Confessions of a Delinquent

Let the truth roll out: I SUPER strongly dislike reading to my children, and I almost never do it. Honestly. I avoid it so much that they rarely request it. Yes, I fail even to meet the rock-bottom, horrible-parent PBS Kids initiative: “read to your child for just 15 minutes a day.” I’ve given up overanalyzing the “why”—maybe it’s my underlying inferiority complex that I’ll never be a good home-educating mom, or my bias against being perceived as one; or the fact that I fall asleep every single time I’m reading to them which tanks my motivation to get through the rest of my day; or because I’m not a homebody or an introvert or a snuggler, so I’d rather be exploring the world with my kids and seeing our friends; and I never was a bookworm myself, although I do read for pleasure every day when I’m exercising (but only then—it has to be in the context of multitasking of course). I read them a couple of the Narnia books last year when we were marooned in a tiny French village with nothing else to do, and I keep meaning to find more good books that I also enjoy but never get around to it.

I have no idea what the problem is. I’m ready and willing to conquer vices and spiritual shortcomings with honest self-analysis and Our Lord’s help. I rock at scrubbing toilets and natural childbirth. Yet I can’t seem to drag myself onto the couch with books and let my children gather ’round for a read-aloud or two.

Michelle: 10 JurisMater: 0

AWOL was at our house for Thanksgiving; her default position is on the couch reading to her children, and even her energetic 3 year old boy sits still. MaryAlice’s kids ask me to read to them every time I’m over for as far back as I can remember knowing them. Red always brings books along, even away from home to settle her kids in the evening or at hyper times, and they settle in and listen. It’s no secret that Texas Mommy is the read-aloud queen. Kat has the patient and peaceful temperament to read to her kids endlessly, and B-mama is a teacher by training and notorious for great bedtime snuggles and stories.

Fortunately, my husband picks up some of my slack. And he tells me that, although he enjoys reading to them, it’s usually an act of the will. Do you all “just do it”? Do you spend a lot of time figuring out which books you’ll enjoy reading with your kids? Can someone tell me how to stay awake, because inevitably, as soon as I sit down amid a busy day, sleep overtakes me (it happened in college and law school classes too). How do you keep younger kids from ruining the house while you read to the kids who can sit still? Do you have a set time of day or amount of time you shoot for? I’m ready to make a Lenten resolution here.

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  • B-mama

    JM, you are hard on yourself here! You shine in areas others don’t. While others prefer the couch, you take on the world. Your children are so blessed because of you. Don’t question that!nnYet I applaud you for taking on your perceived weaknesses. It is not easy for mothers (like me) to admit where we fail and do something about it. I’d rather get all defensive and overly excuse myself than tackle the issue head on! Bravo JM.nnI guess I go with Mr. JM and say, you are definitely going to have to will it (maybe as part of a routine first thing in the morning) in order to make it a habit in your life. Also, keep it simple. Keep it short. It doesn’t even have to be for 15 minutes, it could be a quick 2min tale and then you’re off. You could do it over breakfast or dinner (I’ve done this often in order to keep everyone seated and check off our bedtime reading ahead of time!) You could make it a discipline done before any TV or computer time… In fact, I think a wonderful Lenten goal would be to have reading time = or exceed tube time in a day. nnLots of possibilities, my friend. I know you’ll make a great resolution. Good luck!

  • Claire

    Being a lazy, introverted bookworm myself, I don’t have this problem. My problem is my kids begging me to go to the playground, and me wanting to say, “Can’t we just stay inside today?” So we all have our struggles!nnOne thing I do is have a book of my own open in my lap while I’m reading to the kids. Even stealing a sentence here and there keeps my attention and makes it more enjoyable. Also, maybe your oldest daughter could practice her reading by reading aloud to the other children? Good luck!

