Monday, September 21, 2009

Time-out from Parenting Tips

When I was first knocked-up, I felt as though I'd just gotten a job after lying on my resume. I was horribly under-qualified, and I couldn't tell anyone. So, my husband and I took a baby care class or three. I learned that babies cry a lot and should not sit around in a dirty diaper. A lovely couple taking the class told everyone about this great series of books and dvds they were studying called The Happiest Baby on the Block . Apparently it was quite eye-opening. I remember thinking, "Series? DVDs? That sounds like an expensive purchase for an expectant couple. What if their baby turns out to actually be the happiest baby on the block? They just blew a bunch of time and money for nothing." This from the girl who just blew 150 bucks so she could find out which end of the baby to put the diaper on, but still, it made me think about how necessary this whole Parenting Advice business really was.
Now what?

Not that I went cold turkey on the tips, or even cut back, really. I read all the magazines, blogs, books and joined all the boards and three mom's groups. I filled my Tivo with parenting shows from TLC and Discovery Health. One of them was so dumbed-down, that when my mother saw the title in my show list she said, "Surviving Motherhood? What the hell?" Um...yeah, I guess I don't really need a half-hour weekly show to tell me how to survive motherhood....right?

Right. But still, I kept right on watching and reading and joining. Then one day, when Snappy was about a year old, I read an article in one of the parenting magazines (it might have even been Parenting) that talked about creating memories. The author suggested that after going on a trip to the zoo, you should talk to your kids about the experience, asking questions like "what was your favorite animal?" and so forth. Something in me snapped. These jokers had gone too far. Now they were telling me how to talk to my kid about our trip to the freaking zoo? First of all, what did she think I was going to do: get into the car and say, "okay Snappy, our trip to the zoo is over. Let's never speak of it again."? And secondly, did I really need someone to tell me how to talk to my kid?

Who are you calling an idiot? Oh, and can I get even quicker and easier ways to bond with my newborn? I'm short on time.

I saw two problems with all this advice: one, it undermined the greatest tool in a parent's arsenal: our own intuition. Parents were not encouraged to be confident, but instead encouraged to ignore that little voice inside of them and do whatever Dr. Sears told them to do. My own "little voice" had been able to get me through having a baby with Pierre Robin (a condition my pediatrician hadn't even heard of) who the F did I think I was, doubting it on subjects like "To Rock or Not to Rock? How to Put Your Baby to Sleep with Only a Few Hours of Horrific Crying" and "Pacifiers: Mother's Little Helpers or Devil's Playthings?"?

Two: it left no room for individualism, creativity, following-the-beat-of-your-own-drum and other bastions of a well-rounded society. I worried that we were becoming an overly-advised, under-empowered country of follower parents. What would the next generation be like if they were all fed and disciplined the same way; if their parents all said the same things; if they made them all the same sugar-free, gluten-free caterpillar cupcake sculptures for their second birthdays? I imagined something out of a Sci-Fi movie: mind-control, pod people and short-circuiting housewives.

In the future, we will all have hair like this.

I went cold turkey. I got rid of all the magazines, quit all the boards, stopped buying books and quit the moms groups. Somehow, without the constant barrage of advice, I managed to keep my kid happy and healthy for two years. Not that I don't have help. I have my mom, my aunts, my dad, a few friends back east who beat me to the baby train and I kept one mom's group. (Even the most confident mom needs a mom's group, right?.) Speaking of the mom's group, I noticed the change in them, as well. They stopped saying things like "I heard..." and "I read..." and started saying things like "I do this..." and "I think that..." with all the confidence of a parent who truly believes that they are the only person who knows what is best for their own kid. Maybe there was hope for humankind after all!

And then I read this ridiculously condescending article in the NY Times. Oh, I have much to say about that, but let's save that for the next blog.

To be continued...