Build your joy and energy, new book 'Parent Like It Matters' advises
After her daughter Marley started 1,000 Black Girl Books to find and support books that Black girls could identify with, Janice Johnson Dias found herself being "strongly encouraged" by her 16-year-old daughter to write a book about how to raise a daughter like Marley.
Dias, who is an associate professor of sociology at John Jay College in New York, is the co-founder of Grassroots Community Foundation. Every year Grassroots holds a summer camp for girls and their parents to try to empower girls and their caregivers.
She is 10 years into the work of Grassroots, but it was the work Marley was doing that kept prompting people to ask Dias about how Marley came to be the change-maker that she is.
That's how her new book, "Parent Like It Matters: How to Raise Joyful, Change-Making Girls" ($27, Ballantine Books), came to be. It's a look at what worked for Marley and what has worked with the girls served by Grassroots.
"Marley doesn't get created out of a vacuum, " Dias says. Marley is being raised by caregivers who are joyous about life and connected to the greater community, she says.
"I would love to take credit (for Marley)," she says. "Sadly, it's not just me. Children are of the world, literally as soon as they come out, many things go into them."
The book's title and many of the chapters focus on girls, but parents of boys can take away lessons just as easily, and Dias includes chapters on race, too.
Dias goes back to her roots as a child growing up in Jamaica surrounded by community and how that influenced her as a girl and as a mother. Connection to community is what many girls might be missing, and Dias makes the case for it being a vital part of growing up.
Kids get a sense of self from their neighborhood, she says.
Dias lives in New Jersey without any biological family around, but she and her husband created a community for themselves and for Marley in their neighborhood.
Community helps fill in the gaps when mothers are struggling.
"If you try to parent alone, you are going to be really tired all the time," she says. "If you are trying to do this without being connected, you're going to have a hell of a time."
One good thing about the pandemic is that parents have spent more time with their children. "We are seeing more things in our children, both good things and challenging things, than ever before," she says. "It forced us to see them in ways we haven't."
Each chapter has an assignment for parents to do such as delving into your own past, strengthening your child's connection to reading or asking good questions to find out what she is thinking.
Dias' book isn't just focused on the kids. It's a parenting book that is much more focused on the parents. She offers strategies on how to focus on yourself so you can feel equipped and energized to do things with your child.
Everything you do is modeling, for better or for worse. Are you showing your child that parenting is exhausting and a bother? Or are you showing your child that you are interested in what they do, that you have joy when you are around them, that there are people around you that love and support you and them?
"If you are the mother, you're the leader in the household. What you do is really, really highly influential and it matters," she says.
It's not even just about what you are doing with your child; it's what you are doing with yourself that your child is watching, she says.
She sees moms coming to parenting without joy and energy. They "operate with their parenting like they are in an emergency room." They are managing the minute-to-minute crisis, but not the relationship with their child. They are thinking short-term rather than the long-term arc of childhood.
They are not helping them develop tangible, lifelong skills or working on emotional development.
She sees moms also acting like they are the sidekick for their children rather than the foundation of their family and community.
You want children to be able to know for sure where they are planted and feel secure in that foundation so they can start growing from their roots, she says.
One thing Dias does to gain that energy is to wake up before her daughter. She takes that time to listen to music, practice some gratitude, get a drink of water, and then start the day with Marley.
She also sets up time that is just for herself. "I'm obnoxious about time to myself," she says. "No one will prioritize me unless I'm a complete jerk." Now they all know, "Mom needs to work out if anyone wants to live," she says.
She also pushes both her husband and Marley into daily exercise because she knows the value of it for mental health, and she wants them to invest time in themselves.
She urges families to do something differently with the organization of their time. "Did you give your job more than yourself, your kid?" she asks.
It's not just about the time you give to your children and your family, but the quality of it.
"When you give your child this many minutes, did you give them fully?" she asks. "If you choose 10 minutes, make sure there's nothing else in that 10 minutes. You will feel energized because you did what you said you were going to do."
Parenting, she says, isn't trivial: "It deeply matters what we do with our children."