Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Family Values?

Father John J. Lombardi

I was immediately struck by the title of this book: "Parenting, Inc." And the subtitle is a WOW too: "How We Are Sold on $200 Strollers, Fetal Education, Baby Sign language, Sleeping Couches, Toddler Couture, and Diaper Wipe Warmers-and What It Means for Our Children."

I didn't have anything else to do so I read the book, which is by Pamela Paul and it was a good, intense-detailed read on all the material mentioned above. Paul-a parent herself and writer, is as entertaining as she is insightful. For instance, she writes: "The era of commercialized parenthood had dawned…when in 1867 German Justus Liebig created 'Food for Babies,' (baby food essentially) and thereby relieved mothers from nursing their babies." Paul is obviously bright and brawny.

One of the most basic claims of Paul's book is that in our consumer parenting culture raising our children by ourselves is mitigated by using learning centers, music classes and gymnasiums. These secular efforts, no matter how well-intentioned, send signals to parents that they aren't equipped to parent on their own.

In observing the rise of the "commercialization of childhood," Paul notes the collateral damage: "Rather than experiencing buyer's remorse parents are plagued with the fear of abstainer's remorse. We are scared not to spend on our kids."

Full disclosure: being a celibate priest means much of this material, children, diapers, parenting, etc. is out of my expertise. I often felt lost in the sauce of her facts and figures such as her critique of changing the word "child rearing" into "parenting." Translation: I was stretched by learning something new which is essential to ministry, with so many people married with children.

Paul stresses in the book that reality stresses out parents, makes them feel guilty and thus capitalizes on them. "The parenting industry wants us to feel we have to maximize every moment, especially if the amount of time we have together is compromised by the demands of work and other obligations… Yet the Laundromat is just as interesting to a two-year old as the Museum of Fine Arts and children need unstructured time to explore." She went on to comment on learning thru entertainment, now an industry like Baby Einstein, language instruction, DVD's, etc. "The fundamental problem with 'edutainment' is that there is absolutely no proof that it works."

Obviously, part of Paul's mission is to enlighten and liberate parents from the so called, "Child-Guru gods who are often false. "In the nationwide study, "What Grown-Ups Understand About Child Development," it found that parents place too much emphasis on the less valuable forms of play; flash cards, educational television and computer activities were listed. It also said not enough attention is paid to the connection between physical play and intellectual development. Experts agree, "Cognitive development not only goes hand in hand with physical, emotional and social development, but is utterly dependent on, and secondary to the growth of those skills."

Like a lot of things in life, balance is needed between gimmicks and games and physical and mental exercise. Unfortunately, today we probably rely too much on experts and gimmicks and neglect old fashioned successes like strong family ties and plain old discipline rather than "outsourcing this to kid coaches and trainers

Essentially, Paul suggests Parenting Inc… "undermines parental confidence…it suggests raising children without a lot of equipment is out the realm of most ordinary human beings with ordinary sized wallets.

One of the greatest dangers in life is for some person, government or organization-no matter how well intentioned- to come between you, your children or your family. One parent

responded by saying most folks aren't dictated to by Parenting Inc. However, Paul says the threats are all around us and this warning can help parents lean toward holiness, sacrifice and common sense.

Pope John Paul II said the family is a building block of civilization; others say "As goes the family, so goes society."

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi