Friday, May 11, 2007

Book review: Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box

If you've ever grumbled that you wish your kid came with an instruction manual, mosey over to the Parenting & Family shelf in any bookstore. There, you'll find a six foot tall shelf of pastel paperbacks promising to show you the way. Advice from parenting book authors is a lot like advice from family members, friends and neighbors. It can be colored by an combination of religion, science, personal experience and wishful thinking. And whether you've picked up a general parenting guide or a sleep/toilet training/sibling-rivalry bible, what you won't hear much of is reassurance that you're probably doing just fine already. Heck, you're probably worrying, obsessing and simpling doing way too much. And your kids aren't likely to benefit.

Enter Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box. At 300 pages, it's a bit padded with the kind of self-help quizzes and summary pages I hate (I'm so not the self-help type), but the premise is sound: be a good-enough mom. Don't overschedule your children and overextend yourself. Don't make your life so child-centric and self-sacrificing that you end up running on empty. There are no gold medals in the Mommy Olympics, so you might as well walk the marathon and enjoy the scenery. Remember that if mama is happy, everybody is happy. And that means you need to take care of your needs too.

It's a message I already believed in, so perhaps this books wasn't written for me. I worry a little about the big issues (instilling values like respect and manners and, I'll admit it, potty training), but I'm too cheap to buy fancy baby shoes and too lazy to prepare and freeze my own organic baby food cubes. With work, friends and everything else on my plate, I don't have the time and energy to "do it all," and it's never occurred to me to engage in the kind of playground oneupmanship that author Ann Dunnewold says pushes mothers into the Extreme Parenting trap.

Dunnewold suggests cultivating a circle of like-minded parents as an antidote to the mommy madness, and once again I'm a step ahead of her. I've got a wonderful group of mom friends, and they've never judged me or made me feel inadequate when I ask for advice or blow off a little steam. With my girlfriends, I can safely confess my sins of motherhood, be it skipping a bath, using a video to grab a moment of peace or serving cold cereal for dinner.

If Dunnewold's to be believed, I'm one of the lucky ones. Apparently this Extreme Parenting thing--whether an invasion of the Baby Genius Edutainment Complex, the uber-boobers or the sanctimommies--is reaching crisis levels in some communities.

No wonder some folks are flocking to the cocktail playdate.