Q & A With Melinda Blau

Tracy died years ago. How can this book be a “collaboration”?   In our first book, we introduced the “whole family” faq-icon-3Dconcept–the notion that babies should fit in, not take over.  By 2004, we had spent five  years as writing and thinking partners.  At times, we stayed in each other’s homes and, in between, kept in touch by email and phone. We spent many months gathering notes and talking about “the family book.”  By the time I finally sat down to write in 2012, I had internalized her philosophy (and shared it with my own daughter, who has three sons).  In short, I had Tracy’s voice in my head.  She was “with” me as I wrote the book.

What inspired you and Tracy to write about family?  We had already written three detailed books about babies and toddlers. Family was the next logical place to go.  After all, once you get over the shock of having child, that’s when you realize you have much bigger issues to deal with. Equally important, Tracy and I had careers that allowed us to peek into other people’s homes–she as the Baby Whisperer, me as a journalist.  Family narratives, which we both found endlessly fascinating, came up frequently in our conversations.  After one of Tracy’s consults, we’d wonder whether the mother would or could follow Tracy’s advice. The answer depended on whether the father was involved, what else was going on in their life, what kind of household it was, and a host of factors other than mother and child–in other words, the whole family.

What do you hope to accomplish with this book? Our goal was to nudge the parenting pendulum away from child-focus toward family-focus, which is healthier for kids and adults. We will have accomplished a lot if we do nothing more than make people aware of how family members bump up against each other during the course of the day, and how it’s never just between parent and child.

How do you define family?
Today, most families don’t fit the traditional mother/father/child template.  In a study that looked at sibling pairs, for example, researchers discovered more than twenty possibilities–children from same parents, different parents, surrogate parents, step parents, adoptive parents.  Children can be raised by one parent, two, straight or gay parents, or a coalition of remarried parents. Households can range from everyone under one roof to partial residency in multiple homes!

What’s the challenge of writing about family?
Families are like snowflakes, each unique. You can’t anticipate what might happen in a given family’s life, nor give readers a formula for success.  Therefore, Family Whispering is more like a workbook, offering tools that will heighten your awareness of how families generally function, ask questions that will help you look at your own family, and strategies for changing what’s not working.

Why do some families function better than others? Certainly, parenting matters.  Mental health matters. A good marriage matters. The extent to which a family is isolated or lacks resources matters.  But how a family functions is rarely a question of one element.  Rather, you have to look at the “3 Factors,” which work together to make a family what it is: the individuals (what each person brings to the table), their relationships (how they relate to one another), and their context (what they have to deal with on a day to day basis).

Can people really change their families?  Of course, there are things you can’t change, such as  what life throws at you or what family members are “born with.”  But you can change how you see things and how you respond.  You can pay attention to the players in your family drama, how they interact, and what else is happening on stage.  And you can remember that you always have a choice to speak or behave differently.  The first half of our book is about opening your eyes and your mind. The second half gives you tools to work with what you’ve got.

What does Family Whispering promise readers?
The whole family approach is about seeing the family as a unit–its sum, and its parts–and making room for everyone. You don’t have to major changes in what you do as much as in how you see.  It’s about bettering the everyday moments of family life and about focusing on the quality of our relationships.  One nice word, an extra few seconds talking.  A kind and unexpected gesture.  A photo of a fun time.  Taking a deep breath and excusing yourself rather than fight. Those moments add up. Yes, it takes consciousness and commitment, but the end product is worth it.

For additional information about specific concepts in the book, read The Language of Family Whispering.