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How Parenting Advice Just Makes You Feel Like a Big Loser

How Parenting Advice Just Makes You Feel Like a Big Loser

Something happened to parenting in the last few decades. Maybe it was Dr. Spock with his watershed Baby and Child Care book released in 1946? Or possibly the hardbound avalanche of parenting advice books (type in “parenting advice” on an Amazon.com search and you will get 87,608 experts eager to show you how to be a better parent) that followed in the years to come? Either way, what used to be an exceedingly difficult undertaking (parenting), but one that was entrusted to virtually everyone by design, has since become a Sisyphean struggle up a hill of high-minded, and sometimes contradictory, advice.

I have clear memories of my mother, diligently struggling as a single mom, dutifully ripping through pages of some long forgotten parenting manual and outlining particularly relevant passages with her red, green, and blue nurse’s pen. My sister and I would take note of the noticeable shift in her approach with us and general manner after she consulted a particular chapter, and we would keenly discern the key phrases and mantras that leapt from page to our mother’s careful recitation (“I hear you” and “Mommy’s sometimes make mistakes too”). I couldn’t help but feeling that my mother’s allegiance to these advice tomes was sadly not making her a better parent (a more dedicated one maybe, but not better) but a parent who was nurturing a growing dependence on being told how to parent.

In an article on Salon.com by the writer Karen Houppert, Houppert takes a critical look at the marketplace devoted to parenting advice, and how the proliferation of experts, and expert advice, move us further away from the goal of being truly present and “good” parents. Houppert laments, “The experts lure us with “10 easy steps to better parenting” and we’re hooked on the promise that bad patterns can be broken with a smattering of tricks, a smidge of willpower and a few strategically placed buzzwords: Just be “proactive,” the experts reassure us (‘Buy my book now’).” In many of these publications, particularly the kind that reassure us they have all of the answers and could rectify our parenting missteps through a simple system of steps, and processes, and charts, and miscellany, we are moved to feel temporarily empowered, but ultimately flawed. If we are to pledge ourselves to these floating ideologies, we become slaves to the system, and lose any sense of innate confidence or inherent understanding of our own children and our own personal, emotional history to discover how it impacts our parenting choices.

Is the parenting advice industry just a cynical industry that prays upon the confused, confounded, and desperate parent? Are there good, if not excellent, books and authors out there who get routinely lost in the shuffle? Should we listen to our own intuition first and foremost when it comes to parenting? Is there something exceptionally valuable to be learned from our own parents or siblings on the art of parenting? Have you had an experience where a parenting tome, class, or seminar actually made you a better parent?

Please share your thoughts.

Read more: Babies, Children, Family, Parenting at the Crossroads, , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

33 comments

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7:42AM PDT on Apr 28, 2013

People wouldnt give you advice when it comes to most things, but if you are making a parenting mistake, a close friend or a family member might feel the need to "help" you. You know why? Because an innocent child is part of the equation :)
The point is: they mean well, so...dont get offended!

4:17AM PDT on Apr 28, 2013

Thanks for the article

12:01AM PDT on Apr 28, 2013

ty

12:03PM PST on Feb 12, 2013

Thanks for the article.

12:32PM PDT on May 11, 2012

thnx

11:49AM PDT on Apr 12, 2011

To your own self be true ... research a specific topic, incorporate it into a "fit" for your own family situation and give it a try. No one has all the answers.

4:48AM PST on Mar 7, 2011

Thanks for the article.

1:34AM PST on Nov 28, 2010

Thanks for the info.

7:29AM PDT on Oct 21, 2010

typo...relieved, sorry

7:27AM PDT on Oct 21, 2010

Sometimes a little advice is needed, just the past week, my 6yo was acting out and being defiant. I was realived to read (on the parenting website I like), she's just stessed from a day of following school rules, so now I allow her decompress a while before asking her to do home chores...I so needed to know this and would not have known w/o a helpful website.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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