by: Sarah Kopper
When you hear about reading and parenthood, images of bedtime stories, picture books, and chapter read-alouds come to mind--the building blocks of literacy and establishing a love of reading in our children. But what about reading for parents?
Reading has always been an important part of my life. I remember the early days of plodding my way through the Berenstain Bears and the pride I felt sounding out each word. Then there were the summer trips to the library, coming home with dozens of books to consume during my seemingly endless stretches of free time. In college I spent an entire semester break lost in Harry Potter--pure joy after only reading academic articles and textbooks for months prior.
When I had kids, I accepted the conventional wisdom that I would read fewer books as my new role as a parent crept its way into my limited leisure time. Thankfully, the opposite turned out to be true. Not the limited leisure time--that was an accurate prediction--but I found myself using the time I had to read more than I had before.
Parenthood can be all consuming and in those first weeks (months, years…) and it is easy to get swept away in the never-ending demands of keeping a new human alive. The connection to who you were before giving birth can feel tenuous, or at times, severed. Reading is my bridge between who I was then and who I am today. Opening a book reminds me of my own interests and passions, brings me joy, and connects me to the broader human experience at times when my identity feels in flux.
It is easy to classify reading as an indulgence unavailable to parents. But taking care of yourself is not an indulgence. If reading fills your cup, then it will make you a better parent, partner, and friend.
But the time! Where is the time to read between the endless requests for snacks, the laundry, or the full-time job? Here are my tips for making it easier to fit reading for pleasure into already busy days:
Adjust your expectations
It is unlikely you’ll be able to curl up in an armchair for hours on end devouring the latest novel. But you can pull a book out of your purse when you arrive five minutes early for school pick-up or notice when your kids are happily playing together and squeeze in as many pages as possible before the peace erupts and chaos descends. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can make it through a book using those small pockets of time.
Read in a variety of formats
Different formats suit themselves to different situations: the e-reader on the vacation, an audiobook while folding laundry, or a hardcopy when you are curled up in bed. If you have books in each format ready, you’ll be prepared to sneak in a few pages when the opportunity arises.
Hard copies // Reading on your phone can be great when you are out and about, but it is all too tempting to jump over to social media or “quickly” check your email. Before you know it your pocket of free-time disappeared into the abyss of your addictive device.
E-readers // A device specifically designed for ebooks avoids the pitfalls of reading on a tablet or phone since it is easier on the eyes and has fewer distractions. Bonus: it is light and compact, which means you can carry thousands of pages without physically weighing you down.
Audiobooks // Many of us have come to love audio through podcasts, but it is also a great medium for reading. I especially love listening to memoirs, as the reader is often the author which can add to the experience. And in case you were wondering, listening to a book counts and is in no way “cheating”!
Make full use of your library
Hard copies, ebooks, and audiobooks--you can get them all (for free!) through your library. Hoopla and Libby are great apps that many libraries use for ebooks and audiobooks. You don’t even have to leave your house to access this wonderful public resource, which makes it perfect for busy parents.
Reframe reading as a value
I want my kids to know that reading is fun. It is not a task to put on a to-do list because a teacher requires a certain number of minutes, but something to savor and enjoy. How will my children learn to truly love reading if they don’t see the adults in their lives making time for it? Instead of viewing reading as selfish, I see it as an opportunity live into our family’s values.
Find people who want to talk books
The quickest way for me to pick up a book is to hear a friend rave about it. If you don’t have any bibliophiles in your local circle, Instagram is a wonderful place to connect with other readers. Following bookish accounts, posting about your own reads, and a search of bookish hashtags have led me to many good books. Half the fun of reading is talking about it afterwards. As much as I love talking about the ups and downs of parenthood, it is refreshing to talk with other adults about something that has absolutely nothing to do with my children.
Put down your phone after the kids are bed
I know, I know. It is so easy to zone out once you are off duty and scroll away the minutes (or hours). I have days where the most satisfying and relaxing activity truly is getting lost in a beautifully curated social media feed. But most of the time, I feel more rejuvenated after an hour of reading. I have rarely spent time with a book and thought, I wish I’d done something else, where I have that thought about Instagram on the daily.
Know yourself as a reader
If I had to pick one tip that will make the biggest difference in your reading life, this is the one. Do not fall into the trap of feeling that everything you read needs for self-improvement or your edification. Being fun and enjoyable are perfectly good reasons to pick up a book. Don’t read something because you think you should; read something because it makes you come alive in the can’t-stop-turning-pages kind of way. I used to be in this camp, avoiding chick-lit, young adult literature, and romances because they didn’t feel worthy of my time. How wrong I was! I haven’t abandoned literary fiction or serious non-fiction, but there is no shame in the fluffier aspects of my reading game.
As Jeffrey Eugenides says in his novel The Marriage Plot:
There were some books that reached through the noise of life to grab you by the collar and speak only of the truest things.
Find those books. They make muddling through this parenting journey a little less lonely, or if nothing else, a lot more fun.