If you’ve been into a modern book store recently, you will have noticed shelf upon shelf of parenting advice books. If you’ve browsed through them you may have realised that they contain wildly contradictory advice, bizarrely specific routines and provide little or no hard evidence for the opinions they present as facts.
You have also probably read opinion pieces in newspapers and on-line publications where so-called parenting experts deride the parenting of anyone who is not following their strictures. Suffering from border-line or full-blown god complexes these parenting authors believe they are the only ones with the correct formula for raising children, regardless of any evidence to the contrary.
In the past, parenting books were written by experts and contained advice and information based on empirical evidence and scientific knowledge. (Of course, there were a few small missteps like advising the use of whisky to help with teething and telling fathers not to do women’s work to avoid effeminising boys.) On the whole, the parenting books your grandparents had access to were wonderful, and the ones parents read today are awful.
In my 40 years as a Coach for Parenting Authors and their Publishers I have noticed a huge increase (I can’t say by how much, but trust me, it’s huge) in the number of publishers coming to me, at their wits end, not knowing how to cope with their parenting authors who are running amok.
Last week a woman sat in my office and sobbed. She is currently working with seven parenting advice authors. ‘They all say completely different things,’ she wept. I feel sorry for these publishers, but really it is all their own fault.
These days publishers work in a tough industry and are constantly busy. They are perfectionists and see their authors as a reflection of themselves. This leads them to spending too much time looking at their phones, and if they’re not doing that they are hot-housing or helicoptering their parenting authors.
Publishers sometimes say to me that authors will simply self-publish if they don’t work with them. This excuse is used to absolve themselves of any responsibility. No-one these days wants to take charge and make it clear to parenting authors that they need to STOP MAKING UNSUBSTANTIATED CLAIMS AND PRESENTING THEM AS FACT. It’s that simple.
Publishers these days also use too much tanbark in their offices, when we all know bitumen would be more appropriate below the monkey bars because nothing helps people learn like an acquired brain injury.
The worst part about this situation is that no-one is benefiting. Modern publishers are at the end of their tether and modern parenting authors are teetering closer than they realise to collapse. Typically, after enjoying a period of supremacy most parenting authors are knocked off the perch by the next parenting guru. Having been mollycoddled with an ‘everybody gets a prize’ mentality from their publishers they are surprised to find that in the real world not everyone is interested in their hard and fast rules about co-sleeping or independent bush camps for toddlers.
As a society we have let our parenting authors lose the plot, and they are anxious, narcissistic and possibly gluten-intolerant as a result. Let’s hope I can fix it.
Penny Tangey is the author of Save Our Contented Little Baby Whisperer.