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Does the Parenting Advice Industry Help, or Just Make Us Feel Utterly Lost?

Does the Parenting Advice Industry Help, or Just Make Us Feel Utterly Lost?

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 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 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?

Read more: Babies, Blogs, Caregiving, Children, Family, Parenting at the Crossroads, Teens, , , ,

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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.


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4:23PM PDT on May 19, 2015

Thanks Eric.

5:45AM PDT on Oct 17, 2013


2:13AM PDT on Apr 28, 2013


12:00AM PDT on Apr 28, 2013


12:03PM PST on Feb 12, 2013

Thanks for the article.

4:39AM PDT on May 19, 2012

Taking advise about basic overviews is nice, but so often these guides get so specific and detached from reality is bizarre. And they all seem to promote set "techniques" etc, forgetting that children, especially small ones growing so fast, change so quickly. And all so often they promote trying to manipulate behaviors which are instinctive and done out of reflex almost, so all they do is create stress. Putting advise out there is one thing, but insisting that being a good parent is based on how many books you read is quite another. Your child is the only guide you need, really.

9:43PM PST on Dec 15, 2011

My impression is that this is confusing most "new" parents a lot, trusting your own instincts is the best way to go.

7:13AM PST on Dec 13, 2011

i used spook a lot raising my daughter in the 60s. we aren't necessarily good parents instinctively. we learn skills from our parents and/or others who helped raise us for better or for worse. children who were raised with corporal punishment will often use it with their children and claim that it worked with them and they turned out all right...did they??? many parents have no one around to help them, so a well chosen "help" book might be a good idea. it should be read carefully cover to cover well before one actually becomes a parent. no one should just accept any "expert's" opinion without thinking it through. a parent support group would be a good idea too. parents should talk with each other; parents should talk to there parents. i'm sure there are groups online. it is good to hear different opinions to decide what we believe is the right approach. this website looks helpful and seems to get a lot of feedback:

5:16AM PST on Dec 13, 2011

Thanks for the article.

9:36PM PST on Dec 12, 2011

Band-Aid approaches just do not work. Quick fixes are ineffective where a lifetime of love & commitment are what's needed. Parenting is the most important task one ever undertakes in life. I'll love you forever, Angie & Colin. I did the best I could with what I had or knew @ the time.

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