You know I love a good parenting book, so when I read the blurb about Jennifer Traig's Act Natural: A Cultural History of Misadventures in Parenting I was completely sold.
One peice of advice you get as a new parent — and arguably one of the most well-intentioned yet completely useless — is to trust your instincts. After all, parenting is natural. Everyone knows how to do it! Except...
You should be a little more familiar with history. It turns out, there is nothing even remotely natural about parenting. Humans have spent centuries making absolutely stupid decisions about their children. There is a reason people have been horrible forever — it’s because they are products of their environment and child-rearing. As I like to tell everyone, when we know better, we do better. However, it’s also fair to point out that since the late ‘70’s, the Western world has taken the very new concept of “parenting” and run with it. The pendulum has swung in the opposite direction and humans still generally suck.
But don’t worry! Just trust your instincts. It’s natural.
I loved this book as a cultural history of parenting. I’ve railed in previous posts about how parenting has become a verb and it’s done some damage to adults’ self-worth and beliefs about themselves. Here, Traig has selected a few big topics and has given us a concise yet very full history of parenting advice from as far back as it was written. Some of it is horrifying, some of it is funny, and some of it is absurd. Occasionally you will find advice that is on-point. She takes us through birth to feeding and toddlerhood to adolescence. You would be surprised at some of the recommendations that you should maybe still think about today.
However, humans have been offering unsolicited and stupid advice for generations upon generations. Traig pulls it out in this book and presents it to you as-is with a side of self-depricating humor. She’s not interested in giving you parenting advice; she’s just telling you about the absurdity that lies in the history of men telling women how to parent. Because if we are really going to get down to brass tacks, that’s the history of child-reading advice. (The best is when the men either didn’t have children of their own or gave them away to be raised somewhere else.)
It took me a hot second to adjust to Traig’s asides in her writing, but once I did I thoroughly appreciated her jabs at history and her willingness to own her parenting choices. This is not a holier-than-thou retelling, and she’s strait forward in making sure you know that she’s just trying to get by. However, she knows that you are too even if you present yourself as a perfect family on social media. (I’m also calling out you all who like to throw in a “what a crazy day!” post every once in a while. We know you. We see you. We know you are full of shit.) It turns out parenting has been hard across history for different reasons, and at the end of the day, this book just celebrates us all getting by in whatever way we can.