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?