Monday, August 13, 2007

mommy guilt

So I just sent a heap of books out through Paperback Swap. Three of these books were ones I got from the Carlsbad Friends of the Library shop. For free! They had free parenting books and I snapped up a couple.
One of them looked promising, called Mommy Guilt. I thought it might be a sociological study of how or why guilt happens, plus maybe some tips about how to avoid it.
Nosiree. Well, okay, tips it had, aplenty.
Basically, the book was a gigantic distillation of parenting/household/lifestyle advice. After reading far too many expert manuals, I am weary of the genre (except, mostly, for the Organic Housekeeping book I just finished). Lots of suggestions! Much blather! Major condescension!
Maybe I'm just snarky after one too many sleep books, but "advice" just isn't all that helpful. These children, they defy "averages". And "milestones". Some of what I've read has been helpful, but much of it has just made me feel bad.
This book had all that, except about every aspect of parenting. From choosing a school to newborn care, these authors have a tip for you. The newborn advice: establish good habits early! That's kind of like telling a firefighter to watch out for stains to his uniform during a conflagration. Just keeping sane is the overwhelming priority, as far as I'm concerned.
How about cooking? They've got a list of pantry staples! Sex life? Say yes as often as possible! Yelling? Some is okay!
First problem: the book covered so many topics that it couldn't cover any really in depth. For example, the breasfeeding section basically said "breast is best" but don't beat yourself up if it doesn't work out. I'm fine with the "don't beat yourself up" part, but the way they couched it made it seem like you were bound to have problems, and it was only natural if you couldn't make it work. Isn't it really the other way around? (Nature would seem to favor breasfeeding working the grand majority of times). There wasn't any advice for how to find help for breastfeeding problems, or even a summary of the problems women usually encounter. Just, well, give it a go--you might as well! My critique isn't intended to make those moms out there who had real problems feel bad. I just hate to see a coverall advice book leave those real needs unmet, those real hurts unhelped.
However, most of the advice (well, I didn't like the discipline section, or the breastfeeding tips) was fine, probably helpful, or at least not harmful. One nice thing: the authors often presented multiple takes--culled from real moms. But overall, I wasn't into the book. I guess I'm sick of books telling us how to live. Yes, I inahale these books, guiltily, thinking they'll give me The Answer. But that's mostly because I'm bookish. I hate to see someone who doesn't take in books like plants do sunlight seeking out this book because they hope it will Change Their Life.
One illustration that will help clarify what was wrong with this book: the Crying Flow Chart. Yes, this book had a flow chart to illustrate what to do when your baby cried. No, I did not detect one iota of irony. Basically, it offered several diagnoses for crying (hungry? diaper full? sick?) but in a flow-chart format. Finally, it said if you've done everything you can to calm the child, to put them in a crib or swing or someplace safe and give yourself a ten-minute break.
Not necessarily the advice, but the presentation bothered me. A flow chart just seemed so corporate. And unconnected to instinct. Sure, the basic premise, try this, then this, then this, is what every mom does, every instant, when they care for their child. But a dry, formulaic approach is so distant from what caring for a child is really like. Every time I pull out a manual to try to help me solve some parenting crisis, the calm, lucid prose just seems so remote. How much more so for a flow chart? And I just had this awful picture of some mom, holding a squalling child in one hand and the book in the other, going, okay: diamond shape=decision point. Is she tired? Check.
So this book ended up going out into the world to bless someone who will hopefully find it more helpful. And I may just be weird or snarky or something for not liking it. Anyone else find it helpful?


Diana said...
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Diana said...

Not snarky. I finally gave up on the books, as the answers sounded so easy on paper and so hard in execution. And look, my kid has made it to 2 already without all those "answers". Shocking!