October 30, 2003

Manuals of Guilt

My (admittedly partial) solution to the problem addressed by Laura in Gobs of Guilt (permalinks bloggered; scroll to Thursday, October 30, 2003) is to simply refuse to read the parenting books. I'm serious. I haven't looked at a parenting book in over a year (when I wrote this post, it had already been months and months). I've got enough to worry about without agreeing to discipline and punish myself over every last detail of my son's physical, emotional, intellectual, moral and psycho-sexual development.

And I have to say that I've been much more relaxed about the motherhood thing since I stopped reading the guilt manuals (I stopped reading them, by the way, when I got utterly fed up with their presumptive hostility toward mothers).

Still, even while consciously avoiding the parenting genre, it's hard to ignore the guilt-inducing messages that seem to come from everywhere. Laura is right: our mothers worried far less about this stuff. Our grandmothers worried less still. In grandmother's day, raising children was rather like raising livestock: you made sure they were fed and watered, kept them out of harm's way, and breathed a sigh of relief if they made it safe and sound to adulthood (okay, in great-grandmother's day, and yes, of course I'm hyperbolizing).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at October 30, 2003 11:03 PM

IA, as far as I know, every single one of my brothers and sisters fell down a flight of stairs or out of a tree at least once, and all of the boys were caught playing with matches at least once, and we're all fine now.

The most disastrous events in my family have been marriages and religious conversions. But you won't have to worry about those for over a decade.

Posted by: Zizka at October 31, 2003 10:43 AM

I was over at a friend's house not too long ago, and for some reason the topic of childhood injury came up, and every single one of us had some scar from jumping off of something or hitting something or falling on something. :) and we're all fine now...

actually, the interesting thing is that the friend has two small children, and so the final incident was what happened when their young son fell from a second-story window: landed in a pile of beauty bark, got a few scrapes and was otherwise fine. no scar even.

if you haven't had stitches at least once before the age of 10, you haven't really lived.

Posted by: Elaine at October 31, 2003 03:05 PM

I think a couple of recent social histories of American parenting advice document how unreliable and historically variant the specific advice is that one might receive--even while they also document how the basic issues of leniency and discipline have remained strikingly constant in modern America. Meaning that the basic choices you face are pretty deeply correspondent to some fundamental orientations to modern life and American culture that you might have--while the specific content is pretty well immaterial.

I have to say that I found in specific the "What To Expect" books incredibly sanctimonous in their desire to avoid being sanctimonous--presenting themselves as a flexible, universal set of loose suggestions, they somehow manage to congeal into a very specific, culturally bounded, white middle-class ethos.

Posted by: Timothy Burke at October 31, 2003 06:54 PM

I hate that "What to Expect" book with a passion. It's just so prissy. Not to mention patronizing and sanctimonious.

I could rant at length, but let me just say that they lost me with their "Best-Odds" diet. You can treat yourself to a bagel (or is it half a bagel?) once a week, they write, and once a month you can go all out with a small sliver of cake (without frosting). And with every bite of food (every bite, mind you), before putting it in your mouth you should ask, Is this the best thing I can eat for my baby?

That book is also a prime example of the schizoid stance to breastfeeding that characterizes mainstream advice. They know they have to recommend it because "studies say." But they also think it's icky. Breast is best, but of course you'll want to bottlefeed.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at October 31, 2003 07:22 PM

When I was pregnant, I did skim "What to Expect," but I didn't care for some of the material. I read the Girlfriend's pregnancy book, which was mildly amusing, but the best book I found was The Unofficial Guide to Having a Baby and the best advice came from reading the experiences of other expectant mothers on misc.kids.pregnancy.

Parenting is another story. I had about nine years of solid daycare experience so I felt comfortable with caring for children up to age ten (teens, however, will be a new experience for me!) but lots of people, especially my mother, wanted to give advice or pass along books. I referenced a couple of DK parenting books when I needed information, and the La Leche book about nursing, but ultimately, we just listened to instinct more than anything else. The end result? Extended nursing and co-sleeping, two things I'd never considered before, and my son is incredibly happy and healthy.

You're right to trust your own heart and head when it comes to your child. :)

Posted by: Mariann at October 31, 2003 08:36 PM

Surely our great-grandmothers would have been equally vulnerable to moral and religious guilt about how they were raising their children?

And some of that overlapped with physical caretaking although I wouldn't be surprised if every generation exaggerates the shibboleths of their parents'.

Posted by: clew at November 1, 2003 07:41 PM

There is a magazine for mothers (and fathers) who don't like the usual "let me tell you how to raise your children" stuff, but I'm hesitant to name it since my wife is the editor and I don't want to hijack this space for advertising. If you want me to I'll provide a link, or anyone could email me directly. If this message is itself too close to advertising, please delete away.

Posted by: duncan at November 5, 2003 03:02 PM

Go ahead: please give us the name of the magazine!

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at November 5, 2003 03:08 PM

OK, it's called Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers. Here's a link (or a url at least): http://www.brainchildmag.com/currentissue.htm

Posted by: duncan at November 5, 2003 03:14 PM

I wondered if it was Brain, Child. Great magazine!

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at November 5, 2003 04:42 PM

Thanks! I'll tell my (ex-adjunct) wife.

Posted by: duncan at November 6, 2003 09:26 AM