Family Whispering: The Baby Whisperer's Commonsense Strategies for Communicating and Connecting with the People You Love and Making Your Whole Family Stronger

Family Whispering: The Baby Whisperer's Commonsense Strategies for Communicating and Connecting with the People You Love and Making Your Whole Family Stronger

by Melinda Blau, Tracy Hogg

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The long awaited Baby Whisperer’s guide to building a strong and loving family.

Parenting is something you do. Family is something you are. —Tracy Hogg

Before her untimely death in 2004, Tracy—aka the Baby Whisperer—and her longtime collaborator, journalist Melinda Blau, conceived a fourth book that would apply the commonsense… See more details below


The long awaited Baby Whisperer’s guide to building a strong and loving family.

Parenting is something you do. Family is something you are. —Tracy Hogg

Before her untimely death in 2004, Tracy—aka the Baby Whisperer—and her longtime collaborator, journalist Melinda Blau, conceived a fourth book that would apply the commonsense principles of baby whispering to the “whole family.” This ground-breaking book explains why “family” is defined by much more than the relationship between parent and child. By widening the lens to focus on the family as an entity, Blau uses the Baby Whisperer philosophy to illuminate how the multiple bonds and interactions that unfold within a household of adults and children coalesce to form a larger family dynamic. By taking this wider perspective, she enables readers to see everyday challenges—such as sibling rivalry, communication, and time management—with fresh eyes.

Informed both by research and stories of real families, this new book is filled with the handy tips and memorable acronyms that Baby Whisperer fans have come to expect. The advice is simple, practical, and often counterintuitive (asking kids to help more around the home can make them happier; setbacks can often make a family closer). The hopeful message is that with insight, awareness, and “family-think,” we can actually design our families to be happier and more productive, improving the daily lives of parents and kids—and, thereby, benefiting society as a whole in the process.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
"Baby whisperer" Hogg (Secrets of the Baby Whisperer) died of cancer in 2004 but provided part of the prolog and some of the principles that coauthor Blau presents here. Their aim is to help parents examine the household and then use that understanding to handle whatever life brings, such as chores, change, sibling rivalry, and hardship. The balance of the We (the family) and the I (individuals) is a constant theme. Relationships with caregivers and extended kin are discussed. Stories of families illustrate the interplay of the three factors of family life: individuals, relationships, and context. Throughout the book are acronyms like REAL (responsibility, empathy, authenticity, leading with love), quizzes, and "For Your Notebook" questions to stimulate reflection. Each chapter ends with a blank page for notes. Some ideas from the authors' previous books, such as the importance of routines, are repeated here. VERDICT Recommended for fans of the Baby Whisperer books and for readers looking for guidance on how to strengthen their families.—Janet Clapp, N. Clarendon, VT
Publishers Weekly
Blau and Hogg, authors of Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, explain their parenting philosophy as one of “observing, listening, and understanding,” and reject a hierarchal, parent-down, household management style. The book is hands-on, with readers instructed to have a notebook at the ready. Quizzes and essay questions punctuate every chapter—such as “How Authentic Are You?” or “Empathy: Where Do You Stand?” The workbook component is the book’s strength. Chapters on handling hardship or dealing with siblings can run both too long for those seeking a parenting overview and too short for those looking to solve serious problems. The “Chore Wars” chapter is more useful, tackling issues of inequality between parents, but also suggesting that children can contribute to the household from an early age. A toddler can throw out trash while a 10-year-old can purchase groceries using a list, all of which “builds a repertoire of skills.” Blau, a journalist, and Hogg, a parenting consultant, teamed up on three previous projects focused on babies and toddlers. Though Hogg died of cancer in 2004, after having planned this book with Blau, Blau effectively brings her spirit and inspiration to the page. Agent: Eileen Cope, Mark Creative Management. (Feb.)
Neal Gorenflo
"Family Whispering combines deep wisdom with practical tips, on a topic that couldn't be more important—how to thrive as a family. Intelligent and compassionate, this book is a call to action for a resilient new family model co-created by all of the family members and the surrounding community."
New York Times bestselling author - Dr. Drew Pinsky
"Our first and most important relationships are formed in our families. Melinda Blau encourages us to have an expansive perspective, showing child-obsessed parents how to become more family-focused and to empower their kids to form loving, resilient connections. Healthy families are the best defense against the anxieties of our modern world."
author of Slouching Toward Adulthood - Sally Koslow
"Even if moms and dads apply only 10% of what they learn in Family Whispering, they will become better parents. Packed with useful advice, charts, relatable examples, common sense, and big-hearted insights, this is a book America needs."
National Book Award winning author of Far From the Tree - Andrew Solomon
"This book is full of common sense and clarity and will help families mend their bridges and their ways. It is proof that we are all utterly interdependent and teaches us how to respond to one another with decency and respect."
author of Fingerpainting in Psych Class - Jay Morgan
"Systems theory teach us that one individual has the power to affect a larger group. Give that individual a book like Family Whispering, and he or she will have the knowledge and the tools to positively change and impact the most basic and important group of all: the family. Thanks to Melinda and Tracy for helping to make the world a better place—one parent, one child, and now one family at a time."
author of The Dance of Anger and Marriage Rules - Harriet Lerner
“Just when I thought we didn’t need another book on making families work, I came upon this one! Filled with down home wisdom, and terrific advice, it’s the book to reach for when you’re asking the question, But what do I do?”
Forbes and Huffington Post contributor - Kare Anderson
“While the time of traditional families is long past, we’ve never felt a greater desire for practical advice on boosting happier, healthier relationships between all family members. That’s why this book is destined to be the most-consulted and comforting guide for children and adults to get along better–in whatever kind of modern family arrangement they have.”
author of Interpersonal Communication and Human Relationships - Anita Vangelisti
Melinda Blau brilliantly translates research on family relationships into clear, easy to read prose. She asks intriguing questions and tells colorful stories that get at the heart of what makes families work. This book is a gem–it's one that people will read and refer to over and over again."
#1 New York TImes bestselling author of The Happiness Project - Gretchen Rubin
"This warm, accessible, and highly practical guide will be an indispensable resource for families who are eager to find ways to thrive—together."
Psychology Today
“Family Whispering is chockfull of solutions for parents with children who want to control the family, siblings who are long on rivalry, and for your own instinct to be a protective or Helicopter parent. The move into family-centered parenting allows everyone in the family to have a voice and be heard—precisely what is needed to raise children who thrive."

