Parenting books make some lofty promises: a no-cry sleep solution, the happiest baby on the block and peaceful parents with happy children.
What lies they tell. What fantasies they peddle.
When our oldest son Maxon came home from the hospital, we followed the advice laid out in The Happiest Baby on the Block, which has nearly 1,000 five star reviews on Amazon. In order to help our son learn to sleep better, the book instructed that we try to replicate the conditions of my womb with swaddling, bouncy walking and shushing noises close to his ears. According to the author, a nursery can be a disorienting and stressful place for a baby who was housed in a noisy, jiggling body for nine months.
So, we bounced and swaddled and shushed. Baby Maxon went right to sleep. Magical.
Until we stopped bouncing and shushing.
Because you know what doesn't bounce and shush? A crib. So, how long did Maxon stay asleep once placed on a static mattress?
Every time we tried to put him in the crib it was like the opening sequence in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana Jones replaces a golden statue with a bag of sand. If my touch was off by one milligram, Maxon woke up screaming and poison darts shot out of the nursery walls.
Thanks a million, Happiest Baby on the Block. You helped us make our son dependent on movement and shushy sounds, and deprived us of even more sleep. How many nights did I shush and pace the room with the gait of a Cosby Kid, wondering how long it would take Maxon to fall into an Inception-level sleep so he wouldn't sense the stillness of his bed?
I went through several sleep books trying to correct the mistakes I made from Happiest Baby. When Ezra was born, I would have none of that bouncing and shushing nonsense. Once those eyes started to droop, into the crib he went, shushless. To this day, Ezra falls asleep without incident. Maxon comes downstairs multiple times after lights out.
Needless to say, I didn't buy the sequel, Happiest Toddler on the Block. Or any other parenting books, for that matter.
I OD-ed on sleep books during Maxon's first two years. As my children got older, I tried some advice from child behavior books. But nothing really resonated with me. All the the books advised some variation of counting, timing out, making a chart, giving rewards, praising, and poof! I was supposed to have a magical, well-behaved child. I felt like an idiot counting to three (or counting to twooooooooooo …. and then pausing for 80 seconds because I was too tired to carry out whatever punishment I had promised once I got to three).
While lamenting the uselessness of parenting books to a girlfriend a few years ago, she suggested I read The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children by Wendy Mogel.
Finally, some common sense. Disappointment and failure do not need to be avoided at all costs. Parenting is not a democracy. My bedroom is not your bedroom. If your forget your homework, I am not driving it all the way to school for you.
I love this book for many reasons — not the least of which is because there are no instructions for chart-making and rewards. I love it for its tone and approach, for its focus on things that really matter such as honor, respect, self-reliance, acceptance, gratitude, spirituality and hard work. I re-read this book at least once a year. (As I write, I realize it's time for a refresher on the bit about being very brief when offering rationale for parental decisions...)
Needless to say, I did buy Mogel's sequel, The Blessing of a B Minus. By the time Maxon and Ezra reach their teen years, I'll be ready.