First Book Review: A Quiet Place by Peggy O’Mara

Book Review - A Quiet Place: Essays on Life and Family

For the most part, I enjoyed this book of essays from the editor of Mothering magazine.

The introduction sent echoes of recognition through me, as I felt a kinship with Peggy O’Mara’s journey to writing.

I also felt an affinity for the parenting style she espouses. Although we did not attachment parent, I have come to a point in my life when I can wish that we had continued, when Jeremiah was a baby, to do as instinct  led us. I remember feeling as though I was abandoning him each time I put him down, and I believe he did, too, judging by the power of his cries.

So, I read the introduction with a bit of sadness and wistfulness for a closeness to and consideration for my children that was missing, when they were very small.

I enjoyed most of the essays, although there was a streak of “Mother Knows Best” morality that seemed to suggest strongly that children aren’t capable of making choices that my own unschooled children and their friends make on a regular basis, and a seeming glossing-over of the effect divorce can have on children, even when the family remains close.

I was in full agreement with her attitudes on breastfeeding, on attending to the needs of healthy children and birth in a way that does not treat these natural phenomena as diseases. However, this seems to come at the expense of any discussion at all of the fact that birth can and sometimes does become a medical emergency, and that there are times when intervention may be the only way to save child and/or mother. Given my personal history, this lack of balance smacks of propaganda and worries me.

Still, I had respect for our differences of opinion, because the author had done her research, made a good deal of sense, in most instances, and I could feel her caring and genuine love for children.

I agreed with the critical view given in the essay “having a baby in america” (http://mothering.com/pregnancy-birth/having-a-baby-in-america ) of the American Academy of Pediatrics and their attitude toward cesarean births, medicated deliveries, and nursing, and the caution that an association with such obvious pro-early weaning and formula feeding biases cannot be fully trusted to give sound advice on breastfeeding.

So it was with a sense of bewilderment that I read the very next essay, “tv is not good for kids” (http://www.mothering.com/tv-is-not-good-for-kids),in which the AAP is very heavily quoted as a trusted resource. It was especially jarring since the essay cited things like decreased imagination (the author avowed this was true for her own children; although there is substantial documented evidence of the rampant imagination of my kids and others like them who watch exactly as much or as little television as they choose each day), increased violence (my children, and others I know who freely watch and game as they like are, on the whole, less violent than many controlled children I have observed), and no mention at all made of the number of hours children spend in school and thereby cut off from parental emotional support (school and school-things very often occupy more of a child’s time than television does).

I understand that these essays all appeared as editorials in Mothering, and, as such, these two did not run in consecutive months. Still, it was a very poor choice of placement in the book, and the subsequent essays, although still deep, meaningful, and thought-provoking, had lost a little of their luster, and felt a little too much like they were serving an agenda more than truth for me to take them as seriously as I did those that went before.

That being said, there was the advantage of my critical mind being engaged, so that I could more fully evaluate each essay and the ideas it contained, comparing them against my own beliefs and experiences

The style of the writing was friendly, well-informed – perhaps, just a touch, like a lecturing mother who truly does want the best for you, but has her own idea of what that is, and that may well supersede your own. And, when it does, she is more likely to consider you in the wrong than to realize that there are many, many answers in life, and very, very few absolutes.

Ratings: Scored with 1 as low; 5 as high.

  • Readabilty: 3. I found the small-letter titles off-putting, and there was a pedantic, inflexible element there that soured the reading somewhat. The storytelling was well-done and descriptive.

  • Informative:4. I learned quite a bit, and found myself considering new ideas and perspectives more than once.

  • Credibilty:2. I don’t like having an agenda pushed at me so forcefully; I prefer to make my own decisions. Also, discrediting a source that is later used leads me to believe the author might not be remotely objective, and her research colored by her personal biases and beliefs to an uncomfortable degree.

  • Overall Rating: 3. I would recommend this book – and a cup of salt for liberal dosing alongside. There are quite a few wonderful, heartfelt essays – and those that seem meant to force the author’s own opinions into her readers’ mind sas though they were concrete, absolute facts.

