Parenting books are a multi-million euro business, with each new glossy publication promising more than the last. So if they’ve all got it sussed, asks Jessie Collins, why do we need more?
A quick Googling of some of the current best-selling parenting books and you will find this: The Whole Brain Child, The Happiest Baby on the Block Book, Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids (shouldn’t this be the other way around?), Sibling Rivalry, Unconditional Parenting, Raising Your Spirited Child Workbook and Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, to name but a few. And given some of the promises on the sleeve, who wouldn’t be forking out for this stuff. In the blurb for The Happiest Baby on the Block Book it claims that within its pages its author Dr. Harvey Karp “reveals an extraordinary treasure sought by parents for centuries – an automatic “off-switch” for their baby’s crying.” and that he has discovered “that there IS a remedy for colic”. Yet, last time I checked, there were still parents driving around at 2am in a last ditch attempt to conk out an inconsolable 3-month old.
Move on to Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids (again, that title!) and this quippy little volume is condensed thus: “Dr. Laura Markham’s approach is as simple as it is effective,” reads the description. “Her message: Fostering emotional connection with your child creates real and lasting change. When you have that vital connection, you don’t need to threaten, nag, plead, bribe – or even punish.” No punishment!? No nagging!? No bribery?! Hallelujah!! So every star chart, lollipop and screen time debacle can be consigned to the scrapheap. The answer is here!
And taking one of the perennial best-sellers, Gina Ford’s Contented Little Baby Book, in which Ford, through her unmerciful routines claims to “prevent the hunger, over-tiredness and colic that can lead to excessive crying.” Simple. Just follow this manual. Or not. There are 177,395 parenting books currently on Amazon, with a new clutch being added every day. When you search parenting blogs, you come up with 19,800,000 results. And each one seems to place the emphasis on you, the parent, (which is more often than not, the mother) to mould this newly arrived being into a quiet, mostly mute gurgling bundle of inoffensiveness – so all that’s left to do is to enjoy that other heavily marketed untruth, the bliss of early parenthood.
The explosion of an industry in parenting advice is relatively new, the very word “parenting” only appeared in the Oxford Dictionary in 1918, when changes in society due to WW1 meant that larger family structures were breaking apart. Even with that, parenting was mostly referred to as child-rearing until the 70s. Now it is a multi-million euro cash cow, with new books/thesis’/fads emerging each week. And after years of parents being told to leave their children to cry it out, before quickly being told to never, ever let their children cry it out for fear of permanent mental trauma, among a million other complete flips, the latest thinking is we just need our children to be born in the right country, preferably a Scandinavian one.
The last few months alone has seen the emergence of titles such as Teach Like Finland, 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms claiming an early educational panacea for all, while Achtung Baby, How to Parent Like a German extolls a return to rational parenting (yes, just what are we hysterics up to?) plus last year’s The Danish Way of Parenting promised to give you the happiest children on the planet (when you were perhaps just looking to get the happiest kids in your house – husbands need not apply). Many parents will remember Pamela Druckerman’s French Children Don’t Throw Food – when for a while it seemed that family restaurant-going nirvana had arrived. Remarkably, children are still shooting peas at each other in bistros and disappearing under tables having to be removed upended, fingers prized from chair legs while baying like a wounded fox (or maybe that’s just mine).
It comes down to a simple fact: No one has the answer. The constant waves of new approaches is just proof of this. If there was an answer, there would be one book, like the Rules of the Road, that we would all follow. Children don’t do doctrines, and each one is marvellously, maddeningly different; rogue, rebellious, hilarious. Books can be a wonderful boon at times, but for all the espousing of the perfect approach – and each expert is convincingly evangelical about their way – that expert seems very far away at 3am when your baby just won’t stop crying, no matter what you do.
There is no one answer, and never will be. And if you need proof, the poet John Wilmot famously wrote: “Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children and no theories.” That was almost four hundred years ago. After having two kids, the only thing I do know is to hang in there with them – whatever crisis is going on, it usually will pass, and try to not lose your mind. The most important thing is that everyone gets out of this healthy and intact, and manages to have some laughs along the way. The rest is just gravy.