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Resource Review Thursday: Critically Evaluating Parenting Advice

A couple of interesting things happened this week. First, I got a wonderful email from a reader who said, “I was surprised to see that you gave a positive review to The Happiest Toddler on the Block. It didn’t seem like a child-friendly approach to me!” Secondly, Erica Jong published a controversial essay about Attachment Parenting and how it is shackling women to the home after everything that feminists have fought for. Both of these events caught my attention, because while I believe in what I write and how I live, I’m usually quite open to a healthy debate. I like to take out my beliefs and have a good look at them under the microscope every now and then.

At the core of both my reader’s specific critique of The Happiest Toddler and Erica Jong’s more general critique of Attachment Parenting is the assumption that parents who read a parenting book or identify with a parenting philosophy are going to go straight to their children and implement that parenting advice in full. This is part of why I tend to resist parenting labels in general and prefer to rely more heavily on my own powers of intuition and reasoning when evaluating parenting advice and philosophies. Yes, I do believe that Attachment and Natural Parenting has benefits for most parents and children. However, I don’t believe that every parent can or should be a “by the book” attachment parent. Plenty of parents take the parts of Attachment Parenting that work for them and leave the rest. There is no one-size-fits-all parenting decree, except perhaps, “Do your best and show your children that you love them.”

Everything is relative to everything else. The Happiest Toddler on the Block may be manipulative and behaviourist compared to Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, but more attachment friendly than 1-2-3 Magic. All of the techniques in those books are better for parents and toddlers than angry screaming and spanking.

As for Erica Jong, I think that it’s easy to paint stay-at-home moms as shackled or trapped when you are looking only at the value in career advancement and financial independence. In my early days as a parent I read The Feminine Mistake and was deeply depressed about my choice to be a stay at home mom for a week or two, until I remembered that I really hated the experience I had in the business world. Not everyone needs to be a high-powered career woman, and not everyone needs to be a deeply attached homeschooling family. What everyone does need is a basic foundation of financial and emotional stability. The rest is a matter of personal choice.

I experience a great deal of joy and pleasure from trying to live simply and in tune with my intrinsic values of interdependence, emotional stability and environmental sustainability. In a world that is constantly telling us to be bigger, better, faster and more powerful, staying home and baking bread with Beatrice feels like a radical act. I want to buy less and live more. I most certainly don’t feel trapped or shackled, I feel like I have a choice about how I want to live my life.

Whether you get parenting advice from my blog or someone else’s blog, from the American Academy of Pediatrics or Dr. Sears, from your mother-in-law or the girl working the checkout at the grocery store, I hope you listen to that advice and take it with a giant grain of salt. What works for one family might not work for another. Check for hidden assumptions, look for research and experience to back up any claims. Critically evaluate your own beliefs. Choose to implement the parts of that parenting advice that benefit your family, and leave the parts that don’t. Listen to your intuition, and listen to your child.

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{ 4 comments… add one }

  • Cynthia November 11, 2010, 11:03 am

    I had someone question me about my recommendation of that book too. I still recommend it. I find it’s one that is very easy to take the good and leave the rest. Also, because it was very practical, it was a huge help to my anxious husband as we entered the toddler years.

    Have you read the article written by Erica’s daughter as well? It really puts Erica’s article into perspective – she’s angry that her daughter chose to stay home with her children after all the work feminists did to make sure their daughters didn’t *have* to make that choice. It always baffles me when feminists criticize a woman’s choice to stay home with her children.
    Cynthia´s last [type] ..Wordless Wednesday- Love those eyes

    • michelle November 11, 2010, 10:48 pm

      There are definitely some valid criticisms of Happiest Toddler (and Happiest Baby) to be sure. But while I might disagree with a few of the specific techniques or suggestions that Karp gives, the message or reasoning behind those suggestions is worthwhile. For example, I wouldn’t gossip about my toddler to her teddy bears, but I might make a point to tell her dad about something great she did that day while we’re eating dinner. The fact that toddlers are listening to everything you say about them is the important part.

      I did read Erica’s daughter’s response as well, but it didn’t resonate as strongly with me as Erica’s. I think part of their disagreement and Erica’s subsequent distaste for attachment parenting in general is simply due to a difference in values. Someone who highly values recognition might not understand the choice to stay home or prioritize attachment.

  • Stephanie September 16, 2013, 6:34 pm

    I have been being counselled of late to implement the 123 Magic system. It works after a fashion but there are certain aspects of it that I don’t believe in and would rather use a more attached parent perspective. Does 123 Magic have its place in an attached parent’s house? I find that for the most part the benefits of 123 Magic come from more sanity and less frustration for the parent. I know that I am high stung and get stressed easily and so having a go to thing to say to put a stop to undesirable behavior is helpful to keep my calm and set reasonable boundaries. There are certain behaviors that I believe should be squelched right away. I have a problem with the time outs though. I’m being told to put my almost 4 year old in her room for a time out and physically block the door while ignoring her attempts to escape or climb over me unless she causes me physical harm in which case I am to add more time to the time out. That by giving her attention I am rewarding her for her bad behavior. This has got me so confused and turned around. It’s suppose to be like crying it out–it will get better with time but I feel terrible about that and about blocking my toddler in her room. However there MUST be some sort of consequence to her action beyond, “No, no. That’s not good behavior and this is why.” I believe the 123 system is right in that eventually kids just become parent deaf. Perhaps a removal from the situation and a “time in” would work but in same cases you are still rewarding the child’s bad behavior. I believe that 123, while having a great potential to change undesirable, disrespectful behavior, is not the end all. While it helps to keep sanity, peace and order it also has the potential to be disrespectful and insensitive to the child. I think if not over used it would be very effective and to have a consistent time out or time in structure. What it boils down to is you telling the child “I mean business. There are no other options right now.” I’m ok with that part, I’m just muddy on the follow up to it.

    • michelle September 16, 2013, 10:19 pm

      Parents like 123 Magic because it gives a sense of control when children have emotions or behaviour that seems out of control. But there are definitely ways to deal with difficult behaviour that are more attachment friendly.

      The single best discipline technique I’ve found is actually increasing my own ability to be mindful. When I can stay calm in the face of a child who is freaking out, I have a much better chance of actually finding out what the problem is. Kids don’t just freak out or push your buttons for the fun of it, they’re not misbehaving specifically to manipulate you. Kids want to be attached and in harmony with you, so poor behaviour is almost always a sign that they have a need that is unmet. Mindfulness helps me stay calm, figure out what they need, help them get that need met, and then the problem behaviour goes away because we’ve dealt with the actual cause (the unmet need) and not just the symptoms (tantrums, hitting, biting, etc).

      123 Magic essentially relies on fear and intimidation to get compliance – there has to be a real threat behind the counting or else the child won’t do anything. I know I’ve used fear and intimidation to try to get my child to do what I wanted, because I was either freaking out myself and/or I didn’t know what else to do! So don’t feel bad about being “high strung” and wanting to find a discipline technique that works right away. Lots of parents struggle with staying calm and dealing with problem behaviour in a calm way. I found this article really helpful, and I re-read it from time to time when I forget why listening and being present is so important: http://www.handinhandparenting.org/article/do-children-manipulate-their-parents/

      good luck! It takes a little practice to get the hang of it, but when you start to see it working you’ll be amazed at how quickly kids “reset” when they’ve been really listened to with love and empathy.

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