Saturday, April 2, 2011

By the book

When my daughter was born back in the 70's, my wife and I did what most first time parents of the day did - we bought Dr. (not Mr.) Spock's book, Baby and Child Care. First published in 1946, by the end of the 20th century it had sold more than 50 million copies and had been translated into 39 languages. Everyone knew that this was the "bible" of caring for your baby, right?

Our pediatrician, very early in the course of things, explained to us exactly how to use the book. You put it under a table leg to stop the table from rocking. You can also use the pages to start the charcoal in your grill during the summer months.

Now to be fair, her advice was not solely directed at Dr. Spock's book, but generally all "how to" books on parenting. Her reasoning was that new parents, especially first time new parents, will- among other things - read these books and start comparing developmental milestones listed in the book with their own child's development, and if they don't match, get unnecessarily worried. Every child is different and the developmental milestones are averages, not necessarily carved in stone event dates.

Sometimes these books will tell parents that something in particular must be done at a specific age. When "the book" said it was time to introduce fish to my daughter's list of foods, my wife diligently did so. My daughter hated it. When she discussed it with our pediatrician, she simply said to my wife,  "She doesn't like it, so don't feed it to her." 

And toys and games with ages on them are also just suggestions. A child may well be ready for a toy that says it's for a particular age before they actually are that age. This is where common sense and knowing your child become the real skills of parenting.

Yet, even today I still see parents reading books of this type and getting concerned if their child does not hit those milestones when the book says they should. I saw this recently with my own grandtwins, who today turn 18 months old. A year and a half! (At 2 years old we stop counting by months, right?) We knew that they were physically capable of walking, but neither of them had actually taken more than a step or two by themselves without holding on to someone or something. People were getting concerned. I said all along that one of these days they would simply decide it was time and then just take off. (My daughter almost "failed" kindergarten because she couldn't skip, though there was nothing wrong developmentally. She just never really had a reason. So we practiced skipping.) Sure enough, one day they decided to get going.

Life will never be the same for my son or daughter-in-law.


  1. That is so true. Why should we leave it up to ONE author to decide how children should be brought up and what developmental milestones they should be hitting and when.

    Whatever happened to the days of mother's (and father's for that matter!) instinct? The common sense that used to be used now seems to be replaced by what someone wrote about in a book.

    Mind you, who am I to talk? I never relied on a book, but on the thoughts and opinions of other parents online. But isn't that like raising your child with the help of the village?

  2. I have this converstation with 'soon to be parents' all the time. See what seems to be your style of parenting and then see what sort of baby/child you get! They do tend to modify your ideas on childraising don't they? Flexibility is not just for the exercise class. That's what I liked about Montessori preschool - kids have their 'sensitive periods' and are sensitive to learning at those times.

  3. Hmmm doesn't seem one should fail kindergarten for being uncoordinated. I still can't really skip well. LOL