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The commercialization of parenthood

Talk to boomer grandparents, and you will hear the same thing.

We are all thunderstruck that our children do not believe that we have any parenting skills. From feeding to dressing to any helpful hints we might offer, we have been relegated to the backseat of the van while they, our darling prodigy, just roll their eyes and cluck, almost sneering at our ineptitude –so forget it and keep your thoughts to yourself. We have been reduced to a class of imbeciles. Even discussing the sensitive topic of parenting with grandparents who are doctors with REAL medical knowledge, the reaction is the same. I recently heard a story related by a friend of a top pediatrician in the city who, allowed to babysit, was given the phone number of his offspring’s own doctor. In case the kid coughed or fretted in the night. Professional and personal knowledge are reduced to a handful of ashes. Mom, dad, you don’t know nothing!

And we, with incredulous stares, wonder why.

When my first child arrived, my mother made suggestions. Rather than merely ignore them, I reflected, accepted, threw out some, but I listened to her and my father. Her advice to supplement nursing was of course wrong but I did not challenge her outright. Her wisdom on exposing children to all kinds of educative experiences was sage. Even if I guffawed (silently! of course ), later I might think on her words, sifting the wheat from the chaff and deciding myself that perhaps she might have had a point- even if it were inconsequential. Yet, the attitude of the present generation is to firmly reject any possible or improbable wisdom offered by their progenitors, barely as the words emerge from our mouths.

We have learned to button our lips and not proffer advice as it is rarely in any case requested.

First, we are amazed and then we ponder this attitude.

How could our long years of childrearing be so disregarded by the perfect specimens we have brought to such a high state of evolvement?

I truly believe their aversion is a by -product of parenthood transformed into a commodity for purchase. Because- if you can pay for it, it must have value. Along with the right baby clothes, strollers, food, and baby recreation.Unless a product is intentionally marketed with all the façade, decorum and affluence of careful packaging, it is valueless. What is given free appears blows in the wind. Belying years of experience gleaned through trial and error, our children believe that like dogs, their children can be trained, taught and packaged into the smiling family I would have associated with the retro Leave it to Beaver or Father Knows Best shows where, ironically the outdated patriarchal images of society suggest that Someone( actually a slick marketing person analyzing how you will spend your dollars) really knows what is best/ appropriate for kids, thus promulgating those blissful images of family on their boxes and advertisements. Once more, it is advertising that dominates our society in a way to fictionalize what is true and what should be anticipated and purchased by us as consumers. As simple customers of another illusory world, we enter into a covenant to to buy, buy, buy.

And with money comes wisdom sold to us by all the fathers and mothers who pretend to know best and the keys to a happy kingdom where children behave as we expect they should as good little children as we proudly nod and take the credit of their fantastic intelligence and demeanour. Do I revisit shades of the kiddies paraded out from the nursery from Downtown Abbey segments? All flashy, frozen projections of a Skinner world where if I feed the child three pellets of food only when he is hungry, he will smile beatifically at me, be sated and do as I wish. Problem solved.

For example, at present, should your child cry at night, you book your friendly doula for 3 nights to teach your kid to sleep. Did someone say $450 a night? Should you have trouble with breast feeding, there is a lactation consultant at $200 an hour who will berate your technique. Long gone are the days of La Leche League where there was a number you could call and a friendly lady would talk you through your grievances. And it was free!

Yet if the present day programming works, why did I have to endure the bratty screams of a spoiled rotten kid at Menchi’s yesterday when he was not allowed all the frozen yogurts, twisting and repelling his mother’s loving arms and goofy, apologetic grin.

Notions of putting your kid on the Mediterranean diet may be all the rage although I recall reading Adele Davis on proper nutrition and even in my library in the Dark Ages were books on cooking for babies. Still there was a sense that we had to work through the issues of babyhood, offering first bananas and working up to strawberries, etc. and the answers or recommendations would not be sold to us and festooned with expensive stickers. Although perhaps Gerber’s smiling baby suggested s/he was satisfied by the strained prunes or potatoes and heralded the way towards that image of satisfied babyhood desperately sought and bought by the hipsters.

We sought answers. We did read books that helped explain the developmental phases where crying, screechy behaviour, tantrums would exist. We consulted experts whether they were in professions -or even in our own families. In deed, discussing a problem with a loving, understanding parent who had endured the same problem was a comfort. And an added bonus was that your mother might take the baby and walk her up and down a million times as mine did every Friday evening. Your father might murmur , “She’s an old soul in a baby’s body” and grin at the child with such adoring love that came from a spot so deep you didn’t know it had even existed- and your respect and love for your parents deepened immeasurably and you were joined in a new and unexpected way to your own parents.

I’m not saying some of this does not still occur, especially the grandchild-grandparent bond when the parents leave you to babysit. In fact, it is a marvel you are even allowed to babysit, clueless as you are considered to be, in the realm of child-rearing.

Times change along with attitudes. I never would have thought I would champion daycares, but I realized and observed how the work of bringing up children can be improved by a loving, well-educated professional in safe and supportive environments –although I wish they could eradicate the other kids’ cold germs.

The funny thing about getting older, and sometimes wiser is that you hear yourself sounding just like your own parents. The words may change but the music lingers on.


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