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Family Whispering

  • We might not have it all together, but together we have it all.


    The first section of this prologue was written before Tracy Hogg lost her painful and courageous battle against cancer. She was forty-four. Although she didn’t live to see the publication of The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems, published in January 2005, she spent several months planning and talking about “the family book,” as this project was then called.

    Sherman Oaks, California, August 2004.

    Doctors tell me that my cancer is back. A book about family now seems more important than ever. I don’t know what I’d do without my family. Family is the one thing we can count on. Or at least, that’s how it should be. Lucky for me, that’s how it is. My family and others who feel like family are helping me cope. Family matters.

    I’m a baby whisperer, not a family therapist. I don’t have a degree in psychology. But I’ve been let into many people’s homes. They welcome me into their lives. I sleep in their guest rooms or nurseries. I eat at their dinner tables. I join them on shopping trips to the local market. I’m invited to happy occasions, such as a baby naming, a baptism, or a bris (the Jewish celebration of circumcision, which is not so much fun for the little boy, I’m afraid). I’m also on hand when things go haywire: The flummoxed new mum snaps at her husband for buying the wrong kind of cottage cheese or blows up at her own mum for “just trying to help” by tidying up the linen closet.

    I’ve heard and seen it all. And although I stand up for the baby, I’ve always warned new parents that it’s not just about the baby. Once an adult or a couple brings a child into the world, they become a family. In my earlier books, I talked about my “whole family” approach—making your baby or toddler a part of your family, not King Baby. Children shouldn’t become the parents’ only focus, nor should they run the household. When decisions are made—whether it’s to give little Johnny singing lessons or move him to another school—the whole family should be taken into consideration.

