Consider The Biggest Job

I think a great deal about parenting. I also read and have read my fair share of parenting books.  Some of my favorite titles include: The Idle Parent, I’m Okay, You’re a Brat (no kidding on that one!), and When Harry Hit Sally. As the titles reveal, there’s a bit of tongue-in-cheek at play, yet each of them gets at something very real related to parenting: It is HARD.

It feels good to say that. It feels good to say it because for all the beauty and marvel of raising children, HARD is also an entirely apt description of the process.  Enter my most recent parenting lit hit: The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have by Laura and Malcolm Gauld.  Although this gem of parenting self-help is not the newest, hippest craze, the authors’ 10 priorities perhaps ought to be.

Laura and Malcolm cut to the chase with three important opening statements regarding exceptional parenting:   “It is hard. It is doable. It is never too late.” For me, it’s an opening that says “We feel your pain and there’s hope.”   Then they present the 10 Priorities for families which are at the foundation of their unique and nationally recognized character education program of the Hyde Schools located in Maine and Connecticut as boarding schools, in New Haven and New York City as charter schools.

Have a look at these first four priorities:

  1. Truth over Harmony
  2. Principles over Rules
  3. Attitude over Aptitude
  4. Set High Expectations and Let Go of Outcomes…

Even without the very accessible and heartfelt elaborations provided by Laura and Malcolm, the principles speak powerfully on their own behalf.  As I delved deeper into the text and considered responses to some of the questions given at the end of the chapters, my own parenting reflection process was taken to a new level.

The essence of their message (which many of us know in our heart of hearts and prefer to lay aside to gather dust) is that if we want change in our children and in their habits and dealings, then we have to be the models.  We have to do the work on ourselves first and with intent. Then we will be in a position to foster their growth because we have attended to our own growth.  We can demonstrate consistency with our children after we have invested the time, energy and attention to examine the roots and realities of our own capacity for self-discipline and consistency.  “…[F]ocusing on principles is hard work. It requires us to try and practice principles with ourselves as well as with our families. It demands that we practice what we preach.”

So as I was reading and listening, I found myself wondering about my enthusiasm for this approach. What was it that resonated so deeply and throughout?  I think it is and was the honesty.  Laura and Malcolm and the many parent contributors demonstrate a penchant for truth in their storytelling that is at once unnerving and miraculous. As a reader and listener, I felt drawn to investigate my own assumptions and practices – to re-engage in the struggle rather than let it haunt me from the next room.  Taking up the struggle (of successful parenting, of experiencing fulfilling relationships) has everything to do with uncovering our courage, bolstering our resolve and coming alive to what is essential to our survival: connection, connection and connection.

That strikes me as The Biggest Job and that is what spoke to me through the book. So glad I was able to listen.




Happy invesitgations!

Laura and Malcolm Gauld, The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have. New York: Scribner, 2002.

The Idle Parent, Tom Hodgkinson, 2009.

When Harry Hit Sally,  Andrea Clifford-Poston,  2008.

I’m Okay, You’re a Brat, Susan Jeffers, 2000.

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