best books for mindful parents
— and a give-away


FullSizeRenderTwenty-five years ago, as a new mother trying to figure out what kind of mom I wanted to be, I went in search of books to guide me. I hoped to find some wise mothering mentors who could shine a light on the path at my feet and say, “Here, follow me, come this way.”

Looking back on those days now, I realize how much things have changed. Back then, there were no cell phones, the word “text” referred to print on a paper page, and news of the world arrived via the newspaper that landed on our doorstep each morning.

We bought our first computer in 1990, when Henry was three months old, so I could begin working from home at my new job editing The Best American Short Stories. My Apple IICX could run two programs at once, Clarisworks and Filemaker Pro, which meant I could do word-processing (an outdated phrase if every there was!) and keep a database of my two hundred-plus magazine subscriptions. I dialed in for an internet connection, kept all my reading notes on file cards, and corresponded with authors and friends through the mail.

There were no blogs to read or online parenting forums to join, there was no Amazon to browse nor any algorithm recommending books for me to buy, there was no Facebook. My husband took photos of our new baby boy with his 3-pound Nikon, we dropped the rolls of film off at CVS, and then carefully placed our 4 x 6 prints into a photo album, sending dupes off to the grandparents.

It all seems pretty quaint in retrospect, so innocent and simple. But at the time, working and raising children and trying to do it all and have it all and give it all to them, I still sensed that life was moving too fast. Much as I yearned for less pressure and more fun, my days were spent juggling: too much stuff, too many choices, too many obligations, never enough time. [continue…]

Simplicity Parenting and Books to Give Away

I can’t recall how many times a reader has written to say,
“I wish I’d found your books years ago, when my children were young.”

I had that same feeling myself, reading Kim John Payne’s very wise and beautiful book Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids.

So many of the books I did read when my own sons were small left me feeling confused and inadequate. What I wanted was a calm friend on the page, someone who would reassure me that I was fully capable of giving my children what they needed. Someone who would also remind me that, in fact, my two small children didn’t actually need very much.

In a culture of competition, noise, distraction, and excess, it is hard to tune in to a place of inner knowing. And it’s harder still for me to hear and to trust my own inner voice — especially when that voice is advocating for such elusive qualities as emptiness, silence, stillness, intimacy, simplicity, and faith.

I have discovered a spiritual friend, and a mentor for both motherhood and for life itself, in Kim Payne. Even now, reading his book as the parent of two young adults, I find myself underlining passages, realizing that our need for quiet time and simple pleasures does not end with childhood. Again and again, I have to be reminded to stop, to rest, to realign my life with the values I hold most dear.
Relationships — whether with a toddler or an eighteen-year-old — are not sustained on the fly. In fact, they are best nurtured in those very moments when not much else is happening. Whenever I turn my attention away from the world’s distractions (and there seem to be more of them then ever!), and focus instead on the beautiful souls of my own loved ones, I am rewarded.

Anxiety usually means I’m reacting rather than listening, doing rather than being, fixing rather than trusting. Each time I pause to be quiet, to create space, to slow down, I release my grip on a moment that can’t be held anyway. I stop struggling. I reconnect with what I know. Awareness deepens. Gratitude for what is edges out fear of what may be.

Kim Payne reminds me who I am and how I want to live. He writes:

Imagine your home. . .

* as a place where time moves a little slower.
*becoming less cluttered and more visually relaxing.
*with space, and time, for childhood — and with time for one another every day.
*as a place where play and exploration are allowed and honored.
*having more ease as you begin to limit distractions and say no to the stress of too much, too fast, too soon.
*as a sense of calm and security take hold.
*becoming a place where those we love know it, by virtue of our attention, protection, and appreciation.

This is where I want to live. Don’t we all?

As Mother’s Day approaches, I am delighted to give away two special gift packages, each containing a copy of Kim Payne’s Simplicity Parenting and a signed copy of my book Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry.

TO ENTER TO WIN ONE OF TWO SETS OF 2 BOOKS EACH, just leave a comment here. If you’ve found a way to simplify your life, I’d love to hear about it — and my guess is that many others would be grateful, too. But of course you may simply say, “Count me in!”

