Thursday, July 23, 2009

Book Review: American Parent [2009]

Thankfully, American Parent: My Strange and Surprising Adventures in Modern Babyland has much more substance than Home Game, although its flaws might actually tend in the other direction: I now know much more than I ever wanted to about 19th century psychological and physiological theories. Written by journalist Sam Apple, this memoir of a first-time father's exploration of the "baby industrial complex" is both hilarious and occasionally moving. Apple investigates the booming market for baby products, naming, water and hypnobirthing techniques, lamaze, labor and labor coaches, circumcision, colic, child care, and baby education, all while illuminating the historical basis from whence various theories of child-rearing arose. Although he touches on Pavlov, Ferber, attachment parenting, and name-checks Baby Einstein, Dr. Spock, and Freud (sometimes at great length and at the risk of losing the reader's attention), the real gems of the book come when Apple stops investigating and describes the experiences that he and his wife shared during and after pregnancy. For example, just after their child is born:
I remember that I wondered if I had already bonded with our baby and that I wasn't sure, and that even though I didn't know what exactly a bond was supposed to feel like, I felt terrible about not feeling one and then briefly felt better when Jennifer admitted that she also didn't know if she had bonded, and that Jennifer and I then wondered if our failure to bond instantly meant that we would turn out to be the most monstrous, unfeeling parents of all time.
Ultimately, reading American Parent makes one feel as if--despite the many theories on parenting--baby development is still a largely nebulous field, and raising children is characterized by contradictory advice, uncertainty, and fear. All of which is hopefully tempered by joy.

Grade: B+

Random Thoughts: Despite mentioning Dr. Spock several times and giving us the personal history of any number of baby experts (past and present), Apple never delves any farther into Spock's theories or popularity. It was a very curious thing.

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