It’s too bad that I’ve starting reading a lot of parenting books because I get free business books in the mail every day, but I’m sick of them. I’ve been getting free business books in the mail every day for the last five years, and I shudder to think how many I’d get each day if I hadn’t spent the last five years changing addresses more often than a felon on the run.
It’s also too bad that I’ve started reading parenting books because my local library doesn’t have any. Well, who knows if they have any, because the books are shelved randomly by someone with no apparent knowledge of the Dewey decimal system. For example, Shakespeare’s Henry V is shelved in the biography section.
But I managed to find a few parenting books by ordering books from my library like a literary concierge or something. And things were fine for a while, until I owed three month’s fines for Raising a Self-Disciplined Child.
So now I just buy the books. Which makes me extra critical of them and forces me to write a list of books I hate:
1. Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting
This book, by francophile mom Pamela Drucker, is about how French families are so laid back and Americans should learn something from them. Like, if you raise your kids as the French do, then your kids can grow up and be like all the other French: joining unions and cheating on their spouses. If the French were known for being a particularly happy culture, then maybe this book would make sense. But they are not Denmark or Switzerland.
I think this is a crock and I can’t believe all the attention it’s getting. It’s like the book French Women Don’t Get Fat. The French (and their groupies) should shut up with their proscriptive living diatribes or at least leave that to Proust. I lived on a French farm. And I lived on a French vineyard. And the Parisians are living on their own little island and they have nothing to do with the rest of the country and if the French weren’t such goddamn liars to themselves they would get off their butts and start working a 40 hour work week and get rid of their stupid archaic language that has less utility than Icelandic.
2. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
This book is about the Yale law school professor mom, Amy Chua, who raises two over-achiever Chinese-American daughters who play string instruments and go to Ivy League schools and do not have sleepovers growing up because those are for academically sub-par white kids.
But this book is really about the disintegration of family. The focus of this parenting style is on individual achievement. The family measures success by the individual achievements of its members. There is no time for relaxing as a family because that does not lead to any measurable success. There is no time for board games, long lunches, and hanging out with the neighbors. There are lessons and homework and each parent has a big career as well. If each member of the family is a high achiever then the family as a unit is just a mix of this.
Another way to raise kids would be that the family is the most important thing, and individual achievement is not as important as being close and supportive as a family. Which would mean, for example, that parents do not run around driving individual kids to individual events, and homework does not take away from family time.
I’m not saying there is a right or wrong. Well, there probably is, but I struggle with this myself, and, frankly, most of the kids who play string instruments with my kids have tiger moms. However I do think we need to admit that individual achievement competes with family cohesion and Tiger Mom is an extreme example on this spectrum.
3. The Glass Castle
I know this isn’t supposed to be a parenting book. It’s supposed to be a tour de force about Jeanette Walls’ childhood, growing up with parents who were clinically insane—it’s unclear how, exactly they were insane—but they were unable to put the needs of their kids ahead of their own needs to sit at home all day doing nothing.
The whole time I was thinking, “Hold it. I’d like to sit at home all day and do nothing. I want to paint and read all day.”
Have I ever told you that I like to paint? I do it sometimes. Well, the times in my life when I have been unemployed with no kids. Which is not recently, believe me. But I see how the drive to read and paint would make someone forget to put their kids’ needs in the forefront. I worry that I am close to being like Wallis’s parents.
Intellectually I know that I am not going to do that. They were basically homeless, and freezing in the winter, and honestly, I cannot cope with being cold. So I wouldn’t read and paint. I’d go get a job to pay the heating bill. That makes me feel better. But I hate the book because I see myself in it. And I know I’m not supposed to.