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Being the Mom Versus Being a Librarian

Everyone assumes that if you work with children professionally, you’ll be a natural in the parenting department. There definitely are some overlaps that help with the adjustment to family life, but some things are harder to translate.

Working as a children’s librarian has kept me abreast of current issues in the parenting world and in particular, in the world of early literacy. I know all the stages and signs of pre-literacy and how to build to a good foundation for lifelong readers. I encourage and advise parents about this topic regularly as part of my job at the library.

Now it is time for my great confession: I find it easier to read to other people’s children than my own. Dear reader, please don’t be too shocked. Of course I still read to my child often.

Every two weeks, I bring my daughter’s giant canvas library bag to work and fill it with books as I imagine the two of us snuggled on the couch, reading away the hours. And sometimes that does happen. But sometimes, my daughter gets frustrated with me when I leave off the last word of a sentence and look at her expectantly to fill it in, as I advise so many parents to do when they read in order to facilitate children’s ability to predict a rhyme or what will happen in a story.

Sometimes I get frustrated with her when she doesn’t love a story or my delivery of it as much as the kids in story time did. Sometimes I’m annoyed when she’s overtired and can’t sit still during bedtime stories. Sometimes she doesn’t like the books I choose.

In contrast, reading to kids during story time provides constant positive feedback. I know what books will work with toddlers in a group setting. I know what new silly story will get the preschoolers giggling or how to find the perfect long picture book to read aloud with grade school kids. I know how to get their attention, how to get their wiggles out, and how to keep the flow going.

We clap for ourselves after I finish reading and I tell them what good listeners they are. And when I see kids enjoying themselves while learning something and parents who are happy, I know I’m a good librarian. It’s extremely enjoyable and much less fraught than being a mom.

Let’s be real; there is no applause as a parent. There is often no immediate reward for the things we do but we do them because we want the best for our children. Reading to your kids is pretty much like the experience of parenting itself: it’s occasionally amazing, occasionally horrible but most of the time it’s pretty good. Above all, it has to be done.

This has been written about extensively but it bears repeating: reading aloud to your children is the greatest way to build early literacy skills and encourage a lifelong love of reading. And when it goes well, it’s a great way to bond and relax together as a family. With that in mind, here are my best tips for a smooth read-aloud from my combined experience as a librarian and a mom:

Mix it up: Kids love books with characters they know. We get tons of requests from kids for books with well-known TV characters. I used to cringe at this in my pre-child years but now I know that acceptance is the price of freedom. Bring home a few Paw Patrol and Barbie books along with Make Way for Ducklings or The Velveteen Rabbit. Everyone will be happy.

Find the right time: We usually think of bedtime as the best time for stories. For some families, that works. For many of us, bedtime is a time when we are tired, stressed, and almost out of patience. Save the longer stories for when everyone is at their best and read a few short books to get the job done before bed.

Audiobooks: if you have trouble reading aloud, it could be time to bring home one of our picture books with a CD or one of our new Vox books and let someone else do the reading. These have saved my sanity and let me enjoy the book along with my daughter.

Bookmarks: Know when it’s time to stop and introduce the concept of the bookmark. If reading with your children isn’t going well or you don’t have much time, pop a bookmark in the book you’re reading and tell your kids you’ll save it for later. Sometimes kids and adults are relieved to know we don’t have to finish a book in one sitting.

Try nonfiction: We don’t always have to read our kids fictional stories. If you can find a nonfiction book on a topic you both enjoy, reading to your child will be enjoyable and informative!

In the library world, librarians are always striving for children and families to have a perfect experience at the library. It’s our job to read all the right books and sing all the silly songs and be cheerful all the time. In the real world, perfection is the enemy of happy families. Once I learned to leave my expectations as a librarian at the library, reading to my child became much easier and more enjoyable. Of course, when all else fails, I go back to one of my tried and true mom strategies and let dad handle it.

Kate Tigue is a children’s librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read Kate’s column in the April 26, 2018 issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Lydia Sampson

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