Each year, there are more than 100,000 books published in America, and aside from John Grisham novels, most of them seem to be telling us how to do something better -- how to eat better, look better, find a mate better (or a better mate). And then there are the ones that get my how-to goat: how to parent better.
Of course, I wrote a book about parenting, so this may sound hypocritical. But trust me; my book ("Free-Range Kids") is mostly about how you don't have to be a perfect parent despite what the other 99,999 parenting books suggest. How would our species even be here on Earth if in fact our children required constant parental attention to every utterance, every developmental nuance and every cute or concerning thing they did, said, ate or played with?
Until the past few nanoseconds of human history, parents were far too busy gathering food or staving off disaster to play vocabulary games with the tot in the papoose. In fact, David Lancy, author of "The Anthropology of Childhood," estimates that between 40 percent and 60 percent of children worldwide are raised primarily by their elder siblings to this very day. They do it without reading parenting books!
Yet everywhere you turn, you can find new advice on how to focus even more laserlike on your child. And I guess what got me going today was an article on the popular parenting site Babble titled "Boosting Toddler Language Skills."
You may recall (or not) that the latest advice vis-a-vis raising a little genius was simply to talk, talk, talk to our children all day long (and to fill the awkward silences with Mozart, of course). There was even a blip about a year ago when suddenly experts started worrying that by sitting face-forward in strollers, kids were wasting valuable parent-child chat time looking at the rest of the world instead.
Now come the latest marching orders: Talking ain't enough. We must (says the Babble piece) use our hands when we talk to make ourselves even more expressive.
Is that not weird? Instead of just relating to our kids, we have to be theatrical? We must gesture, wave and generally embrace Kabuki, or our kids are going to fall behind?
The article also suggests that if the baby is interested in a stick, we, too, must focus all our attention on the stick: "Go where his attention is: 'I see that stick, you're making a hole!' " It's the same advice you'd give a geisha: Feign fascination and come up with something to say.
As if we didn't already have a problem with self-centered children.
I know this is just one article, but the idea that decent parents have to study the "right" way to talk to their kids -- or risk creating a loser -- is just wrong. Kids are preprogrammed to be interested in the world. They do not need us to make sure every interaction is educational, child-directed and dramatized. Did Shakespeare's mom say, "Lady. You are looking at a lady! Her boots are brown"?
Well, of course, we'll never know. But I kind of doubt it. If she did, don't you think his writing would have been a lot duller? "The lady in the big green hat doth protest too much!" (Said with a wild wave of the hand.)
It's not as if I think parents should ignore their children. Well, I do, sometimes, but that's for another column. My point is simply that it is a strange and disturbing era when someone is instructing us how to have a normal, everyday conversation with our kids.
As if all parents are idiots and kids are, too.