Care and Feeding

I Really Hate Reading to My Kid

What should I do?

A woman reading a book to her 9-year-old daughter.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Maskot via Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m an avid reader and have been since childhood. But I hate reading out loud to my kid! I’m a skim reader myself, and having to pronounce each word slowly enough to follow along with a finger is interminable to me. And when it’s her turn to read aloud to me, I want to pull my hair out and just read for her, although I restrain myself. She’s in second grade now and doesn’t like to read much at all, which makes me so sad. We’ve tried audiobooks (while following along with the illustrated editions of Harry Potter, for example), but she isn’t engaged by those for more than 10–15 minutes at a time. On top of that, we have another baby on the way, and I’m already dreading a return to the beginning of the “let’s learn to read!” process. How can I help foster a love of reading in my kids without dreading every step?

—Reading Should Be Fun!

Dear RSBF,

I have many thoughts.

1) When you’re reading to your daughter, do not pronounce each word slowly enough for her to follow along! Read the damn story. Enjoy it. And let her enjoy it. This is supposed to be fun, not torture for either one of you. Obviously you can’t “skim read” out loud to a child, but you can certainly read at a normal speaking pace!

2) And instead of “taking turns” with a single book as it seems you are, let her reading to you be a separate undertaking altogether, in which she chooses a book she can read and reads it to you, proudly. This should not be an excruciating undertaking for either of you.

3) It may be that she’s not enjoying reading at all because up to now items 1 and 2 have been so miserable.

4) The solution is not audiobooks. If she enjoys them for 10 or 15 minutes, let her have those 10–15 minutes. But those should not be a substitute for reading: They should be in addition to it.

5) As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, sometimes parents have to do things they don’t love to do for the sake of their child. That’s just how parenthood works—sorry. Not everyone loves reading aloud. But if you can find a way to take some pleasure in it, it will be a much nicer experience for both of you. (Pretending to enjoy it won’t work, I promise.) Don’t you remember any books that you loved from your childhood? Start there. Bedtime for Frances? Maybe a longer book like Charlotte’s Web? Who doesn’t love Charlotte’s Web? Or the Mary Poppins books? Just for, say, half an hour every evening?

If it makes you feel any better, studies suggest that the single most important factor in raising a reader is not reading aloud to one’s child (though that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do that—it just means it isn’t the only important piece of raising a reader!): Even more important is that children see their parents reading, and that they grow up in a home filled with books.

They don’t even have to be books the family owns. I grew up with towers of books my parents had taken out of the public library to read themselves—they were stacked everywhere in our apartment—and I was taken to the library at least once a week so that I could bring home my own stacks of books, which, by the way, I was allowed to choose myself.

This leads me to another bit of advice: Let children choose what they read themselves. (For more tips on how to raise a reader, I like this guide in the New York Times.)

As to that baby on the way: Don’t repeat your prior mistakes. Unless you’re home-schooling, which it doesn’t sound like you are, you don’t have to be the one to teach your kid to read. Let your child’s teacher—who is paid to do it and is an expert at it—do that. But do read out loud to the baby for at least a little while every day. Find something to read aloud that will be a pleasure for both of you, whatever that turns out to be. (When my daughter was too young to understand what I was reading to her, I read her lots of poetry, which I found I enjoyed very much. It was something I didn’t ordinarily do and would never otherwise have thought to do—and she loved the sound of it. But the sound of your voice reading out loud, whatever you’re reading, will be a pleasure for your baby, I promise.) And then as the baby gets a little older, consider “reading” books like the Good Dog, Carl series, in which there are almost no words at all and you narrate what’s happening (and eventually your child will, too). What I’m trying to say is: Find ways around your own ingrained habits. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even learn to like reading with your kids; maybe all it will take is a change in the way you approach it.

• If you missed Friday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am mom to two 14-month-old boys. My husband’s family includes some members who are racist, homophobic, and/or sexist and who occasionally make unacceptable remarks at family gatherings. They’re mostly between 65 and 85 years old, although a few are younger and make the remarks under the guise of joking. Before I had kids, I did not hesitate to respond to these comments with disapproval and more than once told them that something they’d said was inappropriate and wrong. Now that I have kids, what is the best way to handle these comments? I want my sons to grow up knowing that these views are ignorant and wrong, but I’m not sure how to respond in a way that gets the point across to young children if they happen to hear one of these remarks, while at the same time modeling “good” and “strong” but not “mean.” For what it’s worth, I’m white. And avoiding these gatherings is not possible right now.

