Actress Alicia Silverstone's new book, The Kind Mama, is generating buzz and criticism. Rodale Books
Mother’s Day may be an annual reminder of all that your mom has taught you, but if you walk or surf into a bookstore, you can see that many moms and other experts want to teach the wider public about parenting.
You’ll find lots of parenting guides to choose from.
This weekend, Amazon.com listed 86 parenting guides published in just the last 30 days, and 259 titles for the past 90 days.
They include specialized guides like Bianca's Guide to Raising Twins, 9 Ways We're Screwing Up Our Girls and How We Can Stop, Raising Boys: For Single Moms and A Practical Guide to Parenting in the Digital Age.
There’s guides for special needs children: Small Steps, Big Differences: A Toolkit for Parents of Children Who Fall through the Cracks, How to Guide for Parenting a Child with Down Syndrome, Asperger's: Parenting a Child with Asperger Syndrome.
In the last 30 days, there have been two that target Christians (Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting and Intentional Parenting: A Guide for Christian Families), and a third one specifically for Catholics (Momnipotent: The Not-so Perfect Guide to Catholic Motherhood).
Or there's astrology, as in, Momstrology: The AstroTwins' Guide to Parenting Your Little One by the Stars.
Tigers, dolphins, and bees
Perhaps the highest profile of the parenting guides at the moment is the just-published The Dolphin Way: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Health, Happy, and Motivated Kids without Turning into a Tiger, by Shimi Kang.
Kang recommends that we parent like dolphins and let our kids play freely, live balanced lives and find their own way, with positive parental guidance.
Kang, a psychiatrist, works as the Medical Director for Child and Youth Mental Health for Vancouver community and teaches at UBC, and The Dolphin Way is a rejoinder to arguably the most talked-about parenting guide of the past decade, Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.
That may be where the some-animal-as-parenting-role-model trend got started.
A year ago, The Atlantic magazine gave its take on "what the animal kingdom can teach us about raising families," with a story titled, "The Queen Bee’s Guide to Parenting."
For example, from rats we can learn the importance of physically showing love. If rats are "deprived of licking and grooming, they grow up to be more fearful and less curious."
Asking the honest toddler
To help sort through this virtual stack of books, I enlisted the assistance of Bunmi Laditan, a writer in Veaudreuil, Que., who is best known for her tweets as @HonestToddler. She also wrote one of those guides from the last 30 days, the paperback edition of The Honest Toddler: A Child's Guide to Parenting, which Laditan describes as "a satirical spinoff" of parenting guides.
Laditan has three children, between one and "almost eight." Were Laditan to write a serious parenting guide - and she told me she won't - the momma bear would be her choice for a role model.
"Bears are the right amount of protective. They let their cubs play, they let their cubs wander, just far enough, but they are always within smelling distance, they always know what's going on with them," she says.
Laditan, who has read a lot of guides, says that for her, Harvey Karp's The Happiest Baby on the Block and then The Happiest Toddler on the Block were quite helpful.
"I really liked his sensible, straightforward compassionate but, at the same time, just very practical advice," she says.
Pick and choose your rules
Laditan recommends adapting the rules in whatever guides you read to your own situation. "You can pick and choose which ones you need at any given time, and which ones you need with any given child, because they're all so different."
That's very similar to what my own mom said when I called her for this story: "Every kid is different."
My mom says she used Benjamin Spock's The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, one of the best-selling non-fiction books of all time, as her guide.
She said then it was "everybody's bible" but times change and she doesn't recommend it for today's kids.
It's certainly not as popular today as it once was. The ninth edition is currently number 12,333 on Amazon's bestseller list, way behind Karp's The Happiest Baby on the Block at #173 and even The Honest Toddler at #537.
Celebrity parenting guides
Among the current trends are the parenting memoirs and celebrity mom guides, which are sometimes one and the same.
Actress Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Mama has been garnering plenty of media attention, but its Amazon rank is just #3,398. Laditan is not a fan, singling out Silverstone's view on postpartum depression.
Silverstone writes, "Though it's less common among kind mamas, some women experience the blues after giving birth."
Which leads Laditan to ask, "Why would you say that when we're at a place where we're encouraging moms to come out with their stories and their struggles?"
Rather than celebrities, Laditan "would love to see parenting advice from moms over 70."
My mom would appreciate that.
Grandmother knows best
"The most underrated, undervalued source of parenting wisdom is our grandparents," says Laditan, because they have the benefit of hindsight.
Laditan says the best parenting guide comes from one's elders and from "just listening to your children talk about who they are."
Nevertheless, "you are going to have to develop your own confidence, because there's nothing kids like to do more than to prove you wrong."
I didn't, and won't, ask my mom about that.
As for the honest toddler, Laditan says he "would definitely say that none of these guides are necessary, and just keep the refined carbohydrates and juice coming."
While a serious parenting guide may not be a wise choice for a Mother’s Day present, "The CBC Books guide to Mother's Day shopping" has some more appropriate suggestions.