Parenting advice flows in all directions in endless floods of verbiage on the web, in books, and among fretting, counsel-seeking moms and dads at Gymboree play classes.
For lots of mothers and fathers, much of what’s presented seems random and contradictory — sowing confusion more than imparting wisdom.
What’s worse, any one line from a survey, any single sentence in a magazine article, can kick off jagged lightning storms of anxiety in already self-doubting parents who read the findings as confirmation that they’re just not doing it right.
“There is so much out there,” said Erin Barnes, 40, a cellist and married mother of three from Bala Cynwyd. “Cut out gluten. Use probiotics. I asked a question online about one bad night’s sleep for my son, and I got 28 different comments that just combined into white noise.”
Sometimes it’s worse than that.
Two years ago, Barnes shared with a local mother’s group online that she told her son, whom she described as having high-functioning autism, that he had her permission to climb up a park slide backward as long as no one was sliding down. Some 350 parents responded, many of them incensed.
“If I see your special-needs child on the playground,” one wrote, “I would tell my son to go down the slide and kick his teeth out.”
Barnes concluded: “It gets ugly on parenting sites.”
Some of the stuff is straight-up nutty. A woman wrote to an advice column on Slate.com that her sister had told the woman’s son that the correct spelling of the word “dilemma” is actually “dilemna” and that people were too dumb to know the difference.
Because of her sister’s sin of bad spelling, the angry mother asked: “Do I need to keep … (my son) away from her?” The answer, mercifully sane, read: “I think you should probably limit the number of family estrangements you initiate over linguistic prescriptivism … .”
A Parents.com article from earlier this year promisingly titled “50 Easy Ways to Be a Fantastic Parent” offered a lame clutch of “Well, duh” nuggets like, “Play with your children,” and “Don’t raise a spoiled kid.”
It also issued a proclamation unlikely to inspire parental joy: “Your child will probably not remember anything that you say to them.”
The world wasn’t always chock-a-block with baby-raising experts. For the longest time, the foremost authority was Dr. Benjamin Spock, author of what’s been called the bible of parenting, “Baby and Child Care,” published in 1946. In subsequent years, Penelope Leach, T. Berry Brazelton, and Richard Ferber weighed in, according to research psychologist Peggy Drexler in the Huffington Post.
Only lately, she says, has the culture exploded with know-it-alls holding opinions on everything from how to swaddle to how to get your 35-year-old son out of the basement apartment.
Things were a lot easier, some grandmas and grandpas would tell you, when you only had Spock and your gut to propel a kid from crib to college.