Last week, I went to hear Jennifer Senior, author of the universally lauded book on modern parenting All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, speak. I have not yet raved here about Senior’s book just because I feel like it has been reviewed and praised in so many publications already. It’s unlikely you haven’t already read a review, read the book itself, or at least seen it on the bestsellers’ shelf at the bookstore. Suffice it to say, it is a fantastic book about the changes that have occurred over the past 70 years or so that have completely changed the face of parenting and what those changes mean for today’s parents.
All Joy and No Fun isn’t a how-to parenting book, however. Senior, a parent herself, readily admits that, like most people, she’s just “winging it” as far as raising her kids goes. We’re all pioneers in this wild new landscape of modern parenting. Senior’s book presents astute observations in a nonjudgmental way and this is one of the things I found so rare and refreshing about it.
You can go to any bookstore or spend just a few minutes on Amazon and find countless books written with the intention of convincing the reader that the author’s theory on raising children is the correct one and that all other parenting methods are tantamount to child abuse. Really, it’s come to that level of dispute and hysteria. It’s a virtual cage match between Attachment parents, Free-Range parents, long-term breastfeeders, Tiger moms and dads, No-Cry parents, anti-vaccine evangelists, family bed advocates and on and on and on.
I’m not going to claim that I didn’t delve into more than a few how-to books myself as a young parent. (Or, more appropriately, a “new” parent…I had ADVANCED MATERNAL AGE stamped on my OB’s medical files from day one!) There are a thousand different situations that arise just in the first few months of your firstborn’s life for which you have not the slightest bit of preparation and it sure would be nice to have a manual to refer to for step-by-step instructions. But, unfortunately, that’s not how this maddening parenting thing works. In reality, you do your best and then wait 18 or 30 years to find out whether you completely fucked up or not.
And yet, that hasn’t stopped an army of experts and lifestyle gurus from getting rich on books that purport to show you “the way” through parenthood. I was just reading a review of Alicia Silverstone’s new book The Kind Mama: A Simple Guide to Supercharged Fertility, a Radiant Pregnancy, a Sweeter Birth, and a Healthier, More Beautiful Beginning. If that doesn’t sound like a woman who thinks she has the answers, I don’t know what does. In addition to being an actress, Silverstone is also a vocal vegan, animals rights activist, fairly new mother and best-selling author of The Kind Diet. (Full disclosure, I own Silverstone’s first book and refer to it often for recipes and information about vegan eating.)
As an influential Hollywood hippie-type (no judgment intended…you know I love my LA hippie brothers and sisters), Silverstone has taken it upon herself to extend her vegan, Earth-loving “brand” to parenthood. Not surprisingly, The Kind Mama advocates strongly for attachment parenting, extended breastfeeding, the family bed and vegan eating for the entire family. Some of the controversial assertions Silverstone makes in the book are that: 1) meat, dairy and processed foods “track toxic sludge through your [uterus],” 2) diapers are “pseudoscience,” 3) eating plant-based foods can “demolish your need for pharmaceutical drugs for things like depression,” 4) tampons may make you infertile, and 5) some babies are “never the same” after receiving vaccines.
As you can imagine, the responses to the review I read and comments on Amazon regarding the book itself are passionate to say the least, though the word combative seems more apt. A few responses, both positive and negative, were thoughtful and constructive. However, the overwhelming majority of comments made it abundantly clear that otherwise sane people will readily resort to insults, name-calling and threats against those purporting to tell them that their beliefs and philosophies, especially regarding parenting, are incorrect.
I’m not trying to defend Silverstone here. The author herself resorts to the same tactics when she describes forcing your baby to sleep “in a barred-in box, completely alone,” AKA in a crib, as the equivalent of child neglect. And, I personally think her anti-vaccine stance is misguided at best and, at worst, deadly. What is clear, though, is that the so-called “Mommy Wars” have now grown into full-blown “Parenting Wars.” You will now be judged not only on whether you choose to work or be a stay-at-home parent, you will be second guessed on every decision you make regarding every aspect of raising your child, from when you decide to start the kid on solid foods to whether your children will be expected to contribute toward the cost of their college educations.
You know, it used to be considered extremely rude to tell someone how to raise his or her children. Not everything was up for passionate public debate. Were there “experts,” books and magazine articles, friends and complete strangers standing by to shame my mother when she was unable to successfully breastfeed me? Hell, no. Did she have to justify her choice of diapers or where she put me down to sleep or what vaccines she “allowed” the pediatrician to give me? No, again. She sincerely did what she and my dad thought was best for me and it was no one else’s damn business.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could return to those days? Thank you, researchers, for your findings. Thank you, doctors, for your medical advice. I am now going to go ruminate on those facts and opinions and take the action that my husband and I deem is in my child’s best interest. No, woman at the grocery story, I don’t need to know what you think of our decision. No thank you, I’d prefer not to read the book filled with doomsday predictions about the horrible things that will happen to my child and, indeed, the universe if I fail to buy her organic, GMO-free toothpaste.
Can we all just go back to viewing parenthood as a series of personal decisions people make as they’re stewarding little humans from infancy to adulthood instead of a political stance to be analyzed, debated and voted upon by all citizens, everywhere? In other words, they’re my kids, I’m doing my best and everyone else can shut the fuck up. Oh, I’m sorry. Was that too harsh? I forgot mothers aren’t supposed to get angry or swear. Surely, that outburst will have a dire effect on my children in the future.