The Parenting Industrial Complex

When I was pregnant with The Boy, we received a lot of parenting books. We got one on raising little scientists, and one on raising an emotionally intelligent child, and…I don’t even know, because I didn’t read a damn one of them. I just don’t put a lot of stock in what books say about how to raise a kid, because, every kid is different. My two kids are nothing like each other, so if I followed what a book said about how to raise them, I’d be doing it right for one and not the other, because they just  need really different parenting techniques.

The only parenting book I’ve actually read is one about getting your kid to sleep, because The Girl is 2 and she still will not fucking sleep through the night. I mean, some nights she does, and then other nights she’s up crying every couple of hours for no fucking reason. I am so fucking tired that I got desperate and read this book, and you know what? She’s still not fucking sleeping through the night. I’m so fucking tired…where was I? Oh yes, parenting books. Reading that book about sleep taught me one thing: even a good parenting book (and this one wasn’t bad) can’t always solve your parenting problems. At best it can give you some ideas to try, one of which might help you.

And at worst, it will make you feel like shit. It will make you feel guilty for doing things differently than the author suggested. And it will make you feel like you must be a bad parent, because its “scientifically proven” parenting methods didn’t work on your child. It’s especially shitty for parents of kids with disabilities–way to make parents who already feel “not normal” feel even more so, you jerk!

I call the parenting book industry the Parenting Industrial Complex. Because, it’s actually not just books, it’s also products. They make you think that if you buy this book, or that baby carrier, or that high chair, or those diapers, or that crib bedding, or this stroller, or those toys, that your child’s life will be better, and that your job as a parent will be easier, and that everyone in your family will magically be happy. And if you don’t, your child’s life will be ruined, you’ll struggle at parenting, and everyone in your family will be miserable.

And it’s not just books and products either–the internet is filled with parenting advice articles. And they have awesome titles like “7 Ways You’re Making Your Child’s Tantrums Worse” or “The Top 10 Ways Moms Sabotage Their Child’s Potty Training” or “What This Mom Wished She Knew Before Her Teen Attempted Suicide.” What the fuck, internet? Like I don’t already have enough mom guilt to navigate, you gotta go with the “click here or your child could die” headlines? Seriously? And you know what? Those articles are so full of shit. I read a tantrum one the other day that said “Hug your child when they’re having a tantrum.” ORLY??? When The Girl is having a tantrum, she screams “DON’T TALK TO ME.” I’m pretty sure a hug is gonna make things worse. That’s some pretty fucking awful advice for my kid.

But crazy headlines like that are how the internet makes its money. Like, if I were trying to get this blog to get page hits, so I can sell advertising revenue, I have to turn the headline into something that’s going to draw people in. And as local TV news learned decades ago, scary headlines reel people in. Emotional manipulation sells, man. It sells better than an article that says “Who the hell knows what’s the best way to calm your toddler down? Every kid is different. Here’s 10 ideas, none of which may work for you, but that doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent.”

What we, you and I, have to do is to NOT click on those headlines, and instead click on the blogs and read the books and buy the products that aren’t sold to us based on our fears. We need to seek out the writers who say “I know you can do it if you just trust yourself. It won’t always be perfect, there will be pee on the floor, but you will get there.” There are plenty of them out there–we just have to cut through the click-bait and the guilt-books that the Parenting Industrial Complex are trying to sell us, and find the good stuff instead.

One of Those Days

Once in a while, I have one of those days. You know, where the kids won’t do a thing I ask them to, then throw colossal crying screaming meltdowns. I had one of those this week—actually, it was only one of the kids, The Boy. The Girl, bless her heart, was all sunshine and roses and “I love you mama” and honest to god she was petting me. Which is super sweet, but less than helpful when her brother is literally having a screaming crying fit at that exact moment and I’m trying to get him to calm down. Yes, attention-seeking girl, I see what you’re doing there. You’re showing how you’re so good and thus so much more deserving of attention than your brother, and though I’d like to reward your positive behavior, I’m gonna need you to step back and go hang with your dad right now.

It’s funny, The Boy has always been a really laid-back, mellow kid. We made it to age 4, when I was ginormously pregnant with The Girl, before we had our first “I am carrying you out of this store kicking and screaming” moment with him. Now, before anyone says I am bragging, let me remind you of Monday’s post about sleeping. It is not because I’m a good mom that The Boy slept through the night so quickly, and it is not because I’m a bad mom that The Girl didn’t. The Boy has always been pretty chill, and people try to tell me it’s because I’m a good mom, but it’s not. It’s because he just IS chill. Know how I know? Because his sister, raised in the same damn environment, is not chill. She’s a bossy drama queen. She has to go cry in the corner when she doesn’t get what she wants and then when she’s calmed down she rejoins the group. DRAMA. That morning was a strange role-reversal for them.

What’s hard for me on days like that one, is, I’m good at the “don’t say it’s because I’m a good mom” part but I’m much worse at the “his drama is not because I’m a bad mom” part. That is one of the biggest barriers to escaping the Cult of Perfect Motherhood. Know why? Because our society is very very very good at making women deferential, but it’s very very very bad at teaching women to toot our own horns. We’re quick to find fault with ourselves (and each other—who hasn’t gotten a nasty stare from another woman at the mall when your kid is misbehaving?) when our kids are driving us nuts. It’s easy to say “If only I was more patient with him, he wouldn’t be having this tantrum” or “If only I was more firm with him, he wouldn’t be having this tantrum” or “If only I read the right book on parenting, he wouldn’t be having this tantrum.” When in reality, HE is having the tantrum, not me. He is his own human being, separate and independent from me. His behavior is not my behavior, it’s his. His choices are not my choices, they’re his.

It may sound like I feel like I’m not doing anything to parent my child, that anything I do is futile because he is going to be how he is going to be. I don’t feel that way at all, actually. Parents CAN influence their children in a variety of ways—we can teach them values and skills and all kinds of things. But we can’t make them have a certain temperament, and we can’t change how their bodies work, and we can’t prevent them from ever being sad. Having a kid who is upset does not make me a bad mother. And sometimes, I have to write it so that I will feel it, to help shut up that voice in my head that says “Maybe you aren’t cut out for this after all.”

Which brings me back to that morning. The Hubs, who is a genius, said that he thinks what’s going on with The Boy is that he’s super nervous about going back to school—he starts first grade in September—and that because he was at a party yesterday with school friends, it brought all his worries to the surface. And sure enough, that very afternoon after picking him up from daycare, The Boy asked if he and I could go have a “grown up talk” and during our talk, he told me he was scared about going back to school and worrying his friends wouldn’t like him anymore and that he would have trouble making new friends.

I can’t make The Boy not worry about school starting back up. But I can do my best to help him process his fears and move forward, and maybe we’ll have fewer tantrums in the mornings. But even if he’s still upset after that, and even if The Girl is a bossy drama queen, I’m a good mom. And I need to keep reminding myself of that.