  • JMB

    Are you me? I’ve never enjoyed reading to my children. In fact, I always used to resent the “you better read to your children every day or else!”. Well, guess what? I read to my first born over and over and over again. That’s all we did for a long time. When he got to elementary school he had huge reading issues. What ever happened to the “love of learning” that comes from reading a stupid children’s book? I guess when it breaks down to why is two fold: there is a part of me that resents being told what to do. Secondly, so many children’s books are so poorly written and so stupid that it would just annoy me even more to read this shlock to my children.nnIronically, I’m a big reader myself. I’m addicted to the newspaper, I’ll even read a back of a cereal box if I have nothing to read. I’ve been in a book group for almost 14 years and I am never without a few books on my night table. But the thing is, reading to me almost borders on an addiction. Sometimes I prefer reading to hanging out with my family. Often times I’d rather stay home and read the WSJ during lunch than meet up with friends for lunch. I came to this “love” of reading on my own. It certainly wasn’t my mom (who was busy with 7 other children) not reading to me that caused this love or addiction.

  • Texas Mommy

    JM, I’ll try to write more on logistics later (yes, choosing books that you will like helps a lot, peggging reading time to other activities/times of day), but, please do not beat yourself up over this! You excel in the very most important aim of motherhood, shepherding souls to the Good Shepherd in a way that I aspire towards. You’ve been living an itinerant lifestyle, your natural extroverted tendencies lead you to fly the nest and seek conversation and sunshine in whatever country you happen to find yourself for the good of your family.

  • Anonymous

    Here are my thoughts…nnFirst, I commend you for admitting this online and doing a post asking for help. It shows a great spirit and is one of the reasons you are a great mom and a good friend. You have many great qualities that those of us mentioned in your post lack, so do keep in mind that we all have different gifts and it is important to work on your faults in perspective of your gifts!nnNow, on to your question. I find that I dislike reading to my kids when we don’t have good books and/or new books (as much as I like Make Way for the Ducklings, I can only read it so many times). Thomas the Train is just awful, as are many of the other kid series books about TV shows! Good quality books make such a huge difference, as your experience with the Narnia series makes clear! You didn’t hate that, right? It seems you are more drawn to spiritual reading than just plain literature, so maybe focus more on spiritual books, books about saints, childrens bible stories, history books, etc. Make the library a weekly habit, and go with a list of quality books to pick out and enjoy.nnFinally, I am very type A, so it is really important for me to have a “to do” list and that I add activities to this list that are not workbooks or school text books. For example, outdoor play, field trips, a weekly craft, etc., all make the list. I feel that if I can check these things off a list they are somehow more important and will happen regularly. I do the same thing with books. I make a list of important books for each age group, and then I commit to reading a certain number of books to each child each week. This way, I know I am doing the minimum necessary for them to have wide exposure to a variety of topics, AND I don’t need to feel guilty if we don’t read more books than those on the list. At the end of a month I am always surprised by how many things we did read. If I were you, I would add a weekly library trip to my “to do” list, and go ready with a list of quality books you want your children to experience. I’d read those books for the week, maybe three times each or something, then return them at the end of the week (or longer, whatever works for your schedule).nnI don’t read regularly in the evenings as I do not find it a relaxing part of the bedtime routine. I spend time reading to my kids before quiet time and as part of our school morning. Gianna now reads well enough that she does a read aloud to the younger ones while I make dinner in the evening, so I’m cheating a bit now! Marianne will soon be able to do this task, and you can make it a part of her daily routine and she may love helping to be a mommy to her younger brothers and sisters.nn

  • Helen

    My toddler loves reading with me and is always asking for a story! I enjoy reading to him, but I do find that there are some books that are entertaining for adults as well as children, and those are the ones I am happy to read to him again and again. And again.nnWe often read over breakfast or lunch. I find it a good way of communicating with him, otherwise I tend to get distracted by an article in a newspaper or magazine, which of course sets a terrible example for meal times being an opportunity to communicate with your family!nnI also find that the toddler (he’s 2) gets itchy feet when I’m nursing his sister, so it is a good opportunity to have him cuddle next to me on the sofa while we read together. We also read before bed – usually a Bible story or story about the saints.nnWe also try to get to the library once a week, because having ‘new’ books in the house is more of an incentive to read. We have also just discovered audio books, which is a great alternative to TV, and allows Mum to get other things done while a book is being read to her child by someone else!nnI hope these ideas help. Sounds like your children do get a lot of outside time, which is vitally important.

