I distinctly remember reading the first edition of Dr. James Dobson's THE STRONG-WILLED CHILD. I was desperate. My first son was not sleeping through the night, was eating nothing but mashed bananas, and was not obeying. The kicker: He would look at me, grin wildly and defiantly dump his entire toy box after I told him, "No."
Cajoling, negotiating, threatening --- nothing worked to get this kid to do something he didn't want to do. I was taller and stronger and, at least in my mind, smarter, but I became stupid and turned to mush when it came to him. It was a battle of wills, and he was winning.
I admit it. I was one of those mothers who would start out sweet and soft-spoken, telling my son kindly, "No, Sean. No, Sean. No, Sean" --- only to switch gears and yell, "SEAN NOOOOO!!!" seconds later. The result: He still blissfully ignored me.
Friends and family began pushing parenting books at me. Thankfully, THE STRONG-WILLED CHILD was one of them. I read and tried to absorb everything. Dobson advocated spanking. Yikes. What would my Baby-Boomer friends think of me? We were spanked and seemed none worse for the experience, but…
Dobson's arguments favoring discipline, structure and routines made so much sense --- especially in light of the chaos I was wreaking, placing such a high premium on reasoning with a 2-foot high toddler, as I was. His style is encouraging. I remember thinking, "I'm doing EVERYTHING wrong, but there's hope." But then again, reading "The temperaments of children tend to reflect those of their parents" made me remember my mother's words (under duress) to me: I hope you have a child just like you.
I took Dobson's advice, feeling empowered, balancing love with discipline, and to my relief, things around here started to improve. And proving there is no one as obnoxious as the newly converted, I gave a copy of the book to all the moms in my son's playgroup.
In THE NEW STRONG-WILLED CHILD, even though it's been rewritten, updated and expanded, not much has changed in Dobson's straight-talking, "Because I am The Adult and You Are The Child" approach to parenting. He's still warm and encouraging, and brimming with common sense. This time, though, his common sense advice is backed up with current research. What began as a hunch to Dobson --- that some kids are compliant and some are "strong-willed" --- turned out to be scientifically true. Dobson's bottom line is still the same: Parenting is a balance of love and discipline.
In many chapters, he uses a Q & A format to reinforce points. Here's an example:
"Q: I like your idea of balancing love with discipline, but I'm not sure I can do it. My parents were extremely rigid with us, and I'm determined not to make that mistake with my kids. But I don't want to be a push-over, either. Can you give me some help in finding the middle ground between extremes?
A: Maybe it would clarify the overall goal of your discipline to state it in the negative. It is not to produce perfect kids. Even if you implement a flawless system of discipline at home, which no one in history has done, your children will still be children. At times they will be silly, lazy, selfish, and yes, disrespectful. Such is the nature of the human species. We as adults have the same weaknesses. Furthermore, when it comes to kids, that's the way they are wired. Boys and girls are like clocks; you have to let them run. My point is that the purpose of parental discipline is not to produce obedient little robots who can sit with their hands folded in the parlor thinking patriotic and noble thoughts! Even if we could pull that off, it wouldn't be wise to try.
The objective, as I see it, is to take the raw material our babies arrive with on this earth and gradually mold it, shaping them into mature, responsible, God-fearing adults. It is a twenty-year process that involves progress, setbacks, successes and failures. When the child turns thirteen, you'll swear for a time that he's missed everything you thought you had taught --- manners, kindness, grace, and style. But then maturity begins to take over, and the little green shoots from former planning start to emerge. It is one of the richest experiences in life to watch that blossoming at the latter end of childhood."
Back in 1978, Dobson was just beginning his remarkable legacy, writing the first of 33 books, launching a radio show heard by 220 million people each day on 7,300 radio stations located in 122 countries around the world. Back then, I too was just beginning to leave my mark, raising my sons (I now have four) and reading Dobson, who was doling out parenting advice, not knowing who was listening and, perhaps, benefiting from it.
Thanks, Dr. Dobson. And keep up the good work.
Reviewed by Diana Keough on June 22, 2004