There is a woman who calls herself “The Potty Whisperer.” For $250 dollars, you can send your child to “Booty Camp,” where, in four hours, she will teach him to use the toilet. Perhaps you saw her last week, on the Today Show. But don’t confuse her with the Baby Whisperer. The Baby Whisperer has two bestselling books, which help clueless new parents deal with newborns, and bewildered, not-so-new parents deal with toddlers. Then there’s the Sleep Lady, who consults with exhausted parents to help them get their kid sleeping through the night. She’s also been on the Today Show, and she’s got books, too. In case dads are ever feeling left out, they could always read the syndicated column of Mr. Dad, who answers father-specific questions in newspapers around the country. And then, of course, there’s Super Nanny. Flying around prime time, network television in her mini Cooper, she’s saving the world from unacceptable behavior, one naughty step at a time.
Not to get too Carrie Bradshaw on you here, but it all kind of makes me wonder: have our instinctual childrearing skills been selected out of the gene pool? When did we, as parents, become so helpless that we can’t make a move without the advice of an expert?
Lest my tone sound cynical and judgmental, let me fully disclose that I have often been lured by the parenting experts, and their promises to solve all of my problems in five easy steps. When my first child arrived, screaming and colicky and impossible to soothe, I read the Baby Whisperer cover to cover at least a dozen times. For fifteen months, I attended a mommy and me taught by a local guru, covering such topics as feeding, sleeping, napping, potty training, and age-appropriate play. When we had food issues, I turned to books. When we had discipline issues, I turned to Super Nanny. But more and more, I’m starting to think that it might all be getting a little out of hand. I mean, did I really need someone to tell me how to play with my baby? And do people really need to pay someone else to potty train their kids?
Part of it, I’m sure, is that the support system for raising a family has broken down in modern society. We no longer live in tiny villages with our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and cousins, so we no longer have people we trust to show us the ropes, or a steady stream of infants to practice on. And even if we do live near our mothers, their child-rearing wisdom tends to be, um, outdated. Back then, if your baby wouldn’t sleep, you didn’t call the Sleep Lady; you slipped a little brandy in the formula. Kid won’t listen? Who needs Super Nanny when you’ve got the back of your hand? It’s no wonder that “Parenting” has turned into a multi-million dollar industry, complete with its own trade show in New York City . This wouldn’t be America if somebody didn’t come along and fill the gap.
The problem, though, is that the gap seems to be turning into a chasm. There are experts now for every issue, no matter how small. Your son is seven and he still can’t tie his shoes? Never fear – there must be a shoe tying expert out there somewhere! Your daughter doesn’t know how to hula hoop or jump rope? Well, did you hear about the childhood coordination expert? He makes house calls, you know. (Okay, I made that one up, but still, I wouldn’t be surprised if a guy like that really exists). It seems silly, but it’s so easy to fall into the trap. We hear these experts on tv, we see their books in the bookstores, and we assume that there must be a right way. And so we watch them, and we buy their books, and we follow their advice, and all the while, it never even occurs to us to (gasp!) trust our guts and figure things out for ourselves.
I will never forget the day that I threw The Baby Whisperer across my room in a fit of frustration and rage. I had followed her E.A.S.Y. regimen to the letter, but my daughter still screamed her head off for twenty hours a day. She’s stupid, I told my husband, and wrong, and I’m doing it my own way from now on. I’ve got to tell you, it was so freeing to choose my own method for dealing with my baby, and so empowering to know that I was even capable of coming up with my own method. It may not have always worked, but still, it was mine. I realized that I do have instincts, and I didn’t require an expert to show me how to find them.