    And yet parents often don’t think about the whole family. Instead, they become overfocused on the children and on their role in shaping them. When the baby or toddler doesn’t meet a particular challenge or difficulty, they think it’s their “fault.” And then the guilt sets in. They fret about what they did or didn’t do or what they should have done. Trust me, luv, guilt doesn’t do anyone any good. It only keeps you from being a good problem solver. You’re so busy feeling rotten about yourself that you tend to miss what’s right in front of you. Guilt also makes life more stressful, and heaven knows, parents today don’t need more stress.

    And here’s the most important news flash, Mum and Dad: You alone do not control how your child “turns out.” Of course, parenting matters. Why else would I have taken the time to write three books about it? But we also have to connect the dots. Parenting isn’t the only reason Johnny bops Carlos on the head with a truck or Clarissa starts wearing lipstick in fifth grade or sweet fourteen-year-old Adam suddenly turns “mardy,” as we say in Duncaster. How they act also has to do with their personalities and their friends and everything else happening in their lives.

    This book is about connecting the dots. I don’t think of it as a parenting book, although it will, I’m sure, be read mostly by parents. If your family is young,I all the better. That’s when the most important groundwork is laid—and when most parents are more likely to open themselves to new ideas. But if you’re farther along the road, not to worry. It’s never too late—and it’s always a good idea—to shift your focus to the whole family.

    What do I hope you’ll get from this book? At the very least, you’ll start to see the whole along with its parts. I hope you’ll begin to pay attention to the daily minute-by-minute little stuff that you might otherwise overlook—conversations, nods, and gestures. In those everyday moments, you’ll find clues about your family and about who each of you is. These bits of information will help you make better choices and deal with whatever your family has to face. I also hope that the whole-family lens will help you let go of the guilt.

    I promise you, though, that the goal is not to have a “perfect” family—heavens, no! It’s to have a family that supports you and yours and whatever circumstances you have to handle. Some days, you’ll feel brilliant (that’s Yorkshire for “great”). Other days, you’ll wonder if you’ve done anything right!

    Even if you do everything I suggest (and face it, luv, you won’t), life will be unpleasant or difficult at times. Hard things and bad things happen to all families—even to good families—things that take us by surprise and knock our knickers off. But as my Nan always told me, it’s not what happens to you in life that matters, it’s what you do with it. If you have family whose members are there for one another, it makes the going a bit easier.

    As you read through these pages, please this keep in mind:

    Any group consisting of parents and children living together in a household qualifies as “a family.”

    Whether you’re a biological parent, a stepparent, a single parent, a foster parent, a grandparent living with your adult child, or an aunt raising your brother’s children, know that when I say “the parents,” I mean you. I consider you and your children “a family,” no matter what. Same-sex couples with children are families. Second marriages create various flavors of blended families. Even when parents don’t live together, they are still a family—a “family apart,” the term Melinda coined for co-parenting households after divorce.

    Yes, I’ve seen it all. I’ve been at Thanksgiving dinners with exes and steps and half-sibs at the same table—and God bless them for being able to pull it off! I’ve also been in homes where three generations lived under one roof—parents, children, and grandparents. In fact, I myself grew up in what might be considered an “untraditional” arrangement. I was raised by my Nan and Granddad. My mother, Hazel, also grew up with her grandparents. And when I began to work in the U.S., she took care of my girls. It all seemed “normal” to us. None of us is quite sure where our “immediate” family ends and the “extended” clan begins. But there’s always a lot of love to go around. Aunts, uncles, cousins—everyone gets into the act. And that makes all of us stronger.

    This is the fourth book of the baby-whispering series and, in some ways, our most important. For babies and toddlers, family is the whole world. And as children grow up and begin to see what the world has to offer, having a strong family makes them strong, so they can handle life. That goes for the adults, too. We all need someone in our corner. That’s why this book can’t be just about the children. It has to be about the whole family.

    —Tracy Hogg

    Northampton, Massachusetts, January 2013.