  • Kathleen

    AUDIO BOOKS rock! Especially for my non-napper. She’ll listen and color while I nurse a baby or cook. We also listen a ton in the car, but we do a lot of driving. I’ll ask them questions about the story to see what they comprehend. They often catch more than their distracted mother. Our library has a great collection. Good luck!

  • Mandabravo

    I grew up as a reader and although now I don’t find a lot of time for recreational reading, I do love to sit down and snuggle and read to the kids. But there are certain books that just power me down and I can’t read them during the day without getting drowsy so I just restrict those to before bed or for them to ‘read’ on their own.nI read rapidly – when my husband (a non-reader) and I are reading an article together I give him a very hard time because I am always waiting impatiently to turn the page and he is half way through what I have finished. I realized I was treating the children’s reading in the same way and was blowing through the books really quickly and I think slowing down makes it more enjoyable for both of us actually by making it seem like less of a chore to me. My husband (Red’s brother!) actually taught me a lesson in making storytime more fun. Almost every character has a different voice in his world. He really considers the character’s personalities or the geographic region the book is set in when he reads and it not only makes the kids laugh but its much harder to fall asleep when you are switching back and forth between voices!

  • Jtross

    As a family we love to read. When my daughters (now 23 and 26) were little they loved to be read to all throughout the day. At bedtime we were reading 5-6 stories a night and they would beg for more. Of course they knew when we paraphrased or skipped some pages. Of course, their favorite books were my least favorite ones. And most nights I was so tired. We finally decided upon a max of 3 bedtime stories per night; one story read together with the two of them and then one each alone with mom and dad rotating nights. Here are the things that replaced all those bedtime stories.nAudio books: These were books on tape back then and each daughter had a tape player at her bedside. We allowed them 30 minutes of music or books on tape and then lights off.nWhen I was a preschool teacher, one of our families shared a great idea with me. Their grandmother, who lived thousand of miles away, sent new books in the mail every month along with a cassette tape of her reading the story. This was before video cameras became commonplace and Skype was unknown. I always thought this was a wonderful way to keep in touch with your grandchildren. So enlist everyone you know to make a recording of their favorite children’s book. You could even videotape others reading a book and have your children follow along in their own book. However, I prefer a voice recording only.nSecond, have your children read to you. Even children who cannot yet read the written word can tell you the story. Ask them to look at the pictures in the book and tell you what is happening.nLibrary storytimes. We have several branches of the library in our town. Each had storytime on a different day. I would take the girls to storytime at least 3x per week.nOlder children can read to younger children.nTell stories with puppets or flannel(felt) pieces. You can purchace felt stories or make your own. These are both things the children can do by themselves for you after you model it a few times. nPublic radio, Catholic radio and Christian radio all have programs geared to young children. Gather your children around the radio or internet speaker and listen to a drama or story.nRead everything you come into contact with out loud, be it cereal boxes, junk mail, road signs, etc. Your children will become more familiar with the written word and hopefully learn how to read faster and become lovers of the written word and want to read all by themself sooner than later. nI agree that you are being hard on yourself. nI didn’t feel capable or comfortable home schooling my girls, so I read to them as much as I could instead.

