Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Self Help and Self Doubt

On my way to the picture book section in Borders the other day a confounding sight stopped me in my tracks. There between international travel and standardized test preparation, sat at least a dozen shelves of books dispensing advice on pregnancy and the rearing of young children. "Do these actually sell?" I asked the conveniently located and multiply pierced clerk. "Oh yeah. Like you wouldn't believe."

Except I do believe, because I've seen it in friends, acquaintances and strangers in waiting rooms. Borders wouldn't devote so much space to such volumes, and publishers wouldn't print them but for this fact: A stunning number of my contemporaries do not trust their instincts as parents. So they turn to tomes peddling everything from common sense to crazy fads.

I should say that I'm admittedly suspicious of self help books, whether they promise to make me a millionaire in thirty days, connect me with my spiritual self, or turn my child into a shoe-in for Leader of the Free World. I view this suspicion as a related symptom of (my probably genetic) aversion to reading directions.

Someone gave me What to Expect When You're Expecting when I was pregnant with The Grape. I was skeptical. The woman on the cover is sitting in a rocker, basically dressed like Holly Hobby. Then I noted that it was written by a man. If I was going to get someone else's opinion on the mutiny occurring in my body, that person was most certainly not going to have a penis. I tossed the book under my bed, where I believe it's still taking up valuable storage space to this day.

That's not to say I don't believe in reference books. I totally do. If I have a question, I like to be able to look it up. I'm a big Googler, but some times I like the retro feeling I get from seeking answers on printed pages. Pregnancy and parenting books ought to be approached more like the dictionary and less like the Bible. Most day to day issues don't require in-depth analysis. One thing I realized quickly is that babies require a ton of physical stamina and emotional investment. But parenting a baby, or even a little kid, isn't all that intellectually demanding.

I believe the majority of people who think they need to read books about child rearing from cover to cover, with a highlighter pen in hand, need to give themselves a break. Most new parents of healthy children would be a lot less stressed if they stopped charting diaper changes, weighing cereal portions and timing bedtime with military precision. Every kid is an individual. You should not feel inadequate because you can't make your day fit the model schedule prescribed by some expert.

In my humble opinion, modern kids need less pop-psychology and programming, and more time to run around outside and to engage in creative play. It seems to me that children with well exercised bodies and minds make for better, more inquisitive learners and happier parents.

Now that I think of it, perhaps I should write a book that says so.

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