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Sunday, 10 May 2009, (Mother's Day) Daily Herald Article
Congrats, mothers -- you're doing it all wrong
Lenore Skenazy - Special to The Washington Post
Happy Mother's Day, you moron, Love, your pals in the baby business.
If you're a mother, you might recognize that sentiment -- sweet wishes
from the passive-aggressive baby industry that wants you to feel so
completely, even dangerously unprepared for the challenges (they're
always "challenges") of parenthood that you will run out and read its
magazines, buy its products and take its advice. Ka-ching!
Here's a tip from a little article on flying a kite with your kid:
"Choose a sunny day when there's no chance of lightning."
You mean, don't fly kites when there's a funnel cloud headed for the
driveway? Got it.
Or how about this pointer from Parenting magazine on how to delight your
baby: "Lean in close and kiss her nose." Kissing my baby. Why didn't I
think of that?
And here's my favorite recommendation from a book of "Baby Must-Haves"
(yes, a 200-plus-page volume on items you simply must buy unless you
want your baby to be seriously deprived): "You'll get more bang for your
buck with a toy that can be played with in more than one way -- for
instance, a push toy that can also be pulled."
Now, you've got to feel sorry for the poor writer who had to come up
with something -- anything -- to say about a pull toy. But can you think
of a push toy that can't be pulled? Can you think of /any/ toy that
can't be pulled, besides a cranky daddy trying to watch SportsCenter?
These tips treat parents as if we were the 2-year-olds, so wet behind
the ears that we need an expert to tell us which games to play, which
toys to buy, what to say to our kids and what to feed them. This talking
down to parents is big business; the "mom market" has reached $1.7
trillion in annual revenue, according to the book "Parenting, Inc.,"
with $700 million spent on zero-to-age-2 toys alone. That's a lot of
Excuse me. Push and pull toys.
The whole gestalt is enough to convince us moms that today's children --
unlike all those who came before them -- do not have their trajectory
pretty well mapped out simply by being born human: cry, crawl, toddle,
walk, grow up, breed and cry some more. No, this generation won't make
it without a whole lot of help from specialists, safety gear and
Internet searches. But why? Are our children more vulnerable -- and we
less competent -- than any previous generation in history?
Of course not. But that's the message we're getting. We're living in a
time when parents worry about their offspring's safety and development
and health and you name it (OK, I will: SAT scores, emotional IQ, body
image, rattle skills, pacifier addiction, iPod addiction, self-esteem,
potential abduction, Facebook friends, cookie intake) more than ever,
thanks to a parenting industry that relies on turning us into nervous
It begins even before the baby's born. There are books and books about
what to eat during pregnancy, as if the average expectant woman couldn't
figure out whether she should choose the kale or the Krispy Kreme. (And
by the way, even that doesn't matter as much as the books make you
think. As my doctor told me: Just eat like you normally would, only a
little more -- and add some folic acid. I toasted her with a Yoo-hoo.)
That kind of counsel is too reasonable for the parenting-industrial
complex. Taking a chipper-but-chiding approach that sets the tone for a
whole generation of parenting advice, the "What to Expect When You're
Expecting" pregnancy guide goes so far as to remind moms-to-be that
"each bite" is a chance to give their babies the perfect start. Which
must mean that not making "each bite" nutritionally stellar risks
ruining your kid forever. There's no rest for the weary parent in this
high-alert world, especially after the little bundle arrives. Take, for
instance, the baby bath thermometer, an item so popular that there are
several competing brands on the market. The cheapest one looks like a
rubber duck. Place it in the tub and if the bathwater is too hot, these
words magically appear on its tummy: "TOO HOT."
You'd have to be convinced that you're incapable of testing the water
temperature with your own hand before you'd buy this gadget. But that's
what that crafty duck is out to do: undermine your confidence in your
own childrearing capabilities. (Never mind that the instructions on the
back of the package remind adults to "ALWAYS" check the temperature with
their hands first!)
It's hard to feel secure about being a good mom now that every decision
is so fraught with consequences. My friend Lainie Gutterman, who is just
entering her second trimester, says that her head is spinning. "I don't
know what's right, what's wrong, and for everyone who swears by
something," she says, "there's someone who hates that product and thinks
Usually that someone is me. And not just because it's a waste of money.
It's because I want the old days back.
For my friends and me -- gals raising elementary and junior-high-age
kids and even some who are just having babies -- things have changed
dramatically in a single generation. The worries that make us
hyperventilate didn't even faze our moms -- and not because they were
lazy or bad. It's just that in the past, people didn't see every tiny
parenting decision as such a big deal. Our moms could feed us formula
and not worry about whether they were subtracting IQ points. They could
let us bike around the block without thinking about last night's Nancy
Grace. They could hang a mobile above the crib and not worry too much
- Whether it was developmentally appropriate (including colors and music).
- Whether the attachments were facing the right way. (Really! I just
read an article that said they should face down, toward the baby, or all
bets are off.) And ...
- Whether we were going to strangle ourselves if we somehow managed to
pull the mobile down, play with the pull chain and accidentally wrap it
around our necks.
They didn't sweat the way we do because they were reading Dr. Spock, the
child-care guru of the 1950s and '60s, who famously began his book "Baby
and Child Care" with the words, "Trust yourself. You know more than you
think you do." Not, "Freak out! Your baby is at a super-important stage
and you must devote every fiber of your being to helping him ace it."
Deprived of this kind of "help," our parents let us stay outdoors till
the streetlights came on, and maybe even fly a kite on days that weren't
Today is a day to thank those moms for all that they did. But it is also
a day to thank the current crop of moms, stuck trying to do their best
in the face of a whole parenting culture that's insisting, "You're not
doing it right!"
Yes we are. Or at least we're doing it right enough, thank you, and the
odds are very much on our side. Happy Mother's Day to us.
Lenore Skenazy is the author of Free-Range Kids: Giving Our
Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry.