Deborah Copaken is the co-author of the new book The ABCs of Parenthood. Her other books include The ABCs of Adulthood and The Red Book. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times and The New Yorker, and she is based in New York.
Q: You said in our previous interview that your first ABC book was inspired by your son's graduation from high school. What inspired this second one?
A: I've made a lot of mistakes in my life, but my two older kids, now 22 and 20, have consistently told me they appreciated my hands-off, start-from-a-place-of-trust-and-kindness parenting. Randy [Polumbo], my co-author, has an equally good and thriving relationship with his college-aged child.
What had we done right? What had we done wrong? Could we possibly summarize everything we'd learned, both from our mistakes and our triumphs, into 26 letters? It was worth a shot.
Interestingly enough, we started writing this in the pre-Trump era, but now that it's being published in such a mean-spirited moment of lies, corruption, and lack of empathy, it feels that much more necessary. What would the world look like right now if everyone, including our leaders, kept in mind that A is for acceptance and B is for boundaries?
Q: How did you choose the words for each letter in this new book? Was there a particular theme running through it?
A: It took us all of two hours to choose the words for each letter, and a few changed over the course of the book, but only because we came up with more compelling ideas as we started writing.
The through-thread, if I were to summarize it, is mindfulness. Or rather mindful parenting. This is not a guide for getting your kid into the best college or making them win-win-win or creating a little genius. It's about helping the tiny humans in your care learn to love themselves and the world around them.
What does mindful parenting look like? How can we approach each challenge of parenting from a place of compassion, love, empathy and kindness?
Q: How do the two of you collaborate on these books?
A: This book, in particular, was a complete 50/50 collaboration. We each wrote 13 letters. We each shot 13 letters. There was no rhyme or reason to it: it just happened organically.
Randy would say, "Hey, I'd like to write the A," and I'd say, "Okay, cool." Or he would ask if I could shoot the letters with children in them, as he preferred to do the beautiful close-up shots of objects.
We met in person only twice: at the beginning and at the end. Everything else was done by passing the manuscript back and forth over email and by texts with photo attachments saying stuff like, "Ugh, I can't seem to get this Q right, what do you think?"
Neither of us have really collaborated in our individual work in the past, so it took getting used to. But I think the book is stronger for it.
Q: Who's the ideal reader of this book, and what do you hope people take away from it?
The ideal reader is any parent at any juncture in their parenting journey, but particularly in the early stages, when habits get solidified.
My sincere hope is that we can allow parents to see that their job is so much more than helping their child to win the prize or beat the competition. Their job is to help impressionable psyches feel okay in their own skin, love others, and appreciate the amazing gift of life.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I've been consulting on a new TV show and trying to start a new book.
I just finished writing an Op-Ed on civil rights abuses in name change laws and another story on a trip to Nepal I just took after nearly dying this summer, when I bled out due to complications from surgery.
My 20-year-old daughter, by the way, saved my life that night. Rushed me to the hospital at 1:30 AM. Told the doctors what was happening when I passed out at the entrance to the emergency room. I've never been more proud as a parent than watching her cope during that unbelievably trying moment. She was...a rock star. Truly.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Only that I appreciate your questions, and I hope I get to publish another book, so you can ask me more.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Deborah Copaken.