Looking for a way to strike up friendships with the other parents you bump into in the hallway at your child's school -- or that great group of parents you like to hang out with online?
Why not consider starting your own parenting book club?
It's a fun and easy way to spark discussions about all things parenting and to build relationships other parents. (If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to support that child's parent. Starting a parenting book club is a powerful way to create and nurture that village.)
Here's what you need to know to get started....
Step One: Decide whether you want to meet face-to-face or online.
Naturally, there are pros and cons to going either route. Face-to-face conversations offer more opportunities for small talk -- casual chitchat that tends to break the ice and that can help to establish trust. But scheduling face-to-face anything can be a major challenge, as you know. There will always be another activity (or ten) competing for people's time. And while online discussion groups are the clear winner when it comes to scheduling (parents can dive in and out of discussions at the time that's work best for them), you're unlikely to have their sole, undivided attention. There's always a Facebook or Twitter notification ready to lure them away from whatever your book club is talking about -- or they may overlook your book club discussions entirely if they're having a particularly busy newsfeed day.
And then there's the issue of deciding where to meet (at your child's school? at the local library? in someone's home) or where to host your online discussions (in a private Facebook group? in some other online space?). Your goals in either situation -- whether you're meeting face-to-face or online -- are (1) to safeguard the confidentiality of member discussions and (2) to make being involved blissfully simple and hassle-free. (Don't ask parents to drive across town or to download obscure third-party software in order to participate in your book club or they simply won't bother.)
Step Two: Invite other parents and ask them to help you spread the word.
Send out an email or text message to other parents you know, letting them know that you have a parenting book club in the works. Or share your invitation via social media, so that other parents can help you spread the word. If you're hosting your parenting book club at your child's school or the local branch of your public library, maybe the school or library would be willing to help publicize your book club via their newsletter or website, too.
You'll find that parents are more likely to want to be involved if you're upfront about your plans and expectations, so be sure to include details about how often you'll be meeting, when and where you'll be meeting, and how many books you expect them to tackle in any given year.
Pro tip: Parents are among the most time-stressed people on the planet, so you may find you get more uptake if you're only asking parents to read a chapter or two -- as opposed to an entire book -- each month. Anything more than that may feel overwhelming and discourage parents from becoming involved.
Step Three: Promise to deliver a guilt-free book club experience to your book club members.
Parents don't need any additional things to feel guilty about. They've got plenty already. So don't beat them up for missing a meeting or not having time to do the readings or for having to dash out the door mid-meeting to deal with a kid-related emergency. Hey, life happens....
And speaking of sidestepping stress, you'll also want to prevent any inadvertent book club drama. This means be explicit about the need for confidentiality. Discussions about parenting inevitably get personal, so book club members need to know that the stories they share with other book club members won't become fodder for the gossip mill. What happens in book club should stay in book club, in other words....
Step Four: Keep it simple.
Focus on what matters most: the actual parenting discussions. Sure, it's great to have delicious, eye-catching snacks -- even snacks that tie into the book's theme. But it can be stressful to find yourself scrambling to put together an Instagram-worthy contribution at 1:00 am the night before.
So keep it simple on the snack front. And, while you're at it, look for other ways to minimize the work associated with hosting a parenting book club. For example, choose books that already have existing book club discussion guides. That will save you the work of coming up with a list of discussion questions on your own. (Not quite sure what a book club discussion guide is or what it has to offer? Check out the book club guide for my book Parenting Through the Storm as an example.)
And, speaking of simple yet powerful ways to ramp up your book club discussions, consider inviting the author of the book you're discussing to join in the conversation (in person or via Skype, FaceTime, or Google Hangout). It's something that most authors are thrilled to do, time and geography permitting. And even if they can't join your discussions in real time, odds are they'd be happy to send along a video greeting or other book club message instead. (I, for one, am thrilled when book clubs make the ask because it gives me the chance to connect with readers of my books -- the whole reason I became an author in the first place.)
There's also an added benefit to making contact with the author: if your book club is big enough and you're purchasing large quantities of the author's book, you may qualify for a bulk purchase discount. (That discount tends to kick in at around the 20 copy mark, depending on the book's publisher.)
So there you have it: a quick guide to launching your own parenting book club. Have some advice to pass along to other parents, based on your own book club experiences? Please share it via the comments section below. (Thanks!)
Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting including, most recently, Parenting Through the Storm. She loves to connect with parents via parenting book clubs and other face-to-face and online events.