Book Review: Far From the Tree

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I think there might be something “funny” in the pages of Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon, because I couldn’t every time I tried to stop reading it, I kept getting pulled back in.  Let me explain…

I first learned of Mr. Solomon’s book while listening to an interview on NPR.  He explained that he had spent several years interviewing families about their children who had a fallen “far from the tree,” meaning they were very different from their parents.  This may have been because of a mental illness (schizophrenia), a physical disability (deafness), or the circumstances surrounding their conception (in rape).  I thought the topic sounded interesting as I frequently work with parents whose children are markedly different.  “Hmmm,” I thought, “I’m sure I can learn a thing or two.” Boy, was that an understatement.

Fast forward a few weeks, and the book arrives for my review, and it is ONE THOUSAND PAGES!  So, even though I make a point to read all my reviews cover to cover, I thought Far From the Tree would be the exception. I thought I’d read the introductory chapter, a few in the middle (the chapters are organized by topic; for example one chapter is on prodigies, another on transgender), and call it good.  It didn’t work out that way. Every time I tried to put the book down, it called to me from my night stand.  Wouldn’t you know, I read the whole thing. No, not read, devoured.  Because here’s the thing: this book is fantastic.

Not only is Far From the Tree superbly written – it was literally a thrill to read the finely crafted words – but the content was outstanding as well.  Mr. Solomon challenges us to think differently about how we love, but also (and in my opinion, even more importantly) how we define and understand disability.  What makes someone normal or abnormal, and who gets to decide these criteria? Psychologists? Law makers? Physicians? Pop culture and media?  These are important conversations, especially as we as an American culture are trying to expand our view of what is acceptable and/or normal, while (hopefully) simultaneously extending legal, healthcare, and other benefits to people who used to be considered well outside of the norm.

Many of the chapters were gut-wrenching, but even through teary-eyes I couldn’t stop reading.  Mr. Solomon’s many interviewees were so candid and thoughtful in the way they described their families and children.  Mr. Solomon obviously went to great lengths to create strong relationships with these families and individuals; he is a gifted man.

I heartily recommend this book.  Pick through it chapter by chapter, or read it in bits and pieces over time.  The messages, the struggles, and the questions posed are important for all of us to consider – whether our children have fallen far from us or not.

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Check out this review on Mr. Solomon's site!

Check out this review on Mr. Solomon’s site!

5 Questions with Dr. David Palmiter

A couple of months ago I posted a review of Dr. David Palmiter‘s book, Working Parents Thriving Families.  It’s a great book, and I’m thrilled to have Dr. Palmiter here today to answer a couple of questions! Welcome, Dr. Palmiter!

Dr. S: In your book, Working Parent Thriving Families, you talk quite a bit about your own family. What did your wife and kids think about that? Did they give you any advice when you were writing the book?
Dr. P: I think the only concern they had was whether I’d say something completely idiotic, which they seem to believe is a vulnerability of mine! Seriously, they were okay with what I wrote.Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 2.32.42 PM

Dr. S: Your book includes 10 steps to a happier, healthier family.  If you had to pick THE MOST IMPORTANT one, what would it be?
Dr. P: Chapter One: Special Time. I say this because it is the intervention that most promotes a sense of worthiness in a kid and a sense closeness between a parent and a child; in my travels it is the latter which is especially important to we parent-lunatics.
Dr. S: Are there any steps or strategies you wished you had included but didn’t?
Dr. P: I would probably have said more about bullying, diversity training/dialogue and violence prevention; I seem to be dealing with these issues more and more in my professional life and in what I see in our culture at large.
Dr. S: What are you working on these days? Any new books in the works?
Dr. P: I’m working on a book proposal for teaching graduate students how to do cognitive-behavioral therapy. The working title is “OMG, What Do I Do If My Client                            : A Practical How-To Guide for Doing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with Children and Adolescents.”
Dr. S: One of the things I often write about is stress management.  We all know yoga and meditation are great, but I am more interested in unique, creative ways for managing worry.  What do you do to manage the stress in your life?
Dr. P: Scream at TV broadcasts of the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Orioles (the coaches can perhaps hear one, and benefit from one’s counsel, if one is loud enough ;-), play low stakes poker with my boys, use humor whenever and wherever possible and practice magic tricks to show my students and child clients; at the end of the day I’m a huge exhibitionist, so I’m learning to just go with that. lol

Thanks for taking time to answer my questions, Dr. Palmiter! Check out his book here.

Stay tuned for upcoming book reviews! I’ve got a huge stack just waiting to be read, written, and posted! In the meantime, if you have suggestions for me to read and review, please send ideas along!

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Book Review: Working Parents Thriving Families

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A few things before I start this review:

1. I typically don’t care for parenting books.  They tend to be preachy, too complicated, and make me feel like a lousy parent after reading them.  Read more about my thoughts on parenting books here.

2.  Dr. David Palmiter, the author of Working Parents, Thriving Families, is a colleague of mine so I’m not totally un-biased when it comes to this review.  With that said, one of the reasons he is a colleague is that I consider him an excellent psychologist and teacher.

3.  I have read this book a couple of times.  The first time was so I could write a quick review to go into the book.  The second time was for this blog – so I consider myself a real expert on this book! To read my review (along with a bunch of others), click here.

OK, with that stuff out of the way, here we go:

While I’m not sure if the “Working” in the title refers to parents who work outside the home, or a recognition of the fact that parenting is “work,” the title sets the tone for this down-to-earth, super accessible book that deals with a lot of real-life issues. Dr. Palmiter doesn’t focus on step-by-step techniques or discipline strategies that need a PhD to administer.  He simply talks about the basics of parenting and what needs to happen in order to raise a happy family – while acknowledging that none of us is perfect and we all get overwhelmed and frustrated with ourselves, our partners, and our kids from time to time.

A few of the things I like best about Dr. Palmiter’s book:

  • “Special Time.”  Dr. Palmiter suggests we spend an hour each week with each of our children doing nothing but watching them engage in something they enjoy, and then commenting, praising, and encouraging them in that activity.  He suggests how awesome it might feel if we (as adults) heard things like: “You prepared that dinner beautifully” or “Wow, you really managed the kids like a pro today” on a regular basis – and the same goes for our kids.  I love tips like this because they are free, aren’t hard to master, don’t have side effects, and can make a huge impact on families in a relatively short period of time.  I know, I know, I’m not sure I can really do that for what would equal 3 hours per week either (and he comments on that complaint), but it is something to work toward for sure.
  • His humor and lighthearted tone.  Parenting is a funny endeavor – but you would never know it by looking at most of the books, blogs, and websites out there.  Dr. Palmiter did a great job making me laugh. A couple examples are when he offers some comebacks to common kid complaints:

Kid: But all of my friends are allowed to do it!

Parent: Do you think their parents would consider adopting you?

Kid: But, you let (name of sibling) do that!

Parent: I love her more than you.

  • I didn’t feel like crap at the end.  As I mentioned above, lots of parenting books make me feel like a bad parent.  Either because I never have the energy or motivation to do all the things they tell me I should, or because my kids never look like their examples.  The thing about this book is that my family DOES look like Dr. Palmiter’s examples, and he even shares his own quirky family and parenting blunders with us!  He also seems to get that modern family life is crazy, hectic (his website is even, and frankly ugly at times.

To learn more about Dr. David Palmiter check out his website.  To buy the book, check it out here.