Parenting by the book

Francine Lucidon

From the archives: First published in Taking Children Seriously 28, 1999

Our family spends a great deal of time in bookstores and so, over the years, I’ve been able to make a study of the mushrooming growth of new parenting books. Where there once was a single shelf allotted perhaps to Spock, Brazleton and Leach, now stand aisles of books devoted to providing parents with answers from the prenatal to the postgraduate lives of their offspring.

The greatest growth seems to be in what I call the Pathology Section. Here are the books about how to recognize the myriad things that are wrong with your child as well as a dazzling array of “fixes.” Ever since Hallowell Drove us to Distraction, this market has been the fast lane to major shelf space. Pick three or four letters of the alphabet, mix them up, link them to a few behaviors and you too may have a book-worthy Syndrome! The good news is that some of these books, while still bent on demonstrating how to squeeze your square peg into a round hole, are at least moving away from a medical model and towards respecting individual differences.

Another growing market is Niche Parenting. I’ve seen books for raising your only child, being a single parent, being a gay or lesbian parent, being an older parent, being a grandparent, being a Black parent, raising your Asian child, raising your adopted child, raising a boy, raising a girl, raising a teen. I can imagine that a Black, single, lesbian parent, raising an Asian adopted boy teen could really rack up a bill at Barnes & Noble. Then again, the books all give mostly the same coercive parenting advice.

Those sisters have done wonderfully well it seems … the ones who write about all the things you should expect to go wrong from conception onward. Most amusing is the fact that their best-selling paperback has recently emerged as a hardcover. One can envision a day when it may attain the status of a medical school textbook. Their book on what to expect of toddlers is perhaps the worst of the lot … makes me want to throw a tantrum right there in the aisle!

Then there are rows and rows of Lite Discipline books … or how to get your children to do what you want while convincing them it’s what they want. Unnatural cruelty disguised as natural consequences, forced choices masquerading as autonomy … Do you want Faber? Or Mazlish? Unfortunately you get both in their book about how to speak patronizingly so kids will obey. Make sure you bend down and make eye contact when you buy this one; maybe even touch the sales clerk gently on the shoulder.

Lest your parenting gets too warm and fuzzy, keep in mind there are still many of the good old fashioned John Wayne style parenting books to Dare you to Discipline. There are Setting Limits, and Being the Boss Because You Said So. You can Tame Your Toddlers and learn How Not to Raise a Spoiled Child. You can Head ’em Up and Move ’em Out … whoa doggies! Masters of this genre include the no-nonsense Sylvia Rimm and the firm but fun (you can tell he’s fun by his cute titles) John Rosemund. I’d like to send both of them to their rooms for a few years. With no supper.

The experts are even now coming out with books denouncing relying on experts. Title of the Year goes to Parents Who Think Too Much.

A more hopeful aspect are the recent Zen-ish books such as The Tao of Motherhood and Everyday Blessings, that at least seem to acknowledge that children are sentient beings worthy of respect. The Eliums’ latest is hopeful in that it asks a good question (“What does this family need right now, including me?”) though I might have known better than to trust a book with Venn diagrams. In The Explosive Child, the author actually suggests we try to (gasp) give our children what they want. Again, however, it falls short in that it ultimately says pick your battles. Children are, it seems, still the enemy.

So I think things are getting a bit worse … and a bit better. Maybe someone will write the Taking Children Seriously book yet. And I’m thinking I might try the Mystery or Sci-fi section next time.

See also:

Francine Lucidon, 1999, ‘Parenting by the book’, Taking Children Seriously 28, ISSN 1351-5381, p. 8,