Psychologist and syndicated columnist John Rosemond has something surprising to say.
Upon the release of his 11th book on parenting, "Family Building: The Five Fundamentals of Effective Parenting," he says American parents first developed problems "when we began listening to people like me -- people with capital letters after our names."
And with that, Rosemond laughs. This advocate of strict, old-fashioned parenting is affable and charming during a phone interview from his office in North Carolina.
But if they should ignore most experts, whom should parents learn from?
"If you get together with five good friends once a week and you discuss the problems that you're having with your children, your group of friends is going to give you more help than the world's greatest psychologists are going to be able to give you," Rosemond says. "People in that context will get in touch with their common sense. Because we've been listening to professional babble about children and childrearing for 50 years, we're no longer in touch with our common sense."
For this book, Rosemond has distilled the key issues of effective child-rearing into five principles. The first principle -- "It's about the family, not the children," is one that's close to Rosemond's heart.
"My feeling is that we in America are discussing as a culture how to properly raise children when we ought to be discussing the prerequisite to that, which is how we create a healthy family," he says.
The problem, Rosemond says, is that "once a husband and wife have a child, very, very quickly their roles become mother and father, and the roles of husband and wife, which are the roles that sustain family, become submerged in all the activity that these people drive themselves to in order to validate that they are good parents."
What frustrates and puzzles him the most is that parents' transformation into only mothers and fathers is a step back, he says. "I'm not saying anything that wasn't understood implicitly 75, 100 plus years ago," he says, "which is that once you have children, you must remain primarily in the roles of husband and wife; it's from within those roles that you parent most effectively."
Parents who involve a child in a primary relationship with adults in the family do more than damage their own marriage -- they can damage their children's ability to become independent, Rosemond says. "So many children in America are part of their parents' marriage, and I think it's why the average age of successful emancipation since the mid-'60s has gone from 20 to 27. Emancipation is a process that begins when the child is about 3 years of age and culminates when the child is 18, 19, or 20 -- or should, but is no longer. And so many kids get emancipated sort-of, kind-of, at the age of 25, and then they come back home."
Rosemond, whose own mother was a single parent, says his principle applies to one-parent households, too. He says, "If you are a single parent, what this translates to is: Don't marry your children! Get out in the world and find friends and have activities, develop hobbies and interests."
> Abdicating authority
Rosemond calls himself "a women's liberationist," and applauds the strides women have made in every arena -- except raising children, where he says they have actually lost ground.
"I go around the country and tell women, you claimed authority in the workplace, you claimed authority politically, economically, in academic institutions and in the military, and all that was great, it was wonderful for the economy for the culture for you and everyone," he says. "But you abdicated your authority with your children, which was something that generations of women prior to your own had already claimed for you. All you had to do was accept the passing down of that claim, and you didn't do it."
Rosemond says women themselves are not to blame, it's the culture that, he says, "no longer gives women permission to develop a boundary between themselves ands their kids. You can't have that boundary when your child is an infant or a very young toddler. The natural time to develop it is between a child's second and third birthday. That boundary permits the mother to discipline the child, to become an authority figure. One of the reasons I'm convinced women are having so many problems in disciplining their children is because this boundary doesn't exist today."
> Seeing the 'jerk'
During Rosemond's speaking engagements, he says, he sometimes finds that people come to hear him because they dislike him.
"In San Diego recently, a woman came up to me after my talk and said, 'I came here just to be confirmed in my belief that you were a jerk. And I am leaving here understanding you a whole lot better, and having heard the big picture, I can't disagree with anything you said.' " Rosemond laughs again. He says people who read his column get, "OK, the child isn't going to bed at night, so here, do this. It's this cut-and-dried thing that works in a newspaper column, but that isn't parenting, it's just little fixing this and fixing that.
"When people hear me in person, they're not hearing the guy in that newspaper column. They're hearing a guy who says, 'We need to look at the big picture. And we need to understand what's happened in American parenting in the last 50 years, and why it's happened, and what the effect of this has been on families, on the American marriage and on men and women who have children, and especially females.' People come away from my talks kind of stunned. They just didn't expect it."
> Four books to come
Rosemond is currently working on four books. The first is on "the Attention Deficit Disorder ripoff, which I'm writing with a pediatrician," he says. The second is about toilet-training -- "Something that was simple, straightforward, accomplished within a week with children 18 to 20 months old 50 years ago has become the single most stressful thing women attempt to do with their kids in the first three years of their children's lives, and now it's stretched out to four or five years in so many cases."
In the third book, he'll present stories he's collected over the years about "parenting under pressure, and how people face incredibly huge parenting difficulties on their own without professional help," he says.
The fourth, subtitled: "How Professionals Ruined Parenting in America," discusses the "relative state of parenting bliss" as recently as the 1950s, which he says, "was destroyed by a professional class in America who decided that something that wasn't broke needed to be fixed."