Reading between the whines

The sevenfold path to coping with seven-step parenting manuals

Published December 2, 1997 3:28PM (EST)

It is not easy to walk the path of spirituality when you are suspicious
of those who arrange the steppingstones. As the millennium draws to a close, spiritual instructors are many in number, and their voices can be
alarmingly banal. What follows is a simple, seven-step guide to coping
with two of the more popular recently published parenting books that
have targeted the spiritual side of raising children, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families" by Stephen R. Covey and "The Seven Spiritual Laws for Parents" by Deepak Chopra.

1. Avoid staring at the picture of the author, especially if it
includes any members of his/her family, thereby inviting snide
observations on their apparent relationship.

2. Numb yourself to buzzwords like "synergy," "proactive," "learnings" and "book team," and to the catchy phrases coined by the author to help you
do what he suggests. (Ex: "Use your pause button" or "make a deposit
in your Emotional Bank Account.")

3. Do not count the number of times (at least seven in Covey's book) an
author refers to "blowing it." (Ex: "We all 'blow it' from time to

4. Do not read the dust jacket blurbs; they're manipulative and

5. Do not read the author's bio. Go in cold, not knowing what schools
he attended or what Fortune 500 companies he has counseled. None of this
should make any difference in your reading.

6. Do not think about who else reads these kinds of self-help books.

7. Finally, do not study the products and services hawked in the back
of the book or call any of the telephone numbers provided or seek in
any way to turn the book into something more accountable than food for

That said, there is not so much wrong with the substance of these books,
once you get past their dumbed-down, slicked-up packaging and the
marketing strategies propelling them to the bestseller lists. After
all, most people do live in families of one kind or another and most
families do not function in any kind of a healthy way. If you are not
the kind of parent to figure out what's wrong and remedy your family's
problem on your own, you might do a lot worse than to make use of either
of these books.

The books derive from earlier works of the authors -- Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" and Chopra's "The
Seven Spiritual Laws of Success" -- which used similar tools to fix
grown-up kinds of problems. Chopra writes, "After my book 'The Seven
Spiritual Laws of Success' was published, the response was immediate and
very beautiful: Thousands of people who read the book began to practice
in their daily lives the principles that Nature uses to create
everything in material existence. In time I received requests from many
of these people who happened to be parents ... I wrote this new book to
answer these requests."

Chopra's little volume, with fonts that are delicately suggestive of Asia and dainty
graphics (some readers may even recognize the peaceful avian family
gracing the title pages as pheasant, partridge or grouse), actually
proposes something quite radical. "If a critical mass of our children
are raised to practice the Seven Spiritual Laws, our whole civilization
will be transformed," he writes. "Every child needs as much mature love
as you can give. What makes love mature -- and not just adult -- is the
conscious spiritual intention behind it."

With so many grown-ups blubbering about their inner children, it is
refreshing to see a self-help manual attempting to elicit the maturity
of a parent. Because so much of Chopra's insight is based on ancient
Vedic scriptures and yogic texts and practices, his suggestions have a
heft that can bear the weight of contemplation in spite of his
simplified language and retreading of familiar parenting book material.
Most of the time. Here's a nice passage:

"A child who was taught from the age of three or four 'You are here for
a reason' would face a very different future. Such a child would see the
search for meaning in life as a natural thing, the spiritual equivalent
of learning your ABCs. There would be no years of postponement, followed
by desperate inner turmoil. 'Why am I here' doesn't have to be a
fearsome existential question."

Here's something less inspiring of confidence: "Acceptance is essential
because a lot of effort is wasted whenever you put up resistance.
Defenselessness is tied to acceptance, in that having to defend your
point of view creates conflict and chaos, which are both huge wastes of
energy." One might argue that putting up resistance to certain
realities, say physical abuse and social injustice, is not a waste of
effort. Likewise, conflict and chaos seem to be playing a fairly
important role in human evolution.

In contrast to Chopra's slim work stands Covey's encyclopedic,
cross-referenced, plain-speakingly anecdotal, practicum manual. Make no
mistake, the 7 Habits are on a mission: Improve family performance. And why? Because "history
clearly affirms that family is the foundation of society. It is the
building block of every nation. It is the headwaters of the stream of
civilization. It is the glue by which everything is held together. And
family itself is a principle built deeply into every person," Covey

With Covey, you have to read through the whiff of a possibly
distasteful political sensibility. There's talk of television as the
"open sewage pipe right into our home," there's a matter-of-fact ennobling of middle-class values and there's considerable Godspeak,
which may disturb some readers. On the other hand, when you assemble the
practical suggestions Covey has to offer to improve the shared life of
the family, you may be surprised to find them useful. Under the corporate jargon, his idea of "improved family performance" is creating a family where relationships based on love and affection help children to become responsible, caring adults. Regularly make the
time to be with your children, Covey suggests, and bring to these
encounters what he terms "the four unique human gifts": self-awareness,
conscience, imagination and independent will. Listen to them and
respect them, he says. Here's how others have done it. Here's how you
can do it. It works! Go for it!

The very point of the 7 Habits, and of Chopra's Spiritual Laws, is to
help parents live up to the responsibility they assumed when they
reproduced in the first place. An average parent is likely to come away
from each book with at least a morsel or two of usable material. The
parent desperate for help may emerge from these books with much more.

By Inda Schaenen

Inda Schaenen has it all. Except Radu.

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