I watch the young mother who lives near me and bite my tongue.
As she searches for exactly the right school for her boys (just like I did), reads parenting books galore (guilty) and discusses the “right” approach for various tantrums (mea culpa), I feel like I’m watching myself about 10 years ago.
The bonfire to destroy all the “helpful” parenting books I have collected over the years.
Where shall I start?
The book recommended by a psychologist that cautioned against the word “no”? Ah, yes. That was the year I spent trying to “redirect” my little darling. Without ever uttering the word “no.” And I went at this task with the focus of a vigilante. Perhaps my first clue that this method was not so bright should have been around page 49: “After the third time Dexter set his bedroom afire by practicing his Scout skills indoors, Betsy finally caught him before a spark flew. She looked deeply into his eyes and said, “How about a game of mahjong, honey?” (I may be paraphrasing here just a tiny bit.)
My first thought? Perhaps not mahjong. The tiles are WOODEN. I mean, wood, fire, sparks—is this woman fully awake and firing on all cylinders? Try Twister. Or Legos.
My second thought? Are you f*$&ing kidding me?
Well, in all truthfulness, the second thought came about six months into my redirecting phase when my son and I were in a gym, watching a sporting event. As I watched a boy slightly younger than him start to mark the bleachers with a permanent marker, I alerted his mother. She must have been reading the same book (very in vogue at the time) I was. There was not a “no” to be heard. Instead, she asked little so-and-so if he’d like to go get some ice cream at the concession stand. He said “no” and kept drawing. Obviously, he had not read this book, as he used the forbidden word. It might have been at that moment that I started to see how this book might just be a teensy bit ridiculous.
And my third thought was that I was going to check the school directory to be sure there were no Dexters in my son’s class.
Then there was the tome that followed this permissive book, with a title along the lines of “Something Something Laying Down the Law.” You get the idea. I started to doubt this author’s veracity around page 125: “And as Marcia walked slowly out of the juvenile detention center after visiting Junior, she at least had the comfort of knowing her firm morals and principles had been upheld. Her son may have been headed for the Big House, but her house was now a den of peace and quiet.” (I may be paraphrasing here and there.)
The book about boys being boys. The book about enforcing sleep habits that did nothing but deprive the entire family of sleep for weeks on end. The book about raising healthy eaters who eschew all junk food because of their trained palate. (My sons will still tackle you for a Dorito. That one was obviously a bust.)
As I look back on this era of child-raising with a not-so-fond, thank-God-those-days-are-over perspective, I think of my neighbor. And the bonfire we could have with our collective collection of rubbish parenting books by people like Noah Lotmorethanyoudo, PhD (I’m sure he is Greek, with that long last name.) and I.C. Allthemistakesyoumake (Not Greek. Perhaps Serbian?).
But I don’t think she’s yet at the mommy stage where she realizes her gut is wiser than all of these quacks.
So maybe I’ll wait another six months or so before inviting her to my bonfire, with her books. Maybe I can track down little Dexter, who should be in his teens by now. And, I’m sure, more than qualified to start a fire.
Thanks to his mother. And her unquestioning faith in the “experts.” Whoever they are.