complex, interesting and unique than their grades, their SAT scores, or the colleges they ultimately attend,” Levine says.
Her book takes the reader through various stages of development – from the elementary school child who is excited about learning yet still sees the world as very black and white, to the middle school student who is learning to be more independent while balancing physical and emotional maturation, which are not always in sync, to the high school student who is building a sense of self in preparation for heading out into the world on his own.
At each stage, Levine offers tips to talk to your children, re-program the messages they get in the world that could be harmful and challenge them to become independent thinkers as they figure out who they are meant to be.
My Kind of Crazy, by Janine Crowley Haynes
Janine Crowley Haynes takes the reader inside her mind – one she freely describes as crazy.
In fact, she goes one step further and calls herself an expert on being crazy. She believes embracing that label, which many would view as a stigma, is what has actually allowed her to heal and spread the word that mental illness is just as serious, real and uncontrollable as physical ailments.
Throughout her tale, which takes the reader from her suicide attempt to her latest stay at an inpatient psychiatric treatment center, she manages to infuse humor into the serious topic of her bipolar disorder. Throughout the short book, she vacillates from mania – dancing and singing to entertain those who are also spending time in the psychiatric facility – to depression, whether in outlining her suicide attempt or describing her initial reticence to accept electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
She doesn’t hold back when outlining actions that most people would deem crazy. But it is this honesty that illustrates how she walks the line between sanity and mental illness every day, never quite sure when she might slip and fall into an even greater despair. Her descriptions of the other “crazy” patients and staff are vibrant and witty, but the reader is left wondering how much of her pithy writing is factual or borne of the illness ravaging her mind.
Anyone dealing with a family member with mental illness will appreciate the clarity Haynes provides in her story. Her husband, Larry, also weighs in on her illness, telling her at one point that her book needed to include more anecdotes to show exactly how crazy she is. He details all the instances when he was forced to step in to protect their son, Steven, from her. Steven, though obviously traumatized by his mother’s illness and suicide attempt, credits it for making him a stronger teenager.
Haynes herself reaches a point where she can say that she has gone through a “phenomenal rebirth” that allows her to better appreciate all that is good in her life and even embrace being crazy.