Have you ever read a parenting book and then implemented the sage advice you learned from the book? Did it work? Here are the multiple choice options for your pop quiz:
|a.||Yes, like a charm. My child is now the angel I always knew was in her. She earns straight As, is the captain of her soccer team, won a beauty pageant, and landed a Rhodes scholarship at the tender age of 7 — the first in its history.|
|b.||Yes, for a short while. But then the novelty wore off and little Jimmy handcuffed his father to the kitchen table while they were playing a game yesterday. I’ll talk to you later. The locksmith is here.|
|c.||Good one. Hell no it didn’t work. I want my money back.|
|d.||What are books?|
Why parenting books don’t work
The reason well-meaning advice from parenting books doesn’t work is because the author isn’t raising your child. Your child is different from their child. Under my own roof, my own kids couldn’t be more dissimilar.
One is like me and the other like my wife Allison, which means Child A is scatterbrained, mumbles too much, and is sometimes reckless while Child B is calm, caring, and well mannered. We love them both equally, the little boogers.
Parenting books, even those on specialized topics, offer one-size-fits-all solutions. But every child has a unique personality, as do their parents.
When I’m in Target and I hear a kid throwing an absolute s–tfit, it’s music to my ears. It’s not grating like it once was. Why? Because I realize other parents sometimes have to suffer like me. There is, how do I say it, satisfaction in hearing little Johnny Cries A Lot, especially when the parent says, “Absolutely not. We are not buying candy in checkout.”
You tell ’em Mama.
It makes my heart grow three whole sizes.
The Rapidly Changing Landscape That Is Parenting Advice
The reason parenting books become outdated in a few years after release is because societal and cultural norms change. New books need to be written. Also: everyone realizes that book from a few years ago was bulls–t and the advice doesn’t work.
When I was a kid, your parent could whack you on the behind or knuckles with a belt, switch, magazine, ruler — whatever was at their disposal. They could paddle you in school, too. Sorry Sam, just know we sat firmly in our desks in solidarity with you in second grade while you were behind The Board.
You can’t do that now. Otherwise, someone will call the cops on you. It’s probably for the better. I never feared the belt or the switch, even when my mom drove us 15 miles up the road to my grandparents’ house in Drakes Branch to get a fresh switch off The Switch Tree because I’d snapped all the switches in half from the tree at our house.
The Switch Tree is sort of like Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. It was always there waiting for you. Except instead of giving you love, it gave you an ass whooping.
Most kids I know who got their asses whipped on a frequent basis didn’t turn out to be the Upstanding Citizens of the World like was promised. I’m not excluding myself. Eat my shorts authority.
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I remember my dad chasing me down the sidewalk by our house with his belt in hand. Ah, memories. Every time he’d catch a piece of my hide, I’d howl laughing like Daffy Duck when his anxiety has gotten the best of him. That made my dad even madder but no matter how many smacks of the belt, I couldn’t stop laughing.
I can hear my mom now while she held my arms down: “Jeff, stop laughing.”
“What’s so funny?”
“I don’t know.”
I can’t deal with back pain but the pain of a lashing, pure comedy.
P.S. If you’re under the age of 35 and reading this, my mom and dad weren’t abusive parents. It’s how things were back then. Had I grown up in any other house on my street, I imagine I would have gotten quite a few more lickings. Hearing your friends screaming throughout the neighborhood at 8 PM like Ralphie’s friend Schwartz in A Christmas Story was as commonplace as Saturday Morning Cartoons in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Parental Guilt and Unrealistic Expectations
You know what irks me more than anything? Families that seem perfect on the outside. The ones on your street or you see grocery shopping that are all smiles, never a raised voice. Good listeners, that type. The kids have combed hair and no food smeared on their face. Not only are they not fussing and fighting with their sibling, they’re helping mom out, too.
But you’re not fooling me. I know there’s something dark and mysterious going on inside that house. I don’t know what it is, but I know there’s something.
And that’s how parenting books come off to me. If you follow these steps, make a few adjustments as needed, you’ll soon have a happy, healthy child and a newfound perspective on being a modern parent.
I call BS.
You can develop a weird case of parental guilt due to the unrealistic expectations set forth in these books. The only book, and I mean only book, I’ve ever found useful for more than three weeks is The Parent’s Tao Te Ching, by William Martin. There’s no guilt tripping. No case studies. It’s not perfect. No book is. But I don’t feel like a complete failure when I try to implement the advice therein, even if what I try falls flat on its face.
There is no right answer
With all that said, there are no right answers on how to parent. It’s all individual, and that means even within your own house if you have more than one of Rosemary’s babies.
You figure it out as you go and hope the whole way you’re not traumatizing them for life, some deep psychological wounds that will be unearthed when they are 25 and on their own.
I see it like this: as long as my kids grow up not to be drug dealers, murderers, strippers, thieves, or the like, I must have done something right — and it won’t be because I learned it from a book written by someone with a PhD either. It’ll be because my parents raised me at least somewhat right and I took what I felt worked best in my own childhood and applied it when raising my own kids in theirs.
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