I met Ty Hatfield twenty years ago. He was a police officer, and I was a journalist covering the court system in Long Beach, California. Ty was well known in the newsroom as a mild- mannered, thoughtful cop especially skilled at dealing with juveniles, whom he treated with an unusual degree of patience and compassion. He’s one of the good ones, I remember thinking.
Six years later, when I became a parent, Ty invited me to enroll in a parenting class he had launched with his wife. I politely declined. In my world, the phrase “parenting class” most often was preceded by “court-ordered.” I knew I wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t think I was a bad parent—much less a criminally bad one.
A few years later, when my daughter, Maxine, was three, Ty again invited me to join the class. “I’ll keep it in mind,” I told him. And then I didn’t. I was certain my husband, Charlie, and I were doing fine on our own. And, deep down, I still believed most parenting classes were for child-abusing misfits.
Then, something happened. When Maxine was going on five, I started to notice that some of the disciplinary methods we’d been using with decent success—stern warnings, sticking to our guns, raising our voices, timeouts, taking her toys away, and so on—were falling flat. The tantrums, which we’d believed to be a toddler thing, had become more frequent and intense. Power struggles were on the rise. I wasn’t enjoying my kid as much as I had before, and my husband and I seemed often to disagree on the basics: What was an appropriate response to her meltdowns, and what wasn’t? What constituted “undermining each other,” and what didn’t? When, one day, I found myself in my kitchen, listening to Maxine wail in her bedroom and staring at the stack of Barbies I’d taken away from her because she’d refused to stay in timeout for the allotted four minutes, I started feeling anxious.“Is this really how parenthood is supposed to be?” I wondered. “Am I missing something?”
That’s when I called Ty.
“We’re ready,” I told him.
Generally speaking, people don’t change their beliefs or behaviors until they become personally unsatisfied with said beliefs or behaviors. I’d reached that point.
“Hopefully,” I told Charlie, “we’ll pick up some new tools.”
Now, looking back on that first day in class, it’s impossible to explain the veritable fireworks display that Ty and Linda set off in my brain. The buzz stayed with me for hours, weeks, years. It’s with me today.
What I found in that room was an entirely new approach to parenting, backed up by science, research, and facts. Sitting there, among a handful of other parents—not one of them a hardened criminal—I suddenly saw the big picture. How everything fit together. Linda and Ty didn’t just offer a few new tools; they provided an entirely new toolbox—one that was organized so well, so thoroughly, and so completely that I was guaranteed a solution to almost any problem.
The Hatfields have spent their adult lives exploring the fundamentals of successful parenting—Ty as cop and father, and Linda as an elementary school teacher and mother. They started their company, Parenting from the Heart, in 1999 and have since ushered hundreds of parents through some of those families’ most difficult times. Their program is a carefully constructed latticework of knowledge and advice inspired by the work and wisdom of the greatest parenting experts of our time—many of whom you will meet in the pages of this book.
To be clear, though, the Hatfields’ mission is not to forge a brand-new path; a new path has already been forged. It is to translate what we know to be true and package it in a way that can be quickly understood and easily applied to the lives of modern parents. Unless we make the new path more visible and accessible to all, it will continue to be the road less taken.
The Hatfields know, as we all know, that parenting can be a messy place. They know that every child is unique: what’s best for one may not be best for another. And they know, because they raised three daughters, that a parenting philosophy is only worthwhile if it comes with a matching skill set.
“Telling parents what not to do is useless,” Linda says.“ They need to be given actionable steps, and they need to see real progress in real time.”
That’s where the Hatfields excel.
You know how certain major events become dividing lines in your life? Lines that separate “before” and “after”? There’s before you get married, and after; before you have a child, and after. For me, that parenting class was a dividing line. There was my life before the Hatfields, and my life after.
Following that eighteen-hour class, I stopped settling for a frustratingly archaic parenting model based on countless child-rearing myths I’d assumed were true, and I stepped into a shiny new parenting style the Hatfields call “heart-centered.” That shift—my own personal ParentShift, if you will—has made all the difference.
In 2015, I published a book that had taken me five years to write. I swore I’d never do it again—so slow was my pace. Instead, I cofounded a small publishing house. I figured I could stay in the world of books without having to write them.
But this project, a project that can only be described as Ty and Linda Hatfield’s life’s work, felt inevitable. How could I have a life-changing experience, an experience that a majority of Americans have been raised to resist, and not write about it? How could I not try to persuade my friends and family and complete strangers I’ll never meet to challenge their assumptions and break with the status quo?
How could I not write this book?
Ty and Linda, like so many other skilled parenting coaches throughout America, have changed thousands of lives and families. They have trained hundreds of teachers, principals, pediatricians, therapists, psychologists, mothers, and fathers. Sometimes the people who turn to them for advice just need a few key tweaks to their parenting approaches; other times they need massive over- hauls. Not all parents stick around. Some can’t abide the sea change. They become skeptical and defensive; they feel overwhelmed.
I get it. The whole notion of taking away punishments, threats, bribery, and rewards can send a reverberating shiver down the spines of parents who count on such tactics to get through those painfully sticky patches. It can even be triggering. Oftentimes, parents assume that no punishments equals no limits or boundaries. This is understandable, but completely untrue. By learning to set, assert, and uphold our boundaries and limits without punishment or rewards, we gain cooperation, reduce stress, strengthen our relationships, and treat our children with the respect they deserve.
We suggest reading this book in tandem with your spouse, partner, co-parent, or even your friends. There are plenty of natural conversation starters, and our ParentShift Assignments offer opportunities to reflect on your own upbringing, observe your parenting style, and put new prin-ciples into practice. You need not agree with your co-parent on everything, of course. But having open discussions about your parenting style can alleviate tremendous stress on you—and, more important, your child. If you, like so many of us, at times find yourself in conflict with someone over child-rearing decisions, read this book together. It may just save your relationship.
One last thing: Although ParentShift is written in my voice, the wisdom and advice comes straight from the Hatfields. They have been endlessly generous in sharing their stage with me, and it is one of the great honors of my life to be standing alongside them, helping deliver their message to you.
— Wendy Thomas Russell