Why Reading With My Kids Is So Important To My Parenting
I spent my entire childhood with my nose buried in a book. My younger sisters remember me building a "fort" of books around myself in the morning as I chowed down my cereal, regularly surrounding myself with books on each side and in front of me in the off-chance that, horror of horrors, I'd run out of something to read. I read everything that I could get my hands on, studying the backs of bottles of shampoo in the shower, taking those free magazines from the grocery store rack in the front of the store, and devouring every single publication in our house, even some scandalous Readers' Digest issues that were probably my only form of sex education. Back then, books were my life. Now, as a mom, books mean the world to me and my kids.
Books opened up an entire world to me, and reading also gave me the life I lead to today in a very practical sense. Reading was the driving force behind so many things in my life, but was perhaps most prominent in ways I didn't realize at the time. Long before I ever knew it, my love of books and reading helped shape my parenting style. I knew enough about parenthood to know there would be things I'd undoubtedly fail at by society's standards — I can't craft or cook to save my own life, spending large amounts of time at home makes me stir crazy, I am very much an introvert who's very often touched out, and I was never big on Barbies or playing with LEGOs — but I figured that if I could succeed at one thing, like instilling a love of reading in my children, then I'd have done everything right as their mom.
Now when we visit my parents' home I look fondly at the bookshelves, each one holding a memory from my childhood. There's the book I read after my best friend dumped me at school. And there's the one I read after Dad was hospitalized. Oh, there's the one I read when I had my first crush. I wanted to give my kids those very same moments and memories.
Books have made me the person that I am today. They shaped my entire identity. Anne of Green Gables taught me the importance of bosom buddies and conversing with trees. Emily of New Moon showed me how to reach for the stars as a woman with goals. Nancy Drew exemplified what a strong, independent woman was about and each member of The Baby-Sitter's Club planted the first seeds of my entrepreneurial spirit.
I found out I was pregnant at 21 years old and there was so much about motherhood and parenting that I didn't know. I couldn't decide right then and there what kind of mom I'd be — I didn't even know what kind of mom I should be or even wanted to be! – but I knew that I wanted to foster that same love of reading that I'd grown up with.
After my first, and then my second, and then my third, and then my fourth, I made it a point to read with each of my children as often as I could. I started when they were babies, reading books before every nap time, bedtime, and almost every afternoon. We read for fun, for a break, on rainy days, snowy days, hot, humid days, and on days just to fill the silence. I take my kids to the library regularly and I hope they'll feel that same thrill that I still get when they pick up a book they're excited to read.
Last year, for my daughters' joint birthdays (they're two days apart), I finally had a moment that I had been waiting for since they were born 5 and 7 years ago: I bought them the complete set of Little House On the Prairie books. Insert praise hands emoji here. Those books were so important to me as a little girl. I loved growing up on the prairie, figuring things out as I went, learning heartbreak and happiness and devastation and pure joy right alongside the Ingalls family.
Since the party last May, we've been steadily reading our way through those books as a family. And it brings everyone (even my husband who hates reading) such profound joy. It's the one moment that we have together. No matter how busy or hectic our days are, no matter how much we'd rather just shut off the lights, tuck the kids in, and go to bed, we curl around each other and turn the page once more.
I hope reading will literally give my children the world: a world to hang on to when our own world is hard, a world of beauty and inspiration when they desperately need to see it, and a world where they realize the full scope of this earth we live in. Not everyone lives the same way that we do in our small town, and I hope reading will give them a more truthful view of what not just what life is like, but also what people are like.
Last Saturday I joined my oldest daughter on the couch, where she was reading her latest library haul. Before I knew it, her two younger sisters and brother were piling on the couch and each child had a book of their own in hand. It felt, honestly, like one of my proudest moments of my journey so far as their mom, seeing their love of reading come full circle before me. If I do nothing else, I'll have given them world one page at a time.
Images: Courtesy of Chaunie Brusie (4), ThomasLife/Flickr