If I were to give advice for a first-time mom it would be
- Don’t listen to any advice, but
- If you have to listen to advice, listen to mine, and my advice is
- Don’t read any parenting books, but
- If you have to read a parenting book, read this one.
When Girl 1 was born, I read lots of Dr. Sears and La Leche League and (worst of all) Parents magazine. I went around in a sleep-deprived, raging hormone-induced fog of Mommy Guilt. If my baby wanted to suckle 24/7 I worried that I should nurse her 24/7, even though she was happy enough with the pacifier. If she fussed after 5 minutes in the swing or bouncy seat, maybe I wasn’t holding her enough. Maybe I should have given her baby massages and played more This Little Piggy with her. Maybe I should have carried her around in a sling all the time, and it was selfish of me to want to put her down for 10 minutes here or there to make dinner or take a shower. If my priorities were in place maybe I wouldn’t care about such trifling matters. Shame, shame, shame. (I did carry Girl 2 around in an Ergo for most of her first five months, because that was the only place she wanted to sleep. My spine and core muscles weren’t strong enough, though, and now I have a pile of chiropractor and physical therapy bills to show for it. But that’s another gripe for another post.)
Similarly unhelpful was the “ecological breastfeeding” section of The Art of Natural Family Planning (you young whippersnappers hanging out at iuseNFP wouldn’t remember because the book was completely revised in 2007). That chapter had such gems as “[D]on’t leave [your baby] with baby-sitters. If you understand the importance of mother-baby togetherness, you will not have a goal of getting away from your baby once a week . . . . We can assure you: if you do these things, your baby will sadden and really miss you.”
Oh how I wish I had read this book instead.
The Three-Martini Playdate, by Christie Mellor, makes some simple points in a very humorous way: Learn to say “No” to your child. Don’t allow your child to become a brat. It’s okay to have some time to yourself and tell your child, “Go Play” or “Go to bed.” Your child will be better off in the long run if you disabuse him of the notion that he is the center of the universe. While you’re at it, teach him how to mix up a martini for you and your friends. Ms. Mellor is basically a funny, cocktail-fixated Dr. Dobson.
I personally find Ms. Mellor’s insight helpful because I have a child who would take up 110% of my time and attention if she could. In The Strong Willed Child, Dr. Dobson writes about children who “come into the world smoking a cigar and yelling about the temperature in the delivery room and the incompetence of the nursing staff.” Well, my child is one of them. She’s never been the type to play quietly by herself for more than 30 seconds at a time. Her favorite pastime is thinking up things for me to do. Even now, I feel so bad saying, “No, I can’t play with you right now.” It’s gotten to the point that if I see her playing quietly to herself I think something is wrong.
Not all the points in The Three-Martini Playdate apply to parents of very young children, but the basic premise is valid at any stage: you do not need to be a slave to your child to be a good parent. I find this particularly compelling after reading about a study by the University of California on child-rearing practices of the American middle class. The study found that American middle-class families tend to be “child-centered” and “raise [children] to be relatively dependent, even when the kids have the skills to act on their own.” In contrast, young children in other societies are “expected to contribute substantially to the community,” which in some cultures even includes serving food to their elders and waiting to eat until their parents are finished!!! Can you imagine? Perhaps Ms. Mellor is right on in suggesting that we teach our children to make us martinis!
In addition to her martini tutorials, Ms. Mellor intersperses her child-rearing wisdom with other humorous and clearly tongue-in-cheek asides. For instance, to have your cooking appreciated: invite a Southern bachelor over for dinner!
Southern bachelors are ideal, as they are unfailingly polite even after having polished off a third of the Maker’s Mark, and they are often eccentric, which makes them wonderful dining companions. . . . Your bachelor may ask for seconds, and even thirds. He will ask of your spouse, “Do you always get to eat this well?” in that sweet little drawl. He will ooh and aah, and eagerly gobble up whatever you put in front of him.
My post here probably needs two quick disclaimers:
- Every child needs to know he is loved, to be nurtured, to feel that he is secure. Far too many adults take a parents-first approach too far and neglect or even abuse their children. But you know what?
Those aren’t the people who read parenting books!(Update: this was before I ever heard about the Pearls. Suffice it to say I don’t think this book naturally leads to abuse or neglect.)
- If you take an attachment parenting/ child-centric approach and it works for you, that’s great. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in four years in the crazy game called parenting it’s that each child and each family is unique. Some kids need chocolate-covered coffee beans; some need Benadryl. As long as you raise your child to do their duty to God and neighbor and vote Republican (kidding!), that’s cool with me.
No matter what route you take, though, you should read this book. It will make you laugh.