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Relationships Weird Parenting Wins author Hillary Frank on why parents should trust their instincts

One mom gives herself a “time out” and locks herself in a room when she’s bickering with her kids. Another plays a game of “What’s on my butt?” when she needs some rest (lying on her stomach, her kids are tasked with putting objects on her backside and she has to guess what they are; the longer it takes to guess, the more chill time she gets). One family vents their frustrations by doing a “family scream.” You likely won’t find these techniques in most parenting books, but they work. Hillary Frank, creator of the podcast The Longest Shortest Time, has collected hundreds of tricks from parents around the world in her new book Weird Parenting Wins: Bathtub Dining, Family Screams, and Other Hacks from the Parenting Trenches. The Globe and Mail’s Dave McGinn spoke to Frank about her favourite stories from the book and why parents need to stop worrying so much and trust their instincts.

It sounds like traditional parenting books weren’t much help to you when your daughter was born.

They not only weren’t helping but they made me feel like I was failing. I think a lot of those books are written from a “my way or the highway” perspective. They’re step-by-step prescriptive—how to get your kid to sleep and stop crying and eat. And if those things aren’t working for you, there’s no alternative. When those things weren’t working, I felt like I must be doing it wrong or there must be something wrong with me or my kid.

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And so what made you want to crowdsource parenting advice?

In 2013, I did a blog post at The Longest Shortest Time where I talked about how a few years into parenthood, I realized that things that worked for me were things that I had invented myself or that friends had shared with me that we discovered by trial and error. I asked the audience, do you have things like this? We got dozens of responses and most of them were pretty hilarious. I just thought, wow, this could be a really fun project. It could actually be really helpful to other parents, both to see some things that might help them in moments of desperation and to encourage parents to use their own creativity and trust themselves.

I love the mom who figured out she could get her daughter to stop crying in the car if she sang I’m Henry the Eighth, I am in a high-pitched voice. It shows the goofy lengths parents will go to for their kids.

There’s a big range. Some of them are just goofy and hilarious and some of them are really poignant. There’s the one with the stepmom who was having trouble communicating with her teenage stepdaughter, so she got a blank journal and wrote the girl a letter and left it on her bed and invited her to write back, and it started this lovely correspondence between them.

I really loved “No manners meals,” where all behavior is fair game at the table. That would be a real hit with my kids.

We do that. I’ve adopted that as my own. I also really like “Fancy dinner.” That’s the one where the kid [won’t eat when he] knows the mom is mixing veggies into his food. So [the mom] does this thing where she calls for “fancy dinner.” She brings out the china and the crystal goblets and then most importantly she turns the lights down and brings out the candles and he doesn’t see that she’s mixed spinach in to his marinara.

After hearing all these stories, do you find commonalities about them?

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The commonality is parents going out of their minds and reaching for whatever is closest. It all feels like improv comedy and the principle of “Yes, and.” Yes, you’re driving me crazy and so I’m going to reach for that duct tape, put it over my mouth and draw a smile on with a Sharpie because I don’t know what else to do.

So many of the stories in the book definitely have that improv comedy vibe, in that parents are playing a game to figure out what to do to make their kids do whatever needs to be done, but in a fun way.

It’s sort of tapping into the fact that kids are little weirdos. They love games, they love to play. Nobody wants to be yelling at each other.

What’s your hope for the book?

Generally, I hope that people who read it really hear it loud and clear that we should trust the creativity of parents, and that parents should trust their own instincts more than I think we’re led to believe we should.

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