When I first learned I was going to have a child, my first thought was, “Woo Hoo! I am THE MAN!” But my second thought was one of fear. “What do I do now? What do I know about raising a child? How do I do this parenting thing?!” The only thing I could think of was to clean out the parenting section of the local Barnes & Noble. In all, I think I have about 15 to 20 books on some aspect of parenting. So, when I was asked to review the newly released book The Gay Uncle’s Guide to Parenting I was really excited. I mean, thanks to my mother and her wild ways, I’ve hung around my share of gay men. Plus I’m a father. I’ve read my books but I’ve also learned through the school of hard knocks.
Brett Berk, the author, uses his background in early childhood education and his experience as a pre-school teacher and director along with his work as a consultant to companies wanting to sell you things you don’t need, to tell you how you can best parent your child. To me, this is similar to the priest at the catholic Engagement Encounter giving advice to married couples. He’s got an idea about how it should be done but his experience is lacking in some key areas.
Nonetheless, I was eager to read the book. And as you begin reading, you quickly realize that this is not your mother’s parenting book. No, Mr. Berk is no Dr. Spock. I mean, you have to get past all the cursing… and all the references to alcohol… and drugs… and hangovers… But once you do, the read is quite enjoyable as the tone is light and witty and even educational.
Overall, the book has many useful tips and thought-provoking aspects. I think the new parent, like I was three years ago, would enjoy reading this book and letting it digest without any aversion to the tone of Mr. Berk’s style – which is to say, bordering on condescension. The tone, especially at the beginning of the book, is one of “I know how to parent kids because I’ve been a pre-school director and you don’t know how to parent because you are so close to the situation that you can’t see the forest through the trees. Here, let me enlighten you.” Admittedly, this was hard for me to get past now that I have been parenting twins for the past two and a half years. I feel like I’ve earned some serious parenting stripes and I’m not sure I’m up for a guy with no kids telling me that he knows better.
But once I got over my issues, I do have to admit that the book can be a pretty useful tool in dealing with various stages and events in children’s (and parent’s) lives. Some of what he writes is stating the obvious (he spends a great deal of one chapter telling you not to lie to your kids) but others are quite good and a nice reminder even for a more veteran parent like myself (like how to best communicate with your child without using the word “no”).
To illustrate his points, Mr. Berk uses examples from friends and family members who happen to be parents. Luckily for Mr. Berk, his friends and family happen to be the worst parents on the face of the earth. Parents who yell, hit, threaten, berate, act childish, and decide that the time to start potty training is during a six week vacation. With the examples of those closest to him, he gives us better alternatives and the reason why it works. Many of these examples come from extended stays with friends who have kids and he spends a great deal of time telling us how much he loved working with kids but also how much trouble they are when on these visits. Now, once the book is released, I imagine he won’t have any more friends with parents who want to stay with him so perhaps his problem will be solved.
Judging by the tone of this review, you might conclude that I would not recommend this book. But that’s not entirely true. However, I wouldn’t recommend this book to just anyone. The book has good information and can be a really useful tool if you are the right person to receive this message in a relaxed, alternative way. If you are young, hip and clueless as a parent or don’t mind getting advice from a know-it-all gay guy, then this is the book for you. After all, it IS fun to read and does have useful information. But if you are conservative in your views or don’t like to read about the author sneaking in a “quickie” before the kids get back from an outing (FYI, Brett, Too Much Information), then you might look elsewhere for your parenting tips.
Having said all this, I’d give the book a solid B. There is some solid information that can be very helpful when navigating this slippery slope of parenthood. It’s a good, fast read and is easy to understand. If you are a progressive person who doesn’t mind a few four-lettered words mixed in with your parenting advice, this book is worth the price. You can pick up a copy here.
P.S. I have an extra copy of this book. If you would like a copy, leave a compelling reason why you need a parenting book and I’ll choose a winner.