—Trying to Raise Good Men

Dear Trying,

I would continue to do exactly what you have been doing, except even more consistently. There’s nothing mean about calmly and firmly telling someone that what they’ve said is hurtful and wrong. You can even couch it in language that suggests that you are “disappointed” in them, that you expect better from and of them. You don’t have to call out members of your husband’s family—or anyone else, for that matter—as ignorant. Name-calling never gets us anywhere. Nor does a raised voice. But expressing your disapproval of racist, sexist, or homophobic remarks—or any other hate speech or hateful views—in your sons’ earshot will confirm what you teach them at home and what you model in your own actions. And it will go a long way toward teaching them how to respond when they encounter (as they surely, sadly, will) hateful attitudes and comments from those they interact with when you are not present.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Last summer, my husband’s job moved us across the country. We have moved multiple times before, although never with school-aged kids. This time, he wanted a big house so that our four kids wouldn’t have to share bedrooms, and I wanted a more urban, diverse area where I could walk places; I also wanted him to have a shorter commute (we moved from a trendy suburb, and I loved it, but always wished I were closer to the action). Good schools mattered to both of us, and we also agreed that the other’s priorities were as important as our own. However, when we finally found a house that checked all the boxes, he said no because he thought the yard was too small. He insisted on a house out in a rural suburb—one that was much bigger than the one in the city (both houses had enough bedrooms) and with a slightly larger yard. I raised multiple concerns but he brushed all of them off, and we had only a day to make a decision, so I gave in.

It’s been nine months now and I HATE IT HERE. I hate the fields and cows, I hate the narrow, twisting, country roads, and I hate the culture and politics. The house is big and the yard is nice, and I have managed to make a good number of friends in the neighborhood in a short period of time, so I should be happy and adjusting, but I am not. We’re surrounded in all directions by farms. I can’t walk anywhere. The area is not diverse at all, and his commute is the better part of an hour each direction.

It has caused real issues in our marriage. I know part of my resentment is that what I wanted was so devalued, but it’s also that those things were priorities for me FOR A REASON. My husband also has buyer’s remorse now, but it’s a bit late. The catch is that the schools are excellent and my kids, who have some disabilities, have fit in very well. They are happy and we were so afraid they wouldn’t be. But I feel trapped and just want to move to the area where we should have bought to begin with, which is even more appealing the more I learn about it. Still, the idea of uprooting my kids again and risking that they won’t be as happy in their new neighborhood or school hurts my heart. My oldest is about to go into middle school, but if I wait until he’s going on to high school, his sister would be in middle school, and so on for the next 10 years. Do I stick it out for a decade for my kids? Do I move and risk everything? Am I trapped?

—Hate My Home, Love My Kids

Dear HMHLMK,

I’m sorry to hear that you’re so unhappy in your new home. I’m even sorrier, though, about the bigger picture issues here—for I’m afraid that all the puzzle pieces of the story you tell about house hunting and the decision to move into this house suggest that the problem is bigger than you’re making it out to be. If your husband doesn’t take your needs seriously (or pretends to but doesn’t actually), if you don’t or can’t advocate for yourself, if he “insisted” on a move to a place you were adamantly against moving to—brushing off your concerns, as you say—and you ultimately “gave in” to him under pressure, then it’s not the move that has caused issues in your marriage. It has only exposed them.

So my first piece of advice is that the two of you have a real conversation about what happened around this move, how a decision that should have been a mutual one turned into his alone—and how that dynamic has played out throughout your relationship, because this kind of thing doesn’t happen overnight. I think you will probably need some professional help working through this. And I wouldn’t put it off, because this is the sort of unhappiness and resentment that tends to fester if you don’t address it.

My second piece of advice has to do with handling the housing situation in which you now find yourself. I’m not cold-hearted enough to say, “You made your bed, now lie in it.” It’s clear that you weren’t able to stand your ground; you felt you had no choice but to do as your husband wished (for reasons I hope you two can get to the bottom of). But I do think you need to give it more of a chance than you have, since your children are happy and you feel good about the schools they’re in. I’m not saying that you need to stick it out for the next 10 years if you continue to feel the way you do now. I’m also not saying that you will come to love cows and fields and country roads (I’m not a cow and field and country road sort of person myself), but I find myself wondering if you couldn’t spend time in the city while your children are off at school, for example, so that your country home will feel more like a retreat from the hectic energy of the city less than an hour away than a place to which you have been exiled.

You don’t mention anything about what your day-to-day life is like, but if you’re at stay-at-home mom or work as a freelancer, why not head into the city once your kids are at school—if not every day, then a few times a week? For years I had a writer friend who felt exiled in the way you do, and she would drop her daughter off at school at least once a week and drive 90 minutes into the nearest city, where she would read and write in a bookstore café, then drive to the busiest part of town and park the car and just walk around. It kept her sane, she said. And at least once a month she came into town for dinner with a friend, leaving her daughter with her husband. Eventually she came to appreciate the quiet back at home; eventually she got a full-time job there.

It may not work out this way for you, of course. If getting into the city frequently doesn’t provide the shot of adrenaline you’re looking for—and marriage counseling doesn’t help you to feel less resentful about the situation you find yourself in, which is probably coloring how you feel about where you live too—then I think you should move. If I were you, I’d give it a good two or three years, for the sake of your kids. I’d also give your marriage that much time to see if you and your husband can get to a happier, more equitable place emotionally. I am an optimist by nature—I always figure: What does it hurt to believe that things are going to get better? What harm is there in trying to make them better?—and so I promise that I mean it when I tell you: It might (all) get better, if you give it a chance.

—Michelle

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