8 thoughts on “First Book Review: A Quiet Place by Peggy O’Mara

  1. Eden says:

    True… We both seem to have inherited more than our fair share of stubborn from our parents. It’s served us well in some instances, less so in others… But there are people who aren’t as blessed with such sense. Or good instincts,.. ;-)

  2. Eden says:

    Interesting… What intrigues (and mildly alarms) me is the fact that were those essays NOT placed together in the book (you noted they’d bee initially written up in a magazine), you may not have caught the contrast as easily.

    It doesn’t sound like a good book for me yet. Too much Libra Rising….;-)

    • shanjeniah says:

      Sys -

      I would have noticed it either way. I do not like to be pushed or prodded into things, and I can sense attempts to do so a long way of, even if they’re subtle.

      This wasn’t.

      Remember how fiercely I resisted Simon and Garfunkel and Star Trek when we were teens? It wasn’t them, per se, it was that I perceived you pushing me, and was resisting that.

      In those cases, though, it was someone who loved me really trying to offer something they knew I would love if I could give it a chance. Eventually I did, and have never regretted it!

      In the case of the book, though, it’s someone trying to push me into depriving my children of something that already holds value to them. Here, Television and computer time lead to remarkable discoveries, conversations, snuggles, creative endeavors of many many forms, much laughter – and learning, learning, learning!

      Those are all pretty good things, in my opinion.

      Her viewpoint definitely seems based in prejudice; mine in objective observation of two very real children (and their friends and peers).

      Gotta go with my own instinct and our joy, here – AMA and Mothering’s agendas be damned.

  3. alberta says:

    I agree good review – not having read the book diff. to comment but TV is surely like anything else something that is monitered/balanced/discussed by interested adults and a healthy home life – not a morphia for the masses – can’t be bothered lets put the box on – and I fear that the violence in real reporting wars riots etc is far more damaging to young children than the obvious ‘stories’ children know the diff on the whole – but watching ‘real’ children die ‘real’ homes’ destroyed must feed the insecurities of a young child’s life

    anyway well done

    • shanjeniah says:

      Alberta –

      I never would have thought it when I controlled TV viewing here, but both children are really good at knowing what they can handle.

      I think the problem with controlling TV is that a child who wants to watch, and only gets a specific amount of viewing time will use that time.

      It’s their only shot.

      So they watch whatever they can, whenever they can. They’re caught in a place of reacting to the controls.

      No one here watches anything reactive. People just watch what and when they want.

      We have basic cable, internet access, and Netflix.

      We don’t have parental controls on any of those things.

      Jeremiah and Annalise will change channels, turn off, and walk away from things they don’t want to see, because they know they can come back later, if they want.

      And they can do many other things besides watching TV, because it will be there for them, if they want it.

      They also know they can ask their questions, and get them answered honestly.

      They know we trust them to choose for themselves, and they show good judgement in not causing themselves distress.

      I think Peggy O’Mara missed out on something amazing…..and I’m glad we aren’t, anymore.

  4. mrsbongle says:

    I haven’t read the book but like you I’m always wary of people pushing their opinions on me. I find it vaguely insulting, as if they’re assuming I can’t make up my own mind. Good review; well balanced.

    • shanjeniah says:

      Janet –

      Yes! That’s just the feeling I have.

      I may not be an “expert”…but I know and love many children. TV is not hurting those who have the freedom to use it or leave it off, or walk in and out of the space it’s in, or watch just what they like.

      Imagination is rampant in our home, and many of their unschooled peers, who have no limits on the time they can play, read, sleep, bathe….or watch TV.

      It’s odd how she vilified TV never mentioned the mind-numbing that van so easily happen in a public-school setting and how kids spending their days in school might watch TV as an escape after a long, hard day.

      People here watch to learn, or be fascinated, or amused, or presented with new ideas….

      And they carry those ideas out into the rest of life.

      They could just sit in front of a TV. They don’t.

      And because they don’t, because the evidence of their imaginative and peaceful lives is everywhere, I can’t take Peggy O’Mara as seriously as I might if i didn’t know how false that idea is….

      And knowing it, I can’t possibly ignore it, and so I’m left more skeptical about everything else she’s written, and the agenda behind it….

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