Learning the ABCs of Parenthood, One Letter at a Time

A wise, warm, and witty gift, The ABCs of Parenthood by Deborah Copaken and Randy Polumbo brims with the advice only those who’ve been there can give, from “D is for Dog” (get one) and “P is for Praise” (do it often but appropriately) to “R is for Romance” (keep it alive after the kids come).

The book is made up of 26 genuine, surprising, and sensible bits of advice, and in honor of back to school season, we’re sharing a few today.

To win a copy of this book, comment with the advice you wish you received when you became a parent. Contest closes September 1st, 2017, at midnight PT.


F is for Family Dinner

ABCs of Parenthood - F

Children who grow up in homes where family dinner is a daily ritual do better in school, experience less depression, have larger vocabularies, and are better able to weather adolescence. What’s more, frequent home-cooked meals unite the family, providing not only sustenance and warmth, but also a safe space where life’s experiences are shared, triumphs and defeats are recounted, and good-natured ribbing and camaraderie mark the end of the day with respect and comfort.

Try playing the game “Rose and Thorn,” where each person relates the best and the worst thing that happened to them that day. This teaches gratitude for the blessings they’ve received and provides support or help navigating hardships. Use the good plates whenever you feel like it. Why not? Fill a vase with flowers. Light some candles: the warmth and glow will illuminate these special memories for a lifetime.


I is for Ice Cream

ABCs of Parenthood - I

In the early ’80s, the esteemed philosopher Robert Nozick taught an undergraduate class called “The Best Things in Life.” Each lecture covered a different “best,” such as friendship, love, pleasure, play, fame, and power. Of course, he saved the very best of the best for last. During the final lecture of the series, he spent an hour waxing rhapsodic on the topic of ice cream. Yes, ice cream.

For surely ice cream, as he claimed, is one of life’s great pleasures. The scoops, like a mother’s breast, are round and sweet and made of milk. (Okay, maybe that’s pushing it; still, it’s an interesting theory.) But the real lesson to glean from Nozick’s glorification of ice cream, particularly if you’re a parent, is this: take time with your children to indulge in and savor life’s small, sweet gifts.


O is for…

ABCs of Parenthood - o
An O is the difference between avid and avoid. More is not always better. Avoid Overload. Watch out also for Overstimulated, Overcommitted, and Overtime.

The pace of modern life has accelerated exponentially to the point where children have little time for relaxation or play. The school day plus homework obligations have become more schedule-consuming than fulltime work. Pressures to cram sports, internships, and other resume-building activities preclude the joys of random discovery, self-soothing, and its close friend, peace.

Every child has the occasional need to go for a walk, to curl up in a corner and read a book, to make a spontaneous date with a friend, and sometimes to do absolutely nothing. Make time “off the grid” for being present: your company and attention are priceless. Keep your child’s phone charger in your room. Ensure that there are unscheduled moments to watch a sunbeam make its way across the floor, to dive deeply into a particular subject, to study a picture, to dig a hole, or to watch an ant or bee go about their daily business. These small moments of focus and flow will set the foundations for a life of serenity, presence, and meaning.


T is for Telephone

Abcs of Parenthood -T

Look up from your phone. What do you see? Many others staring into their phones as well.

We’re living in an increasingly connected digital world, which is wonderful both for productivity and for the sharing and discovery of information. Your phone is also a great way to stay in touch with your child and say, “I care about you and am thinking of you right now” via a quick smiley face or other digital shorthand (and, as they get older, the inevitable, “Where R U???”).

The connection between parent and child is compromised, however, by competition with the constant stimuli and cry for attention our telephones continually provide and demand. Sure, you may really want to Google “What is the difference between Swiss chard and kale?” right now, or seek an alternate route around the accident, or answer an email from the boss, or “like” a photo of a friend’s new baby, but at what cost to your relationship with your own child?

Our tendency to be enslaved by a tiny machine that’s supposed to serve us instead is both ironic and a not-so-minor modern-day tragedy. Whenever you and your kid are together, try to remind yourself that many more of life’s important questions can be answered in your child’s eyes than on the screen of your phone, however “smart.”

To win a copy of Deborah Copaken and Randy Polumbo’s book The ABCs of Parenthood, comment with your answer to the following: What advice do you wish you received when you became a parent? Contest closes September 1st, 2017, at midnight PT.

Deborah Copaken and Randy Polumbo

Deborah Copaken and Randy Polumbo

Deborah Copaken is a prolific journalist, photographer, former Emmy-winning TV producer, and author of several books, including Shutterbabe. She lives in New York and is the mother of three.

Randy Polumbo is a sculptor and the father of a 17-year-old. He divides his time between New York and California.
Deborah Copaken and Randy Polumbo

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  • Giselle August 23, 2017 at 11:51 am

    Don’t even entertain the idea of potty training until your child is at least 2 1/2.


  • Suzy Leopold August 23, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    THE ABCs OF PARENTHOOD by Deborah Copaken, sounds like a must read book for all parents and grandparents.

    The parenting advice I wish I had received was: It’s okay to leave the household chores for later. Attend more of the kids’ extracurricular events and after school activities. The dusting and laundry will always be there. As the saying goes, ‘Kids grow up too quickly.'”


  • Dr. John Rich August 23, 2017 at 4:47 pm

    T is for the time you intentionally spend with your children. It makes all the difference.


  • Marty Lapointe-Malchik August 24, 2017 at 3:29 am

    The entries shared in this post from ABCs of PARENTHOOD by Deborah Copaken entries are great reminders of what is important in family life.

    The advice I wish I received is DAILY HUGS FOR LIFE. As kids get older it’s easy to take their cue and forego physical affection instead just keep hugging.


  • Andrew August 25, 2017 at 4:35 am

    Never buy toys that require assembly


  • Lisa Coughlin August 25, 2017 at 7:57 pm

    The advice I wish I would’ve received : The oxygen mask adage. Taking care of yourself, to better take care of/assist your child.


  • Jessica Sewell August 30, 2017 at 6:12 am

    There is no right way to do things, find the way that works for your family. Also, follow your kid’s lead on things like potty training, readings, riding a bike — give them the opportunity to make the choice and life will be much easier.


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