Before having children, whenever I would picture myself as a mom, I would picture myself curled up in bed reading a book to my child. This was my image of parenthood. The reality of my parenting experience was a little bit different. With triplets, by the time we got to the end of the night, I was often so exhausted from the basics of feeding, bathing, changing diapers and clothes, that there was no energy left for reading. If there was time to read at the end of the night, we could never get three toddlers to reach consensus on what to read, so I usually ended up just grabbing whichever book was in reach.
By kindergarten, reading became homework. The reading logs were introduced and each child had a mandatory reading requirement. We spent our time together sounding out words and choosing books that had short titles and could easily be recorded on the daily log. In future years, reading assignments were focused on the Accelerated Reader program, and the books the kids read were chosen specifically to earn AR points toward their goal at school.
Recently, I’ve had the pleasant discovery that the proverbial train has not yet left the station when it comes to fulfilling my dreams of reading to my children. So much of my parenting knowledge has come from watching how parents with children a few years older than mine go about things. This epiphany was no different.
A year ago, I was at a friend’s house and noticed a copy of “The Martian.” I had just read a positive review in the Sunday paper and asked who was reading the book. It turned out the father had been reading the book with their son—a son who was probably not quite old enough to read the book on his own. I asked to borrow the book, and at the time the mother lent it to me, it was with a disclaimer. “I opened up the book and was shocked to read the bad language,” she said. “I’m a little embarrassed we were reading it as a bedtime book.” I found that amusing and asked how that was dealt with between the father and son as they read the book together. “I think he substitutes a different word,” she said.
A year later, the mom announced, “We’re reading another inappropriate book at bedtime. This one is about gambling. Have you heard of the movie 21? We’re reading the book that the movie was made from.”
I slowly began to see that my favorite part of parenting was not yet behind me. Our family took the lead from our friends and recently began ending television 15 minutes earlier in the evening and reading “an adult book” together. My husband is reading Anthony Bourdain’s, “A Cook’s Tour,” in one room, and I am reading “A Street Cat Named Bob” in another room. When I pitched the idea to the kids, I was surprised how excited they were, and I continue to be surprised that when we are too tired to read, they are disappointed. They want to be read to, and they want to take turns reading out loud.
Both books have some profanity. We find creative ways to swap out bad words for their more socially-acceptable less-profane cousins. When adult topics are touched upon, my husband and I each take the time to answer questions and use it as a learning experience.
As is usually the case, researchers are now confirming what groups of moms have already figured out. It pays off to expose kids to books and reading in the home and to read to children at a variety of ages.
There have been studies in recent years by researchers at Stanford and the University of Munich that correlate the presence of at least two bookshelves in the home to higher academic achievement at school. In a 2014 study printed in a sociology journal, researchers found the quantity of books in one’s home was the most important predictor of reading performance. Teddy Wayne wrote in this week’s New York Times, “The implications are clear: Owning books in the home is one of the best things you can do for your children academically. It helps, of course, if parents are reading to their children and reading themselves, not simply buying books by the yard as décor.”
Being the mother of multiples, I am usually a little behind, but I’m finding there’s still time to catch up. I can still fulfill my dream of reading to my children at bedtime.