Make the lunches. Find the missing soccer uniform sock. Glue the toy’s head back on. Drive the car pool. Make it to work on time.
There’s nothing quite like a parent’s exhaustive to do list. After reading bedtime stories and overseeing school reading log entries, why add “reading books for my own pleasure” to your bursting schedule? Here are some compelling, science-backed reasons:
A book a day (or week, or month…)
Book reading is a well-documented brain boosting exercise. One study even suggested that regular book readers live longer. Someone recently pointed out to me that our time in the parenting trenches span fewer years than those we hope to enjoy in a relationship with our adult children. I’m up for anything that protects my brain from debilitating diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia so I can enjoy my family – without doing their laundry – for decades to come.
Add an extra “r” for reading
Parents need rest and relaxation as much as anyone. Pick up a book! One British study recorded significantly lower stress levels after participants read for as little as six minutes. You can’t even drive to a yoga studio that fast. Is there something specific dragging down your emotional wellbeing? Bibliotherapy is a growing field that uses book recommendations to help you conquer what ails you.
Break out of your parenting bubble
Brain imaging research shows that reading about an experience sparks remarkably similar brain activity as living it does. Reading can also improve empathy, which we could all use as much of as possible these days. I recently read “The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley,” by Hannah Tinti, which tells the story of a father’s life through the bullet wounds from his bouts of crime – talk about suspending judgment long enough to take a walk in the shoes of a different kind of parent.
Show your kids that reading is worth your time
Most parents want their kids to be good readers. Even though your habit might be to collapse in front of the TV at the end of a long day, keep in mind that your kids learn to do as you do. Research shows that more time spent reading is correlated with academic success. You probably aren’t able to devote 80 percent of your day to reading like Warren Buffett, but even allotting 10 extra minutes per day for family reading time can make a big difference over time in children’s reading development. It’s clear parental reading is good, but so are exercise, nurturing your marriage, chocolate, and many other competitors for your limited free time. So how do you make it happen?
Find a book to hook you
I always read more when I become engrossed in a great book. One of my favorite family anecdotes is about my great grandmother’s tendency to become so absorbed in a book that her children would find her after school sitting right where they’d left her: at the table reading. She wasn’t known for her housekeeping but she lived a long and full life, so perhaps there’s something to be learned there. And for goodness sake, don’t waste your time trying to finish a book you hate. Gretchen Rubin, happiness and habit guru, urges those who want to read more to get comfortable quitting books they don’t like and moving on to ones they do.
Find the right time for reading and make it a habit
The stress-relieving powers of book reading make it a helpful bedtime habit – much more effective than screen time. Personally, I don’t need any help falling asleep, but enjoy waking up early to write or read during what I think of as my “Drinking Coffee Alone Time.”
You might work reading into pockets of time during your day. Keeping a book in your bag encourages you to read during wait time when you’d otherwise probably just look at your phone. While the benefits of traditional book reading don’t all apply to audio books, they can be a way to continue with a book you’re enjoying during your commute or while doing housework.
Find your accountability strategy
This year my sister and I formed a book group with some local friends. Not everyone finishes the book every month. After a little while, our conversations tend to turn to school bus drama, nap schedules and other parenting minutiae. Still, having the date on the calendar has motivated many of us to read when we might otherwise not have.
Your book-reading friends don’t even have to live nearby. Sites like Goodreads connect you to other readers in your social networks. You can get the satisfaction of adding a finished book to your list (and can even brag about it on Facebook, if that motivates you.)
One friend simply made a resolution to read one book a month for a year. She did it, and logged some great titles.
If all else fails, tell your kids you’ve given yourself reading homework. Chances are, they’ll be happy to hold you to it.