As anyone who has children can tell you, one of the hardest things to find is a decent book of parenting advice. This is probably because most parenting books were written by people who—although perhaps were successful in parenting their own children—almost certainly never successfully parented yours. If they had successfully parented your children, then that would be a different story. Those books would not only fly off of the shelves, they would single-handedly save the publishing industry.
And who knows? Perhaps one day we’ll have the technology to make this possible; perhaps one day every parent will be given the opportunity to sit down and write their younger selves a “how to” guide to parenting their own children. Then again, we might have this technology already, and the government is just preventing us from accessing it out of fear that we’ll use it to dispense advice on how not to be a parent at all. Perhaps they are afraid that, after times of great parental stress (like Christmas Eve) the population might drop below sustainable levels. I know that there have certainly been times in my parenting life when I would have gladly gone back to a period, oh, say, ten months before my daughter Clementine was born and left a note saying, “A word to the wise: three shots of whisky is sufficient. No need to drink the whole bottle.”
Unfortunately, however, (or perhaps fortunately), we don’t have access to parenting books from the future. What we do have, though, is the next best thing: the world’s best parenting book from the past. It’s true. You might not have noticed it before, because, for some reason, it’s not filed under “Parenting Advice,” but rather under “Military History,” but there really is a perfect book of parenting advice on the shelves right now.
It’s called The Art of War.
I’m not sure who this Sun Tzu is, but he really knows his way around children. (Even though, amusingly enough, he refers to parents as “warriors” and children as “the enemy.”) Inside the pages of this slim volume, he packs in one piece of excellent parenting advice after another. Take the part about plans and planning, for instance. In that section he directs parents/warriors to “lay plans, but not be a slave to them.” Ain’t it the truth? I can’t tell you how many theories I had about raising children—before I actually had them, that is.
Next he suggests that, in order to maintain your army’s core strength, you should limit the amount of conflicts you engage in. Otherwise known as “pick your battles.”
The he suggests that when you must battle, you be the one who chooses the battlefield. In other words, wait until you get home from the mall.
Other valuable pieces of advice include knowing the art of strategic retreat, attacking as a unit (Mom and Dad on the same page), defending existing positions before seeking to win new ones, exploiting the enemy’s weakness, and, whenever possible, outmaneuvering them.
The beautiful thing about this book is that even the advice that seems far out now will eventually, the more you engage your enemies in battle—I mean, raise your children—start to make sense. Take one of the last rules, the importance of developing a good spy network. While this might seem ridiculous when your kids are five, it’s the best advice ever when they are fifteen.
Which is why I still haven’t discounted one of the other odd pieces of advice in this invaluable book: attack by fire. I’m not saying I think I’m going to be using that particular piece of advice any time soon, but just in case, I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve. And, of course, fire extinguishers. Lots of fire extinguishers.