My oldest child was born during the Stone Age of Parenting.
Way back in 1996, when he was born, the Diaper Genie was a new-fangled gizmo and Pottery Barn Kids was a pipe dream for those parents who didn’t want to decorate their children’s rooms in glaring primary colors. There were no YouTube videos to show me how to properly swaddle my baby or give him a bath; parenting blogs—those now ubiquitous havens of compassion and commiseration—were non-existent; and the parenting section in my local bookstore consisted of a couple of shelves of paperback books shoved in the back of the store.
How did we survive, you ask?
Well, we did have multiple copies of What To Expect the First Year sent to us by well-meaning friends who knew we needed some guidance but I also had my mother, my mother-in-law, aunts, uncles and friends who offered first hand accounts of how they had weathered the new baby storm armed with nothing more than a burp rag and a handful of Cheerios.
They rarely offered unsolicited parenting advice and when they did it focused on how not to coddle your kid, as in: “If he doesn’t want to eat what’s in front of him now, he will when he gets hungry. Stop making him a special meal!”
But, as my son aged and our second child was added to the mix, the amount of available information about how to raise our children began to grow as well.
I no longer had to seek advice from someone I knew—I just had to ask Google.
Even when I didn’t actually want advice, though, I couldn’t escape it. Everywhere I looked there was always some article, study, or blog post telling me what I could be doing better or, more often, pointing out what I had already done wrong and leaving me with the impression that there was no way to fix the damage.
For instance, I remember being thrown into a tizzy by the Atlantic Monthly article entitled, “The Overprotected Kid.” Naturally, I was compelled to read the piece, what with the words “kid” and “overprotected” in the headline (“overprotected” being code for “parenting failure” two words I find unable to tear myself away from).
Somehow an article about creating a different type of playground that would allow kids to experience “independence, risk taking and discovery” turned into how I robbed my now teenaged children of the ability to take “reasonable risks,” which stunted their healthy childhood development and will ultimately result in their inability to leave home and have happy and productive lives (my take, not the author’s).
It was easier when I didn’t have a clue.
Of course, I could just stop reading lifestyle magazines and avoid parenting websites, but I seem to stumble on parenting pieces in places I would not normally have expected to find someone spewing parenting advice—the front page of The New York Times, the business section of The Wall Street Journal, even People magazine!
If I had been bombarded with all of this info before I had kids I may have written off the parenting gig and just bought another dog. (No one has accused me of being a sucky dog owner…yet).
But, alas, we can’t return to the Stone Age so we have to adapt. I could disengage from all social media, avoid the Internet and don blinders to avoid eye contact with parents who want to discuss the latest new parenting study – a suggestion proposed by Sarah Miller in her satirical New Yorker piece, “New Parenting Study Released” or…I could treat my kids like I treat my dog.
Because, although there are plenty of things I could teach my dog, I don’t view his inability to learn something as an indictment of my dog training ability. I also recognize that my dog’s inability to fetch will not have repercussions for his future. Even if he doesn’t learn to get my newspaper he will still lead a happy life…asleep at my feet, a tummy full of dog treats.
We should all be so lucky.