Monday, April 07, 2008

Pamela Paul's Parenting, Inc: Recycled Book?

The $122,730 jungle gym. That caught my eye.

The $800 stroller, the sleep coaches, the wipes warmers, the Baby Sign Language classes. Old news by now -especially to a mom of three kids whose spent nearly the last decade submerged, literally and figuratively, in parenting paraphenalia. Couldn't stop thinking this while reading a review of Pamela Paul's newly published book Parenting, Inc. in this week's New York Times Book Review. Had to wonder what fresh insights Paul offered beyond several other recent books, especially last year's Buy, Buy Baby: How Consumer Culture Manipulates Parents and Harms Young Minds by Susan Gregory Thomas.

And what about that jungle gym and the other gizmos and gimmicks. Do they really harm kids? Paul suggests they produce adults without critical thinking skills. Myself, I think they're more symptoms than causes of social concerns. It's quite a leap from Leap Frogs to cognitive deficits.

If kids are so busy with their gadgets and spoils it's possible they won't develop their minds (and delayed gratification skills) through imaginative, child-directed play. We know the value of unstructured play for the development of not just cognitive but also emotional and social development. But if your kids are like mine, the Leap Frogs and their educational counterparts went the way of much of the much-hyped crap - into the dark recess of the basement. My daughters and son play with such a limited bunch of toys I'm not sure the other crap could pose much danger. Nor am I sure how a Bugaboo stroller could harm them. Or the wipes warmer. Or the fetal heart monitor. Other than teaching them that mom and dad are suckers.

Thankfully, the reviewer, Kate Zernike, a newish mom herself, questions Paul's dramatic portrayal of the parenting purchasing frenzy - calling her on a few outrageous statements like this whopper:

"Any woman worth the cover price of InStyle fantasizes about an array of diaper bags to suit various outfits and occasions."

Sounds like something a twenty-something fashion editor would write. Statements like this are hardly surprising - Paul's previous books explored pornography and "starter marriages" - the author likes to stir things up. Personally, I think the parenting field could use a lot less drama and lot more rationality and objectivity.

6 comments:

WeeHands said...

You're post made me smile - many of the parenting items that we buy or get for our babies or toddlers become the sale items in the 'yard sale' that most parents have at about the year 3 or 4 mark of parenthood!

Maybe some lucking expecting parent will find that $800 stroller at one of these yard sales this spring!

Pamela Paul said...

Hi there,

Pamela Paul here, author of Parenting, Inc. I'm actually surprised by your reaction here, as what I've tried to do in the book is inject a healthy dose of rationality and objectivity. I'd love to hear what you think of the book if you have a chance to read it -- my guess is you'll be pleasantly surprised. Certainly, if you read what I've written, in both my previous and current book and elsewhere, you'll see the last thing I like to do is "stir things up!"

All best,
Pamela

Dr. Polly said...

Hi Weehands! Yes, I know all too-well the plight of defunct toys and gadgets. In fact, I find it more and more difficult to even give them away - seems no one wants them. My town dump has started recycling plastic toys recently. Depressing that so many toys are disposable now even if we are recycling them. By the way, I did a little signing with my kids. In fact, my youngest just kind of started doing it on his own.

Dr. Polly said...

Hi Pamela! Wow - I'm flattered you've read my blog and also taken the time to comment. Indeed, I look forward to reading your book - just ordered it. As I was reading the review in the NYT Book Review, I wondered why the reviewer said she'd like to hear more comments from mothers in lieu of the opinions of experts. Interesting, because, as a mom I have spoken with other moms on this very subject over the years, and I'd like to have heard more about the expert opinions in the review. And that's one of the reasons that I bought the book. Also, I'm interested in your ideas about the consequences for our addiction to buying for our kids. So I promise to post more after reading the actual book - thanks again and good luck! (BTW, for some reason I'm unable to respond to individual comments on Blogger right now - hope it gets corrected soon.)

Pamela Paul said...

Thanks, both for your response here and for your post today. I really do look forward to hearing what you think of the book, either here, or you can email me (address on my website). I think your blog is great, much needed.

Zola said...

Keep up the good work.