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In Tending the Family Heart, family therapist and parent educator, Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker, highlights the importance of creating and nurturing the “heart part” of our families; that almost magical bond that interconnects every family member with all the others. It is the heart that provides safety and warmth to all within its embrace. It is what transforms the very ordinary and repetitious tasks of daily life into expressions of mutual support and care. It is what celebrates the dailyness of love and belonging and helps everyone cope in times of challenges, separations, and even tragedies. When the “heart part” is strong, it provides both children and adults with what they need emotionally and psychologically to become their best versions of themselves in spite of whatever stresses come their way.
Parents are doing the best they can to parent well in spite of too little validation and conflicting messages regarding their own importance in the project. Hungry for information and support, parents are blogging, attending parent study groups, reading parenting self-help books, and talking with each other.
In Tending the Family Heart, Dr. Marie joins the conversation, affirming the importance of family and validating the centrality of parental influence. Using ordinary stories from ordinary families as examples, she makes her suggestions accessible and manageable for even the busiest parent. The tone is conversational and upbeat, encouraging parents to sort through the many ideas and to decide for themselves what will work in their families or what can be adapted to their own realities.
Each chapter outlines common areas of family life that can be opportunities for developing a family’s heart. Dr. Marie emphasizes the need for family members to be actively engaged in each other’s lives and provides practical and realistic suggestions for doing so. Using placemats at a meal or putting something unusual in the grocery cart makes the ordinary into something special. Getting the whole family to cheer at even the youngest child’s t-ball game or organizing a family reunion affirms family membership and love. When added together, such gestures shape a family identity and strengthen the heart. Yes, the heart requires thought and time and care and tending. When parents attend to the task, everyone thrives.
Unlike most parenting books, this one does not describe yet another method for disciplining children. It does not offer a one-size-fits-all recipe for connecting the collection of people called a family. Instead, Dr. Marie charges us to define what is unique about our family and to make the care of its heart a priority.
A medical crisis crystallized Dr. Marie’s thinking and motivated her to write down what she thought would help her family survive and thrive if they had to do without her. But it is her 35 years of professional work with families and her 30 years of being a parent herself that gave her something to write about.
Tending the Family Heart deserves to become an instant classic. Dr. Hartwell-Walker has created a blueprint for daily life that should be required reading for any parent who hopes to raise happy, well-adjusted kids in today's complex world.
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About the Author
On completing her education, Dr. Marie started a successful group private practice, specializing in family and couple therapy. She also founded a local drop-in center for parents of children under the age of three in order to give new parents a place to meet and support one another and to get expert advice. Over the course of her career, she has been an administrator of a community mental health clinic, the supervisor for a large clinical staff, and the director of a clinical team serving people with intellectual disabilities. Currently, she is a psychologist with the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services (formerly the Dept of Mental Retardation) and teaches classes on intellectual disability and mental health at the University of Massachusetts, both on campus and online. She has received awards from the Girl Scouts, Zonta International, and her town’s Chamber of Commerce, among others, for her service to her community. She is a regular contributor to Psych Central.com and heads up the Ask the Therapist column on the website.
Dr. Marie has been married for 42 years and is the proud mother of 4 young adults. “Raising 2 boys and 2 girls has been just as instructive, and far more humbling, than my formal education,” she says. When not managing household, career, and writing, she enjoys singing and working in her garden