Two wheeled bicycle
waiting to be ridden
Are you something I must try,
or fruit that is forbidden?
With thoughts of falling over,
I shake and you’re unsteady
Do I climb upon your seat,
or come back when I’m ready?
Clinging to the handlebar
I pedal up and down
Shall I smile fearlessly,
or wear a somber frown?
Reassuring adult hands
appear to comfort me
Now will I lose my balance
or defy Earth’s gravity?
– The Balancing Act, from Psychoetry by Brian Wohlmuth
This is one of over a dozen original poems in Brian Wohlmuth’s book, Psychoetry: Lessons in Poetic Parenting. This warm and insightful book offers an overview of parenting children from infancy through adolescence, each chapter accented by a poem. The book delivers a quick read — each chapter only a page or two, which may be just the right length for a busy, sleep-deprived parent. Chapter topics range from separation anxiety and trust to bullying and loss, important topics in the life of a developing child.
Wohlmuth knows what he’s writing about — he is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a Master’s in Psychological Counseling, and over 25 years of experience working with families as well as specializing in children and teens with special needs. He brings this knowledge to the bear in this book, combining poetry and prose in a light but meaningful text.
The chapter Divide and Conquer begins with the poem Day One. “Amidst the tears/ you’ve dried for years/ You said, ‘Don’t cry/ Give this a try/ You’ll be alright/ out of my sight/ Do what they say/ Make friendly play/ And share the toys/ with girls and boys…/ Then as I feared/ you disappeared…” Wohlmuth uses this as an opening to discuss the challenges a child faces when beginning to separate from his or her parents and how, as parents, we can support them. He outlines the need for encouragement, companionship and also emotional containment as the child begins to individuate. He offers simple activities, such as role-playing the separation, sharing stories, and providing structure in order to facilitate this process.
Another chapter, Food for Thought, opens with the entertaining little poem Food F(l)ight. He writes, “Flying spoon to control/ this is feeding patrol/ radar spies two small lips pressing tight/ The hanger is closed/ All commands are opposed/ Captain Broccoli is not a delight;/ Using similar tact/ on a fantasy track/ locomotive with cargo are steaming/ The tunnel is blocked/ Baby teeth firmly locked…” The poem goes on like this, painting an entertaining, if rather messy, picture of feeding time with a toddler. Rather than merely see the pursed mouth as an inconvenient sign of stubbornness, Wohlmuth points out that by closing his or her mouth “your child is actually engaging in a process that will have independence as its eventual destination” and notes that, rather than a power struggle, this is an opportunity for the child to experience autonomy.
His final poem, Beyond Eighteen, reads, “Once the duckling/ now a swan/ your awkward adolescence gone/ Ever after/ flapping wings,/ responsible/ for what life brings/ Airborne over/ mountain tops/ or turbulent/ low pressure drops/ Large and legal/ free to fly,/ soar gracefully/ through adult sky.” There is no text to accompany this poem. It stands alone.
While moving in and of itself, this poem, like the rest of the book, leaves me wanting more. Many of his chapters bring up interesting and important concepts in parenting that merit further discussion. However, they feel somewhat underdeveloped, ideas that may be difficult to apply without more structure and explanation. Wohlmuth incorporates concepts that those versed in psychodynamics will pick up on — bringing up ideas such as twinship, mirroring, and optimal frustration. However, he does little more than mention these in passing, with little further explanation of their use or meaning. This feels like a lost opportunity, both for the author, who clearly has a significant breadth of knowledge on these topics that could be shared, and the reader, who would likely benefit from a more thorough explanation of these principles. In contrast, sometimes, he goes disproportionately in depth on a subject, such as an entire chapter on taking a child to the doctor.
Overall, the book is a light, easy read, but I felt it could be much more. It can easily be consumed over the course of a few afternoon nap times, which, for some, may be ideal.
Psychoetry: Lessons in Poetic Parenting
Comteq Publishing, 2014
Paperback, 76 pages