Five hundred manuals, 1,000 websites, 100,000 tweets and one mother-in-law all giving you different advice on every aspect of parenting? From noise machines to all-natural, peanut- and chemical-free products, recent parenting trends are pretty different than they were when you were that chocolate-covered toddler—and it’s affecting more than your browser history and bookshelf.
In her forthcoming book, Modern Motherhood: Women and Family in England, 1945-2000, Angela Davis reveals research that 50 years of motherhood manuals (specifically the advice of six childcare “experts”: Frederick Truby King, John Bowlby, Donald Winnicott, Benjamin Spock, Penelope Leach and Gina Ford) have set standards too high for new moms. Dr Davis found that while experts’ advice changed through the years, the advice itself was delivered in a consistent, albeit unpleasant, manner—with the message that deviating from the specific childrearing methods advocated would bring severe consequences. So it’s not actually the end of the world when you can’t control all of your daughter’s tantrums or if your son is not enrolled in piano by age 3—it’s just meant to feel that way!
While many new moms have turned these childcare “bibles” for advice and support, Dr. Davis found that these books could be extremely unhelpful. "Levels of behavior these childcare manuals set for mothers and babies are often unattainably high, meaning women could be left feeling like failures when these targets were not achieved. Therefore while women could find supportive messages within childcare literature, some also found the advice more troubling,” she explains.
Have you ever felt overwhelmed by parenting advice you’ve read? How did you decide which, if any, parenting guides to follow?