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Lenore Skenazy -- Quit Treating Parents Like Babies

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By Lenore Skenazy
Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day, you moron. Love, your pals in the baby business.

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If you're a mother, you might recognize that sentiment -- sweet wishes from the passive-aggressive baby industry that wants you to feel so completely, even dangerously unprepared for the challenges (they're always "challenges") of parenthood that you will run out and read its magazines, buy its products and take its advice. Ka-ching!

Here's a tip from a little article on flying a kite with your kid: "Choose a sunny day when there's no chance of lightning."

You mean, don't fly kites when there's a funnel cloud headed for the driveway? Got it.

Or how about this pointer from Parenting magazine on how to delight your baby: "Lean in close and kiss her nose." Kissing my baby. Why didn't I think of that?

And here's my favorite recommendation from a book of "Baby Must-Haves" (yes, a 200-plus-page volume on items you simply must buy unless you want your baby to be seriously deprived): "You'll get more bang for your buck with a toy that can be played with in more than one way -- for instance, a push toy that can also be pulled."

Now, you've got to feel sorry for the poor writer who had to come up with something -- anything -- to say about a pull toy. But can you think of a push toy that can't be pulled? Can you think of any toy that can't be pulled, besides a cranky daddy trying to watch SportsCenter?

These tips treat parents as if we were the 2-year-olds, so wet behind the ears that we need an expert to tell us which games to play, which toys to buy, what to say to our kids and what to feed them. This talking down to parents is big business; the "mom market" has reached $1.7 trillion in annual revenue, according to the book "Parenting, Inc.," with $700 million spent on zero-to-age-2 toys alone. That's a lot of pull toys.

Excuse me. Push and pull toys.

The whole gestalt is enough to convince us moms that today's children -- unlike all those who came before them -- do not have their trajectory pretty well mapped out simply by being born human: cry, crawl, toddle, walk, grow up, breed and cry some more. No, this generation won't make it without a whole lot of help from specialists, safety gear and Internet searches. But why? Are our children more vulnerable -- and we less competent -- than any previous generation in history?

Of course not. But that's the message we're getting. We're living in a time when parents worry about their offspring's safety and development and health and you name it (okay, I will: SAT scores, emotional IQ, body image, rattle skills, pacifier addiction, iPod addiction, self-esteem, potential abduction, Facebook friends, cookie intake) more than ever, thanks to a parenting industry that relies on turning us into nervous wrecks.

It begins even before the baby's born. There are books and books about what to eat during pregnancy, as if the average expectant woman couldn't figure out whether she should choose the kale or the Krispy Kreme. (And by the way, even that doesn't matter as much as the books make you think. As my doctor told me: Just eat like you normally would, only a little more -- and add some folic acid. I toasted her with a Yoo-hoo.)


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