Book Review: Becoming a Present Parent by Mary Ann Johnson

Becoming a Present Parent: Connecting with your Children in 5 minutes or Less by [Johnson, Mary Ann]


I am so excited about this new book, written by my wonderful friend, Mary Ann Johnson. This is the book I have waited for my whole mothering life! I know it sounds cheesy, but I am serious! As a die-hard, attachment-parenting (AP) practicing mother who was a Dr. Sears groupie, I immersed myself in the AP world.  I read the Baby Book by Dr. and Martha Sears, the Bible for attachment parenting, when I was pregnant with Baby #1. I made sacrifices to hear Dr. Sears speak in person and felt jealous when I heard a friend of a friend had him as a pediatrician.  I breastfed on cue and did not ever let my babies cry themselves to sleep. I waited to cut the umbilical cord until long after it stopped pulsing and shared my bed with my babies. I wore them in slings and wraps, and I tried to be so in tune with my babies, I even tried elimination communication. (I got it to work a few times but combining that with homeschooling and cooking from scratch almost put me over the edge so I gave up on that one!) I even tandem nursed for two sets of babies.


This is my husband and me with my firstborn, cuddled in my Dr. Sears NoJo Babysling. Those were the days when being a present parent was easy. Now he’s 23, studying computer science at college, and we have six more, with four still at home.

But once those babies hit age 3 or so, and their demands were less physical and more social and emotional, I often felt at a loss. As taxing as physical connection can be, it doesn’t take advanced skills. (“What, you mean I have to think about what to do with you and not just pop my breast in your mouth?”)  Mental and emotional connection is not as easy. As a former La Leche League Leader, I read everything La Leche League had in their catalog on discipline and connection. I definitely found some gem of books, like Hold On to Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld and Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen. Those were some of my favorites. Yet I wanted a book that was a bit more concise, full of totally simple, do-able bullet points for everyday mothering life.


In the meantime, while waiting for that perfect book, to stay connected to my seven children as they navigate childhood and teenage hood, I have basically done these things:

  1. Provide them with consistent mealtimes where we have lots of conversations
  2. Homeschool them
  3. Give them mentor meetings
  4. Take them on mentor dates
  5. Be at the crossroads, as Pres. Benson counseled, when they leave and come home, to talk to them as they come and go.
  6. Read aloud to them every day.
  7. Pray with them every day as a family, morning and night
  8. Tuck them into bed at night and talk about their day
  9. Have weekly Family Nights where we share a lesson, game, and treats
  10. Do chores with them, like cleaning bathrooms, washing dishes, and folding clothes. Often I read aloud while they are doing dishes.
  11. Enjoy family traditions with them
  12. Go on vacations with them
  13. Have family movie nights
  14. Attend their ball games, recitals, and school “show-off nights”

Whew, that’s a lot! No wonder I often feel tired! I haven’t been perfect with all these things, 100% of the time, with some kids I have been better than others. I’ve had my share of challenges that left me feeling too empty and wiped out to do certain things. Overall, I have done all these things most of the time and do enjoy a close relationship with my children. Yet, sometimes I feel like I could be more “present” and engaged with them. Occasionally, I find out that certain behaviors I don’t like have been going on right under my nose while we have been in the same house! I have been so involved in my own stuff I haven’t always noticed what is going on with them. I definitely see room for improvement for me to be a “present parent” who knows what is going on with her children and how they are feeling. I want my children to know they can always come to me, talk to me, and I will always provide a listening ear and have their back. I want them to all feel like my 19 year old does. He recently wrote a letter home from his LDS mission in Argentina, where he compared our home to “the Shire” in the Hobbit, and life out there in the world as the land of Mordor. Wow, I feel encouraged by this! I currently have some tough issues to work on with my younger kids, so my work is definitely cut out for me.

That’s why I am so happy to share this book with you! If I could rename this book I would name it Attachment Parenting Beyond Babyhood: What to do When the Kid Gets Too Old for Breastfeeding and Babywearing. It gives me and you concrete things to do, beyond the ones listed above that I am already doing. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars! Mary Ann Johnson, the author, is no “pie-in-the-sky theorist” with ivory tower credentials about parenting. She is a real live mother of seven and grandmother of many more, with decades of experience mothering and grandmothering in the trenches. She does not come across as perfect or preachy. I love that she shares her trials, shortcomings, mistakes, and problems in rearing her family and maintaining ties with her adult children and her grandchildren. Her seven children were born in a span of 18 years, with the last one born when she was 41.  Some of the issues she and or her family have dealt with are: a dad who traveled for a living, school failure, drug abuse, a baby born out of wedlock, thoughts of suicide, smoking, anger/rage issues, and more. So she speaks from experience on how to be present for your children, even when things aren’t rosy.

Here is what you will get when you read this book:

  • feelings of empathy, like I referred to above. Mary Ann and her family have experienced it all. She knows where you are coming from! You will feel encouraged, knowing that Mary Ann dealt with this, so you can too!


  • how we check out so that we aren’t present for our children. Mary Ann gives eight ways we check out, which we can all relate to, and why it’s so important for us to be present for our children


  • the cost of checking out from our kids lives, including regrets, loss of esteem for our children, poor parent responses and parent messages, less enjoyment with our children, and missing what matters most


  • how to master important skills of connecting everyday with your children. These skills can be mastered by any parent, they just take time. You already have everything you need to connect with your kids daily.


  • how to utilize touchpoints. These are basic everyday things that happen in every home, which you can capitalize on to connect with your kids


  • how to change the inner scripts that go on inside your brain, undermining your connections with your kids


  • how to let go of anger and rage as a parent


  • how to create a solid foundation for your family culture, including letting go of anger, as mentioned above, and create a family mission statement, even if you have obstacles


  • how to adjust your approach to connecting when frustrations come up


  • how to keep it simple


  • how to turn away from technology


  • a chapter on self-care, including how to lay down the burdens of emotional weights, the pain and wounds that come from our own childhood unmet needs


  • lots of quotes from parenting experts I admire, including many from the books I read in my LLL Leader days


  • TONS of encouragement to keep working at being a present parent and let go of beating yourself up over your failures



So go get this book! You can get it in paperback format or Kindle here. If you want to sample the book, you can get a FREE chapter from the book – Becoming A Present Parent: Maximizing Presence in Five Minutes or Less at

Join Mary Ann on Twitter here


As a side note, it was so fun to come across people mentioned in this book who I know personally, like Dionne, Jodie, Stefanie, Leah, and more. This book is like sitting down with a bunch of good friends to get your mothering batteries recharged, just like I felt in my old La Leche League meeting-attending days. I have known Mary Ann for years and she has greatly impacted my life with her counsel. Here is an example of my results to be a present parent. Thank you Mary Ann for your wisdom and willingness to share your failures and successes! As she says, “Here’s to a well-lived day!”

The following video below is a resource from Mary Ann on how to fan the sparks of our children’s interests into fiery passions for learning. Finding and fanning sparks is one of the things we can do that she mentions in her book.

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