  • Mary Alice

    Now that you are stateside, why not make story hour at the library part of your weekly routine? Your kids will hear some books and you will get out. There is also nothing that says reading can only happen at home. I love to read to my kids at the playground. Lastly, I think that you would really like Mo Willems, mentioned by tex recently, his books are witty and short. nnJM, since you have gotten lots of don’t beat yourself up support here, and you know that i respect you as a mother, i have to be honest, thinking about this brings me close to tears. It makes mr red very sad that my husband doesn’t coach little league, so we all have a variety of things which define parent for us, but to me reading is part of being a mother. nnI don’t read to my children because it is educational or because I should, but because I love stories and I love to share this love with them. It is harder for me to read non fiction with photographs, like science books, but I like doing it when we are preparing for a trip or activity or reding several books on a theme, I have learned so much about colonial life this year. I have been reading a biography of Abigail adams, so having an adult interest in the subject is helpful. nnIf you are thinking of it as a Lenten resolution, what about reading bible stories? If you have a catholic childrens bible, that would be a good way to start, reading one story in the morning? nnLastly, since I know that you are orderly, it can be really important to decide in advance that you are going to just let the dishes sit for a few minutes. I used to find it hard to start school before breakfast was really cleaned up, but that meant some days we never started! So now I just sweep everything into the sink and know that I will get to it later. nnnSince you have had success with good chapter books, perhaps more of those ? I love to read great chapter books that I have not read before, so that i can enjoy the plot along with the children.

  • Lisa

    Dear JM:nnRe: falling asleep when reading to your kids . . . one of my and my sister’s favorite memories from childhood was when we shared a room with two twin beds about arms-length apart. Our dad would lie in between our beds and “read” us a story . . . for maybe 5 minutes . . . then all we heard was snoring! He tried his best — and it provides lots of comic relief now. So don’t feel bad if you don’t make it through an entire story! My dad never did . . .and we loved him dearly for the effort (and we’re both avid readers, incidentally)nnIf you don’t love reading children’s books, don’t read them! As a news junkie, I’m super excited to get my kids subscriptions to Time Kids. I will *love* reading them with them because I love reading the news, and will be happy to share this with them. There are so many opportunities to read – you don’t have to bunker down on a sofa for a full afternoon to get your kids in the habit of reading! I’d say think about your own daily routine, and think about how you can incorporate a bit of reading time with your kids (as opposed to thinking about this as a lifestyle change you have to make). If you read news headlines in the morning, could you read a few headlines (not the entire articles – just the headlines and maybe the intro paragraph) to your kids over breakfast? For me that’s far more appealing than reading kids’ books — I’d get to read my news headlines (already a part of my routine), and also share some thoughts about global happenings with my kids. You can take just about any news headline and use it to spark a conversation . . . which also makes you less likely to have to worry about falling asleep, as you’ll be engaged in interesting conversation with your kiddos!

  • Just a thought

    Hi JM,nnI’ll add a different spin to the great suggestions you’ve already received.nnMy own point of view, and this is coming as a mother who works outside of the home, is if reading to your kids is something you *strongly* dislike, and you have a spouse who is able to do it, perhaps you don’t need to be the one who reads to your kids routinely. I assume your spouse is literate (smile) and therefore just as qualified as you are to read to your kids. You wrote that you love to go out and explore the world with your kids. Go do that! Take them out, encourage them to explore and experience, etc. Once you’ve tired them out, bring them home, and let *dad* put them to sleep with a great bedtime story.nnI write this, not because I don’t think reading to children is important, but because I don’t think it’s reasonable for a parent to feel s/he needs to fulfill *every* component of parenting. Studies show kids whose parents read to them have better outcomes. True. But *no* study shows that *mothers* need to be the ones to do it!nnJust a thought to add to the discussion. I know concepts of parenting responsibilities might be different if there’s a parent who’s full-time at home relative to a scenario in which both parents are balancing at home and at work responsibilities, but nevertheless I think it’s worth stating that there are some parenting responsibilities that even a full-time, at home mother might not be inclined to do, and this seems like one of those for you. I think it’s perfectly kosher (is there a Catholic equivalent descriptor??) for this to be a father-kids activity for your household (and as someone whose dad handled bedtime stories, I can tell you I look back fondly at those nighttime stories with my dad).nnOh, and another reason why this is my take on the situation — I recall a recent post of yours about fighting seasonal affective disorder (great post, thank you for sharing). Particularly in these winter months, taking care of yourself is so important. While there probably are ways that you could make reading to your kids more palatable, as the other comments have suggested, I think if you’ve found a formula that allows you to take care of you – namely being out and about as much as possible, taking in whatever sunlight you can get! – that would be my vote. Do, go, enjoy, experience, explore with your kids – it’s great for them and for you- and let dad handle bedtime stories!n