Entries close at midnight Monday, April 25, with winners to be drawn at random (using the tool at random [dot] org) and announced the next day.


• Buy “Simplicity Parenting” now
• Buy “Mitten Strings for God” now

P.S. Many of you have asked about ordering signed copies of The Gift of an Ordinary Day as Mother’s Day gifts. I would be honored to sign and personalize books for all the special moms in your life. And, of course, Mitten Strings for God makes a wonderful gift for a new mother or a mom with young children. Your books will be signed, gift wrapped, and mailed from my trusty local bookstore. Just click here: Order Signed Copies


I began writing my first book, “Mitten Strings for God,” the year Henry and Jack were five and eight. My husband and I were right in the thick of it, parenting two small children. We were busy, exhausted, finding our way, certain that everyone else must be better at this than we were. I remember struggling to accommodate and care for our two boys — so very different from each of us and, miraculously, complete polar opposites of one another as well — and wishing these two single-edition models had arrived with instruction manuals of some sort, so we wouldn’t have to flail about so day after day, trying to figure out what they each needed and how best to give it to them.

Looking back now, I wish I hadn’t been so afraid. I wish I’d trusted myself more. I wish I’d believed that I already had what it takes to be a good mother, rather than constantly berating myself for not being smart enough, or patient enough, or wise enough, or loving enough. I wish I’d had more faith in my kids. Faith that they could survive their bumpy, perilous journeys on the road to young adulthood and be stronger for the bruises endured along the way. Faith that, no matter how crazy or irrational or clingy or tearful or restless or angry or oversensitive or afraid they seemed at two or five or eight, they would eventually get it all sorted out and grow up and be fine. I wish I had laughed with them more and worried about them less. I wish I’d allowed myself to sleep more deeply during those years, rather than staring at the ceiling so many nights and promising myself that I would do better tomorrow. I wish I’d known, really known then, the way I think I know now, that every moment is precious, that life is short, and that it’s all good, even when it’s not.

Writing was a way for me to remind myself, day after day, what really mattered. In order to write, I had to gaze at my children with clear eyes; when I did, I was blinded by their radiance. In order to write, I had to become utterly quiet and still; when I did, I was amazed by the beauty that was my life. In order to write, I had to look into the truth of things as they actually were. When I did, my heart cracked wide open. What I saw, again and again, was the breathtaking miracle of our existence together: two children held in the sturdy embrace of two parents who loved them with a depth and a passion that I never did find adequate words to express.

A couple of months ago, when the boys were both home for a weekend, we watched some old home movies of the two of them cutting up in the back yard, playing catch, impersonating their favorite umpires, goofing off and being funny and adorable and heart-wrenchingly young. There was footage of Jack impishly plucking herbs from the garden in the back yard and eating them straight out of his hand. A serious young Henry at the piano, playing his very first songs. I put my arm around Jack as the video screen went blank and jokingly said something like, “You see, you guys did have a good childhood.”

“Mom,” he said back, with rare seriousness, “we had a perfect childhood.”

And that is what I am thinking about now, as I consider a batch of fresh challenges, the challenges that come with the territory of being eighteen and twenty-one. Or, perhaps I should say, with the territory of being the parents of an eighteen and a twenty-one year old. Maybe it is all perfect just as it is, even if perfection isn’t easy to see in this moment, from an inch or two away. Maybe, years from now, we will look back on this early spring of 2011 and recall not the worries about the lack of summer jobs, the hazy plans, the shortage of cars and money, but rather, perfection. The sweetness that is the essence of life, even when it’s not as simple and straightforward as we might wish.

My brother and his wife have had a tough winter themselves, with a two-year-old who’s just had tubes put in her ears after months of infections and courses of ineffectual antibiotics, and a four-year-old who, in his first months of nursery school, has caught every bug that’s come down the pike. Ask them to describe what life has been like in their house of late and “perfection” is not a word they’d be likely to use.

And yet, that’s the word that occurred to me, when they sent along this photo of Angelique and Gabriel. Just one wild and crazy moment in the midst of yet another ordinary day. Just life as it is, captured, even as it turns into something else. Perfection.