Parents have no shortage of critics in books

November 28, 1999|By Susan Reimer

THE LAST THING I am interested in reading at the end of the day is a book about what a bad job I am doing as a parent. My bedtime reading material tends toward mysteries and whatever catalog just came in the mail. Last night, for example, I found myself leafing through "Micro-Mark: The Small Tool Specialists," which sells stuff for model builders. Maybe it was the promise of "free shipping" on the cover that attracted me.

Anyway, during my last minutes of consciousness, at the end of another successful day of being the infuriating mother, I am desperate for escapist reading. So you can see why "25 Stupid Mistakes Parents Make" and "The 7 Worst Things Parents Do" didn't make it onto my bedside pile of reading matter.

But part of my job description is to summarize for busy parents what's new in bookstores, so here goes. (If you have a fresh catalog, though, feel free to put this newspaper aside.)

"25 Stupid Mistakes Parents Make," by Peter Jaksa begins by telling us that what we do today forms "the foundation of our children's emotional, psychological and spiritual life tomorrow." Just so you know the stakes.

But there isn't much here you haven't heard before. Jaksa just repeats these admonishments for the same reason that we lecture our kids: There is no evidence that anyone is listening.

Don't give away your authority, be available, don't engage in power struggles, don't rush children into growing up, don't be a poor role model, don't neglect family traditions, don't let media messages distort your child's thinking, take time to play, laugh, talk and celebrate.

Don't snoop, don't smother, don't ignore warning signs, but don't overreact. Don't avoid the tough issues like sex, drugs and alcohol.

Got it?

In "The 7 Worst Things Parents Do," psychologists John and Linda Friel present a much shorter list of sins. Parents baby their children, ignore their marriages, sign up for too many activities while ignoring emotional and spiritual matters. They try to be their child's friend instead of his parent. They do not provide structure, and they expect their child to fulfill their dreams.

Hmmm. Don't do any of that stuff, OK?

There is no shortage of books out there that take this negative approach:

* "10 Most Common Mistakes Good Parents Make: And How to Avoid Them."

* "Raising Children You Can Live With: A Guide for Frustrated Parents."

* "An Owner's Guide to Parenting Teenagers: A Step-by-Step Solution-Focused Approach to Raising Adolescents Without Losing Your Mind." (Yeesh, what a title!)

* "Why Pray When You Can Take Pills and Worry?: One Frazzled Mother's Guide for Raising Teens."

And there is an entire series on parenthood techniques by the publishers of "The Complete Idiot's Guides."

I'm no marketing genius, but would you expect to sell other self-help books with titles like: "You Stink at Golf: A Guide for Duffers." Or "Wow, Have You Put on Weight!: A Low-Fat Cookbook." "Face It, You Married a Loser: How to Renew Your Marriage."

I don't understand this attempt to appeal to parents by pointing out what idiots we are, what a miserable job we are doing and how frustrated, defeated and insane we feel.

We already have kids to tell us that.

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