The power is not in the book but in the conversation.
My ten-year-old daughter Lucia asked, “Dad, do you want to read with me?” No, I didn’t. It was late, and I was exhausted after a long day in the office. But I have a rule. When my kids want to talk, I make myself available. Kids want to talk on their terms, not ours, and my children often want to chat at the most inconvenient times.
And who can say no to a 10-year-old?
We nestled into a cozy spot on the bed. Her homework assignment was simple. Read a book and provide a summary. Her book was The Carpenter by John Gordon.
Her selection of an adult self-help book did not surprise me. A few months ago, we read another John Gordon book, The Positive Dog. She loved its upbeat and optimistic message. I suspect she craved something uplifting during these challenging times.
The Carpenter tells the story of Michael, a hard-working entrepreneur, who suffers a stress-induced heart attack while jogging. A stranger finds him collapsed on the ground, rushes him to the hospital, and saves his life.
While taking some medically-prescribed time off work, Michael hires the stranger, a carpenter, to help build an entertainment center. Michael learns this man is not merely a carpenter but rather someone who helps people build their lives.
As Lucia reads aloud, the parallels between Michael’s life and ours slap me across the face. A father is struggling to hold the family together as life around him is challenged by internal and external forces. As a physician working during a global pandemic, I can certainly relate. Lucia can too.
I sense Lucia is trying not to acknowledge the correlation between Michael’s life and my own. We pause. I ask her if something about the book feels familiar. She points out the story triggered her to think about our life during the pandemic.
I avoid the temptation of correcting any of her thoughts or feelings. Instead, I respond with empathy and engage in active listening, an evidence-based communication style to improve parent-child communication. I ask follow-up questions and avoid judgment or direct advice. I give her my full attention and repeat back her words to make sure she knows she is being heard and valued.
She is emotionally connecting with the book. I encourage her to mark any passage that moves her. She scolds me since she is not allowed to make marks on any of her school books. I share my habit of highlighting, underlining, and making notes while I read. We discuss how books are meant to be consumed, devoured, and absorbed. These practices help us experience a book instead of simply reading the words.
Grabbing her yellow highlighter, she moves to the next chapter. Here, the carpenter teaches Michael how achievement is more than hard work and effort. We learn how to find true joy when we do what we love with passion.
She highlights this quote:
When you fall in love with the process, you will love what the process creates.
I ask her why she highlights this line. She talks about her love of dance. Dancing makes her feel alive. She loves practicing and putting in the effort it takes to be successful. She shares she would go to practice even if there was not an end-of-the-year recital.
I share from my own experience the way I feel about writing. Of course, it feels great when people read or share my work, but the process of writing is therapeutic. Writing helps me to understand the world around me. Like her dance, I would write even if no one was there to read it.
We step out of the philosophical rabbit hole and continue reading. The next section covers positive self-talk. The carpenter teaches Michael how our internal monologue often fills our mind with negativity and self-criticism. But we have the power to change our thoughts by telling ourselves the truth.
She pulls out her highlighter and draws a yellow mark around this line:
We need to talk to ourselves instead of listening to ourselves. We can feed ourselves with words of encouragement. We need to believe.
Lucia shares how she plans to apply this lesson in her own life. Her mind often tells her she is not smart enough to pass her daily school quizzes. She worries she is not talented enough to demonstrate a new step in front of her dance class. But she is going to begin the practice of telling herself she IS good enough instead of listening to the voice in her head telling her she is not.
Lucia is not alone in expressing insecurity. A recent study shows the mental health of children and their parents are suffering during the pandemic.
I share my own experience battling self-doubt leading our medical practice through the pandemic. Our patients’ and employees’ futures depend on the decisions we make. During any crisis, the responsibility falls on leaders’ shoulders. I feel the weight of the world. Self-doubt is normal, yet the inevitable imposter syndrome rears its ugly head.
We head to the final section of the book. The carpenter teaches Michael the value of living your life’s purpose. Lucia stops reading and asks me if I knew my life’s purpose. While surprised by the question from a ten-year-old, I answered without hesitation. My personal mission statement “is to become the best version of myself to have the maximum impact on others.”
I related the concept of a mission statement back to her book. Like the main character in the story, I have ups and downs throughout my life. Sometimes, I live my mission statement. Other times, I deviate.
I allow myself a moment of vulnerability and openness with my daughter. I share that during the pandemic, I have been off track. I have gained weight and have struggled to cope with stress. When I tell her, “I am happier and more successful when living my purpose,” I am not sure if I am teaching her a lesson or simply reminding myself of the truth.
Lucia grows quiet. I see she is fighting back the tears. Lucia says, “Daddy, I don’t know what my life’s purpose is supposed to be.” My tears join hers as a smile spreads across my face. We discuss the pure bliss of being a kid. She has her entire life to explore and discover the answer to this question. One of my greatest pleasures in life will be to watch her on this journey.
As our evening bedtime story wraps up, I think about the beauty of reading with our children. We read books together, but the moments created are about something so much more profound.
We connect. We share. We learn from each other.
Reading with children is not about books. The time together is an opportunity to make a meaningful connection with the ones we love the most.
Blog Author: Dr. Jeff Livingston
Main Blog Photo By: Wavebreakmedia Istock by Getty