  • Renee

    Some days I really enjoy reading to our boys, some days I am not as motivated. When my husband is out of town and I’m too exhausted to read at the end of a long day, I get them ready for bed, turn off the lights and light candles, and we sit on the couch for 1/2hr. to 1hr. listening to audio books — usually Jim Weiss. Our 4yr. old usually falls asleep and I enjoy the chance to just relax, and find the stories really entertaining! Also, they love the atmosphere and can get through longer stories, like Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, something they would have a hard time listening to if I were to read it.nnAlso, one of things that I’ve found is that I’m more motivated to read if I enjoy the book I’m reading. This is why I don’t like going to the library to pick out books with the children because I can’t control what they pick — I only go to pick up the books I’ve pre-selected and put on hold. I really don’t like Amelia Bedelia books! She drives me crazy and I find myself wanting to fire her myself, but my husuband adores the books and so I let him read those to the boys. A great resource that has helped me choose wonderful books is Sarah Clarkson’s (this is Sally Clarkson’s daughter) Read for the Heart. She has books listed by category (history; Golden Age Classics; fiction; etc) and by age group. We have found so many gems from this book — like C.W. Anderson’s Billy and Blaze series, or James Harriot’s Treasury for Children.nn

  • Cecilia

    yes, my mother was a SAHM but my Dad did the bedtime reading. It was great.

  • KC

    Red,nI would LOVE to see your list of important books for each age group! Is this based off of what you’re doing for homeschooling or just ideas you’ve gathered through parenting the children you have? We’ve got a four and two year old and are just starting to do six months of more organized “preschool” with the four year old before homeschooling K next year.

  • AWOL Mommy

    For the record, I am awful at scrubbing toilets, and the idea of reading while working out makes me motion sickn. I am also, apparently, bad at blogging.nn I have nothing novel to add to this great exchange except to say that my time with you over Thanksgiving was inspiring to me as well. We all take things away from one another that are inspirations to do better, so don’t be so gnarly hard on yourself. Your life is an inspiration.

  • Anonymous

    Oh KC, how I wish these were typed up neatly and all in one place. At some point, I plan to write everything down, and hopefully get some sort of list together with MaryAlice and Tex!

  • Cksrunge

    JM, someone may have already suggested this but I rarely to never sit down to read to my kids without a cup of coffee in hand. I also just got a stove top espresso maker for a quick pick-me-up before afternoon read-alouds. I can’t say I really cared for reading time with my kids until I found stories I was actually interested in reading for the sake of enjoying good literature (i.e. Beatrix Potter) and a good story. Anywho, I’d honestly chuck all reading aloud for the chance to have my kids experience Europe as yours have. Don’t know of you’re still across the pond but if so I too would have a very hard time passing up an outing for reading. 😉

  • Cathy

    I know this conversation was weeks ago, but I just read this and couldn’t help but think of a homeschooling friend of mine who also hates to read to her kids. She’s very bookish herself but reading aloud just doesn’t do it for her. She’s done it anyway sometimes, her husband’s read to them, and they do TONS of audiobooks and older siblings reading aloud to little ones. Her kids are phenomenal readers and very early readers too. I, on the other hand, LOVE reading to my kids and would rather do that than just about anything else. I am realizing my children are not as motivated to learn to read themselves as my friend’s children because I love to do it for them! It’s all about balance, and it’s just not the case that reading 15 min a day is the bottom line behavior of a decent parent. You’ve always inspired me with your posts, so I hope you keep up all the good work you are doing!