Comedian/author Elizabeth Beckwith
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: Big Hat Books, 6510 Cornell Ave.
Pregnant with her first child and devoid of any "parenting philosophy" that friends and baby books recommend, comedian Elizabeth Beckwith started thinking about her own upbringing.
Her parents, Pat and Liz Beckwith, never grounded their four children. No timeouts, no curfews, no nothing. They encouraged them and provided a happy home with lots of good food. When talking to the kids, they used specific examples — pointing out someone who stole or lied — to show their kids what not do to.
And they also employed a secret weapon: guilt.
"When we did something bad," Beckwith said in a phone interview, "we felt horrible. There was so much shame and guilt that any further punishment would have felt like child abuse. I thought, if my parents wrote a parenting book, it would be called Raising the Perfect Child Through Guilt and Manipulation, and it would be a bestseller!"
Then Beckwith decided she'd write the book herself. It's just been published by Harper Collins ($14.99).
The book is intended to be humorous, but mostly, it seems fairly practical. That's what prompted the first question in our phone interview.
Nuvo: I know it's supposed to be a humor book, but it seems like pretty sound parenting advice to me. Am I missing something?
Beckwith: I obviously want to entertain and be funny — that was the No. 1 priority. But I totally stand behind the message. I just wanted to tell these stories in a funny way and disguise the whole thing as a parenting guide. But in the midst of my jackassery, I stumbled upon these truths. It's not going into the parenting section; it's going into the humor section. But you're right in that I do stand behind the message, even though they're presented in a ridiculous fashion.
Nuvo: I don't know if they're ridiculous. You say you should encourage your child. That seems like a good idea. Provide a happy, welcoming and loving home. That seems like a good idea.
Beckwith: What I say is kind of basic stuff. And it's a little old-fashioned in a way, too. It's a throwback. The advice about talking terribly about other people is sort of a throwback that's not really encouraged nowadays — the idea that you're not allowed to say bad things about people in front of your child is ridiculous. That's how they learn what not to be. You should absolutely have a running commentary about all the people in the world because that's the most organic way for your child to learn what not to do, and they'll feel bad about themselves if they do do that.
Nuvo: Again, leading by positive example and pointing out negative examples seems like good parenting. So you could put the book in the parenting section without any trouble.
Beckwith: Oh, sweet! Well, thank you. I do think it's an ideal baby shower gift. It's a fun read, but it also has some basic truths that get lost with all the other stuff. Everybody's focused on sleep training and people forget these basic things.
Nuvo: Sleep training?
Beckwith: You know when your baby's first born, if they don't sleep well, there are all these methods to teach your baby to sleep through the night. There's countless books about it. Obviously it's a problem for people. But I'm the worst. My kids still don't sleep through the night. I tried that and completely failed, so I would never dream of writing a book about that.
Nuvo: Tell me about your kids.
Beckwith: My son, Michael, is 3½. My daughter, Frances, is 1½. And they're great! They're so little. Really, this book — what do I know? My kids are so small. This is really about how I was raised and how I want to raise my kids. It's not based on my experiences as a parent.
Nuvo: I guess you haven't had to manipulate them too much yet.
Beckwith: Well, they're so little. I can use these methods for things like littering. If someone's littering in the park, I can make a comment like, "How disgusting! What pigs! What kind of pigs would do this?" Instead of the more modern approach: "Oh, we don't do that." I make it more real. Now my son will make those kinds of comments. So it's totally working.
Nuvo: What's been the most interesting reaction you've gotten so far?
Beckwith: I guess it's the reaction from my actual family. I was nervous. I've written fictional television pilots based on my family, but I've never come outright and said, "This is my family." But so far, they love it. They think it's hilarious. And that's the highest compliment, because that's what I was so terrified about — they'll think I'm this awful person or they're going to be humiliated. But they're like, "It's so true. And you left out this." It's just music to my ears.
On Thursday, you can also hear Elizabeth Beckwith on The Bob & Tom Show in the morning and see her perform a short set of standup at Morty's Comedy Joint, 3625 E. 96th St., at the 9 p.m. show.