Seaside Story mother and child on ocean beach reading by Steve Henderson

Parenting Experts: By Any Chance Are These . . . Parents?

One of the first things I learned as a new parent 28 years ago, was that according to the multifarious experts in child rearing, I was unqualified for the job.

My first lesson came from the 23-year-old childless county health nurse who provided stunningly ludicrous advice on breastfeeding, confirmed by the 65-year-old male pediatrician, resulting in a chronically crying baby (“She has colic”) who didn’t gain weight as the charts advocated (“Your milk is blue; put her on formula”) resulting in frazzled, sleepless parents (“Sounds like you’ve got post-partum depression. There are drugs for that.”)

Seaside Story mother and child on ocean beach reading by Steve Henderson
How much we make does not determine whether or not we read to our kids, and generalizing people by income is an intolerant way of thinking, indeed. Seaside Story by Steve Henderson

Fortunately, a friend linked me up with a non-expert, a woman with nine children who successfully fed all of them to a late weaning (this latter not advised by the experts), and we were on our road to parenthood, one that eventually led to having babies at home with midwives, homeschooling, and building (with our own hands) our home in the country, three jeapardous enterprises that not only send medical and educational experts into transports, but produce hysteria in the halls of Homeland Security as well.

It’s people like us, you know, who are causing this great nation to fall.

That first baby is a mom herself now, and darned if the experts aren’t still at it, more magisterially officious than before. A recent expert I encountered, via a book I picked up at the Dollar Store, is a best selling author/journalist/talk show talker with a notable absence of personal parenting stories, who forcefully advocates for federally funded pre-school for children beginning at age 3 — preferably earlier – since all those kids from poor families don’t have all the advantages of kids from rich families, and they need to be slotted in with Early Childhood Education experts, NOW.

The argument goes something like this:

Kids from poor families have parents who don’t read them books. (Don’t ask me why, considering that those parents have themselves spent 12 years in government schools which pronounce themselves experts on teaching children to read, add numbers, and “solve real life story problems.”) With such uninterested parents, these kids will hit school at age 5 without ever seeing a picture of a giraffe, say, and they won’t know what this animal is. (As an aside, a number of highly urban adults have no idea that eggs come from the nether regions of a chicken — information that any five-year-old on the farm takes great glee in imparting — but this lack of knowledge does not appear to alarm social scientists, whatever a social scientist is.)

Wild Child little girl running on path to Victorian house by ocean beach
Home. There are good ones and bad ones, but the impression given these days is that most of them are bad, and need to be “fixed” by those who know best. Wild Child by Steve Henderson

Unable to recognize a giraffe on the myriad of standardized tests that comprise modern education, the child begins his educational career with failure, consistently lagging behind his peers as they all work together on a common core of vital, salient information.

But if you put the child in the government school system early — away from the inimical influence of parents, those dilettante dabblers in childhood education — then the kid’s got a chance. He’ll know what a giraffe is.

While I’m not particularly sure why knowing what a giraffe looks like is so vital, I picked up a pack of ABC animal flash cards from the Dollar Store (it’s a good place for poor people to shop — easy to add prices without having to worry about fractions or decimals), and sat down with our oldest daughter’s two-year-old who is one of these at-risk children: Mom’s single, works hard, and doesn’t run with a crowd familiar to best-selling authors and talk show hosts. I immediately went to G and was distressed to find that National Geographic, which creates the cards, is more concerned about gorillas than giraffes, but then again, they’ve got a thing about primates and human beings, and make sure we understand — from an early age — that we’re really, really closely related.

L for lion was a stickler, since the child calls her stuffed lion a doggie, but I didn’t become concerned until I ran into I for ibex, not only because this was out of order, but because I myself really didn’t know what an ibex was. How have I managed to make it as far as I have without knowing what an ibex is?

Oh, that’s right — I haven’t made it far at all. If I had, I would be writing best sellers that wind up in the Dollar Store and hosting talk shows.

The toddler and I worked our way through jellyfish, manatee, rabbit, and penguin, these last two easily recognizable because the child has a stuffed bunny dressed in a tuxedo, and then we hit x, a major problem in the animal world since xylophones are not living creatures.

X for xerus.

Know what that is? It’s an African ground squirrel, something I’m sure poor children somewhere in Africa probably recognize — theoretically giving them a distinct advantage in their school system — but question whether the author of this eminently forgettable book (sorry, I can’t remember the title) has ever heard of. While apparently a lack of familiarity with the xerus is not as dire as not knowing a giraffe, maybe . . . knowing what a xerus is results in an extra advantage, meaning that poor children whose parents and grandparents buy animal flash cards from the Dollar Store aren’t doomed to failure after all.

There is hope, parents, that you won’t completely screw up your children’s lives, despite the concern of the experts.

Just keep loving them — your children, not the experts — listening to them, feeding them, and being there for them. Oh, and turn off the TV.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. You know, before anyone gets me on the, “Not all parents are perfect” argument, let’s flip it around and remember, “Not all experts know what they’re talking about.”

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