    I was Tracy’s left brain. This was evident from the first time we met in 1999. I had flown out to California from the East Coast, so she could meet and judge “the writer.” I was auditioning her, too, and skeptical about the hype. Her Hollywood clients raved, but I’d interviewed tons of parenting experts before. How different—and how much better—could she be?

    The moment I arrived, I found out. Straight from the airport, she whisked me to a house in the Valley, where we were greeted by a desperate mother and her wailing three-week-old son.

    “Give me him, luv,” she said. Within moments, Tracy had calmed the baby and comforted the mother, who was also crying. I tagged along on other consults over the next ten days and, in between visits, listened to her phone conversations with mothers. In our work sessions, I asked tons of questions. “How did you come up with that?” or “Why do you think this works?” It was a challenge to take notes, because Tracy knew so much and rarely stayed on topic. In the midst of explaining breast-feeding, she’d veer off into a discussion of sleep.

    The babies thrived. The mothers adored her—and why not? Here was a real-life Mary Poppins who could swoop down on a family and, somehow, leave them changed. She was sweet and supportive, funny and warm. People opened up to her—and rightfully so. She was a great listener and an even better problem solver. When she spoke of “my babies,” it wasn’t just because she took care of those children. It was because she had developed a relationship with them and their families.

    On our ninth day together, I sat across from her in her office, taking notes and doodling, as I tend to do when listening. As she rattled on about the importance of establishing a structured routine (“You see, luv, babies are like us. They start their day by eating . . .”), I absently scribbled a big E in the margin. She went on (“The problem is, parents sometimes try to put them to sleep then, when they should be encouraging an activity, even if it’s just a look out the window . . .”). I drew a big A next to the E (“. . . and then they can put them down to sleep”), followed by an S, and bingo! The EASY method was born. (The Y was tagged on later, to stand for something every new mother needs: time for You.)

    And so it began. In work sessions over the next six years, on the phone and via email, as well as in person, I extracted a life’s worth of experience and knowledge from Tracy and shaped it with my own thinking. It was the best kind of collaboration, one in which both parties realize that there is no book without each other.

    Tracy and I were passionate about the idea of extending her philosophy into the realm of family, the bigger unit of which babies and toddlers are a part. It was a natural place to go, especially at a time when so many parents seemed overfocused on their children. After years of taking the child’s perspective, Tracy knew it was time to shine a light on the family.

    More than our first three projects, which were harvested almost exclusively from her experience, this one also tapped into my writing and research. Between us, we had hundreds of stories. She had lived with families; I had interviewed countless parents and spent almost my entire career focusing on relationships. We told each other our own family stories and knew each other’s family. Tracy helped my daughter through the birth of her first son. I spent time with her daughters, Sara and Sophie, and had conversations with her mother, sister, and brother and, best of all, her beloved Nan, who is ninety-five at this writing and still going strong, the family’s own Queen Mum.

    Tracy’s and my roots and issues were quite different, but we knew, from both personal and professional experience, that family, though complicated, is where it all begins and ends. Back in 2004, our intention was to go beyond babies and children, to apply the principles of baby whispering to this larger entity and to arm readers with simple, practical, and sometimes counterintuitive advice that would support and strengthen the whole family. A decade later, the idea is more important than ever.

    “Family whispering,” as I now think of it, is fundamentally about tuning in and staying connected, just as baby whispering was. But here we shine light on everyone, not just the baby. The first half of this book will help you “see” differently, to focus on the whole family. The second half will help you apply this new perspective—“family-think”—to everyday challenges and whatever unexpected changes your family has to face.

    To help you figure out what’s right for your family, we’ve peppered this book with lots of questions. Tracy was all about asking the right questions. The ones in these pages are designed to help you see what your particular family is made of, how it functions, its strengths and weaknesses, and what you can do to make it a place of safety and support for all its members.

    Keep a Family Notebook

    Whenever Tracy visited a new family, whether she was there to establish a routine or solve a problem, she always urged parents to write down their observations. It isn’t just a matter of helping you keep track. It’s about increasing your awareness of patterns. To get the most out of this book, we suggest that you keep a “Family Notebook” in which you:

    • Answer questions posed throughout the book.

