January 5, 2009

Review: Parenting, Inc. by Pamela Paul



This book is simultaneously encouraging and horrifying. Pamela Paul's Parenting, Inc.: How We Are Sold on $800 Strollers, Fetal Education, Baby Sign Language, Sleeping Coaches, Toddler Couture, and Diaper Wipe Warmers -- and What It Means for Our Children has a doozy of a title and also one heckuva message. I think I can sum it up. It goes like this:

"Congratulations on your new baby! Now please USE YOUR COMMON SENSE."

That's really what it comes down to, albeit with much more engaging prose, incredible statistics, and the like. Here's some of the jacket text:
From the moment the self-pregnancy test confirms the happy news, the sales pitches begin. A shower of catalogs hawking the very best in organic onesies, lavender-scented diaper creams, and designer rubber duckies. The pressure to buy the "it" ergonomic stroller, specially engineered for bustling parents. A never-ending cascade of DVDs and baby classes that promise to make your child smarter, socially adept, and bilingual before age three. The onslaught of promises is overwhelming and incredibly difficult to resist. That's because time-strapped mothers and fathers are the perfect mark -- for the mammoth "parenting" industry.

In Parenting, Inc., Pamela Paul uncovers how, over the past generation, the parenting industry has convinced parents that they cannot trust their children's health, happiness, and success to themselves. From the statistically warped warning labels touting deluxe car seats to the booming supply of baby consultants charging hundreds of dollars, parents are assaulted by a whirligig of marketing hype, social pressure, and celebrity expertise, transforming the way they raise their children.

[snip]

Parenting, Inc. offers facts and freedom for every parent who wants to escape the spiral of fear, guilt, competition, and consumption that characterizes modern American parenthood.

Here are some of Paul's lessons for parents: Surprise, Baby Einstein (and the like) actually retard language and social development in infants. It's great to take your babe-in-arms to Music Together, as long as you understand that Mommy's probably the only one getting anything out of it. "Interactive" toys that whirl and beep and blink and direct play are leaving small children with no idea how to play imaginatively on their own. Babies can learn multiple languages at once, but only if they're learning from humans, not screens. And most of the things that parents do in a desperate bid to give their children more than they had leave kids worse off than otherwise. Your children are brand-aware from the time they're bout a year old. Worried yet? Maybe you should be.

Paul pulls no punches in this fairly easy read. She takes a hard look at the "parenting industry" -- at the billions and billions of dollars spent around infancy and early childhood -- and some of the facts she digs up will surprise you. I had no idea so many crazy things were on the market (like those floating duckie bath thermometers -- what, your elbow's not good enough?), and I'm glad that I'm now aware of at least some of the parenting industry's sneakier tactics, well before I actually have children. I don't know how comfortable I'd be giving this book to people who are already parents -- just because that can be a touchy issue, you know, "Here's a book about all the ways you're screwing up! Merry Christmas!" -- but if you're cool with doing that sort of thing, give away!

I would recommend this book both for parents and for people who think that they might be parents one day; there's a lot of good stuff in here to think over before you find yourself with a small someone to take care of. Plus, it's very well indexed.

2 comments:

glumpuddle said...

interesting talking to J about this at NY party. He and G are trying to not be stuff-oriented parents.

Christine said...

I approve.