The problem with parenting books is that most parents don’t have time to read them. They’re like manuals about how to drive a car that require you to read while driving. But “Weird Parenting Wins” doesn’t require much energy. The anthology of zany child-raising recommendations from parents is not exhaustively researched; it’s researched by exhausted people — parents — and has something else going for it: practicality.
Author Hillary Frank is the creator of the Longest Shortest Time podcast, which has devoted episodes to “The Weird History of Judgy Parenting,” “Troublemaker Moms” and “When Your Uterus Wants Out.” The juxtaposition of the wistful podcast name and wry episode titles is a reflection of Frank’s mind-set that this crazy, precious time will pass. She urges listeners to bring some joy back into being a parent — sometimes by screaming, “Dinner in odd places!” (Meaning you can eat in the bathtub, hallway or garage.)
Frank’s book is a collection of the best and weirdest advice she’s encountered for raising kids. The quippy blurbs — many just a few sentences long — are on helpful subjects such as “The Art of Soothing a Screaming Child.” (Sample: To wipe an ornery kid’s nose, put a sock on your hand and pretend it’s a puppet trying to give her kisses.)
“Weird Parenting Wins” succeeds as a source of ideas and genuine laughs that people can enjoy in five-minute intervals in between, well, parenting. Two favorites: telling your kid the hazard lights button in the car is actually an eject button and explaining that the ice cream truck plays music only when it’s out of ice cream.
It’s also, perhaps inadvertently, a study on middle- and upper-class parenting in the 21st century. “Parent” has been a common verb for decades, but now it implies more action to a certain demographic. One recommendation is to warm your child’s clothes in the morning to avoid dressing arguments. “Our favorite way to get our two-year-old to eat everything on his plate is to give him control,” one parent explains, while another describes sitting with a stack of diapers and a Sharpie and drawing “monkey after monkey” to convince a child to wear them.
“If you brush your teeth,” yet another parent bargains with a child, “you can lick my face.”
These solutions might work, but only for a parent with the time and the means. Drawing monkeys for a few hours is probably less awful than arguing.
All parents probably have secret parenting behavior that leads us to think, “Is this weird?” My feeling is that if it works and doesn’t cause irreparable damage to the child or the parent, it’s a win. The analysis and self-doubt are exhausting. But, at the risk of sounding judgy myself, would I really want a child who grows up thinking that his clothes will be magically warm in the morning?
Meanwhile, recommendations such as “talk to kids in the car” assumes parents have a car, not to mention the time to drive their kid places. Frank’s friends and listeners occupy a specific demographic. Most are married, and a majority of the advice comes from women. Paul writes, “When my wife wasn’t home, I made fish sticks for my kids.” Note to Paul: You can make fish sticks for your kids even when your wife is home. These issues are not fatal flaws with the book, but limitations.
Frank writes, “smugness is the parental equivalent of answering the phone in a horror movie. Forget it, you’re doomed.” If only some of her tip-givers felt the same way. “[My son] is turning eighteen soon and has still never eaten from a fast-food restaurant,” one parent brags. “I do yoga during my toddler’s bath” is the parenting equivalent of someone telling you to do squats at your desk.
But isn’t my judgment of judginess a judgment? Parenting — and the act of being yourself as a parent — is an exhausting balance beam. Even when “Weird Parenting Wins” is not tremendously useful, it’s still mostly a relief.
Mary Beth Albright is the host and editor of Food Video at The Washington Post.
By Hillary Frank
256 pp. $17.