    • Record observations and “aha” moments that occur as a result of tuning in to your family.

    • Set goals and reminders about trying something different or making a slight change of course.

    The act of writing sets your intention and makes it more likely that you’ll move in a new direction, as opposed to staying “stuck.”

    You’ll get more out of this book if you take the time to keep a “Family Notebook” in which you actually write down your answers to the various questions. Whenever you see the symbol —“for your notebook”—reach for a paper notebook or an electronic tablet on which you can save your answers and later print them out. We’ve also provided a “Notes” page at the end of each chapter. Use it to jot down ideas, too. The act of writing will heighten your awareness, which will make it easier to troubleshoot and, if necessary, change course.

    Another benefit of keeping a notebook is that you create a unique document about your family—a little insight here, some information there—which becomes a living record of your family’s growth and change and eventually ends up showing you something new about yourselves. If you have a partner, answer the questions together, or go solo and compare notes later.

    The ideas in these pages are drawn from recent social-science research and, perhaps more important, from “the trenches,” Tracy’s favorite source of wisdom. Notably, some of our interviewees were already familiar with baby whispering. We talked to parents on the online forum that survived Tracy’s original website and also to former clients, parents of babies and toddlers Tracy once cared for. These veterans of family life, many of whom have children who are now approaching adolescence, shared how Tracy’s ideas and strategies served their families as their children grew up, how they bettered their lives and their relationships. Even when parents didn’t embrace all of Tracy’s techniques, they all applauded her “whole family” approach, because it honored everyone’s needs.

    For example, one of Tracy’s former clients, Viola Grant,II a Hollywood producer Tracy worked for when her first son was born, recalled that Tracy’s advice about family was a huge relief after a severe scolding from her pediatrician. “I had an open house a few days after Simon’s birth, and the doctor heard about it from one of my friends who was also his patient. He told me, ‘You should be in bed, bonding with your baby.’

    “By the time I met Tracy for the first time a few days later, I was flipping out. I told her I was struggling with his advice. I didn’t want my baby to get sick, but I’m a very social person, and I didn’t want to change my life. Staying in bed wasn’t me. I was excited for people to come see my first child. Tracy said to me, ‘Don’t worry, luv. This baby will adjust to the life you lead. If this is how your house runs, your baby will be fine. You can go to restaurants, and your baby will be fine. If you feel good and your home feels good to him, he’ll be happy.’ And she was right. My kids are now ten and thirteen, and they can hold their own with adults. They have been raised to be an integral part of the family—not the stars of the family but members of it.”

    Invariably, talks like these included discussion about how much of an impact Tracy had made in her too-short life and how much we all missed her. Certainly, I will forever have her unique Yorkshire burr in my head. Every day, I rely on her commonsense ideas in my own life and have passed them on to my daughter, who now has three sons. However, without Tracy at my side, it no longer feels right for me to write as Tracy. In the past, I managed to capture her “voice” on paper, in part by using her favorite British expressions, like “mum” and “codswallop,” and by peppering the pages with her trademark sense of humor. Now the journalistic “we” seems more appropriate.

    Be assured, though: Everything in these pages is built on the foundation of baby whispering, principles that go beyond babies and toddlers, and for which we will always have Tracy Hogg to thank.

    —Melinda Blau

    I. By “young,” I mean your family’s age—the time you’ve been together as a group—not how old you or your children are. They don’t necessarily go together. Some stepfamilies, for example, are very young, and yet they have kids who are much older and parents who’ve been ‘round the block.

    II. This and most names are pseudonyms, but the stories are true. In some cases, details have been changed. A few anecdotes have been cobbled together from multiple interviews, but all have been inspired by real-life circumstances. Also, we assume that our readers are women and men who might have sons, daughters, or both. To avoid awkward constructions such as “he or she” or “his or her” whenever we use a generic example, we alternate, “he” and “she” throughout as nongender-specific pronouns.

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