Sonny, May I?


Kristin Devine

Kristin is a geek, a libertarian, and a domestic goddess. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state with too many children and way too many animals and works with women around the world as a fertility counselor. There's also a blog which most people would very much disapprove of

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39 Responses

  1. Avatar Road Scholar says:

    Fun essay. Thanks. It’s my experience that parenting a youngun is basically like a 24-7 drunk watch.Report

  2. fillyjonk fillyjonk says:

    I’m wondering how this fits in with what my mother tells me was a dominant idea when I was a baby – the idea of letting the infant “cry it out” (in other words, not picking them up).

    I can’t imagine my Silent Gen parents “feeling for a yes” before picking either of their children up when we were infants. I remember being told “No” an awful lot of the time once I got old enough to start laying down memories.

    I don’t have children. Part of that was lack of opportunity, part of that was the thought of being responsible for the survival of someone who basically hasn’t learned survival instincts yet terrified me.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to fillyjonk says:

      …part of that was the thought of being responsible for the survival of someone who basically hasn’t learned survival instincts yet terrified me.

      Yep. That moment of stark terror with the first child when you realize that they’re about to send you home with a baby to raise. A friend who was a counselor once told us to remember that if you’re worrying about whether you’re screwing your kid up, then you almost certainly are not. It’s the people who have no doubts that are dangerous.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to fillyjonk says:

      I was sort of conditioned to the Cry It Out by my mom telling me what she did, and by the fact that I have a really high cry-tolerance. My wife rejected it and also has a really low cry-tolerance. We kind of found something in between from some book. I can’t even remember the book, or what it said. I mostly remember that it gave us the illusion of feeling like we had a plan, and that itself helped a whole lot.Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to Will Truman says:

        I had a long comment ranging from Cry It Out to the Millennial tendency toward the expectation of a participative leadership style and Victor Vroom’s normative decision model, but it got ate by the Big Monster of the Intertubes.
        Damn the Big Monster!

        Short version:
        Cry It Out has now been shown to foster attachment issues & insecurity.
        Proper management depends on flexibility of approach.
        Reliance on participative leadership, as well as expectation of it, is a recipe for disaster.

        Also, Damn the Big Monster!Report

  3. Avatar Joe Sal says:

    I had to teach my son one lesson over and over. Live and let live. As it had to do with a wood burning stove, or as it had to do with the occasional scorpion. What really brought it home I think is when he taste tested a bee on the front porch when mommy wasn’t looking.

    I must say parents have few tools in their tool box that rank right up there with formic acid, a little bit of that stuff imparts significant knowledge.

    Good stuff Kristin.Report

  4. Avatar j r says:

    Nice article. But I’m not convinced that we should take folks like Nisha Modley at all seriously. Dollars to donuts she is much more interested in internet-ing than she is in parenting. Giving out dumb, impossible to follow parenting advice is just a means to an end.Report

  5. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    I remember the days of “I am not gonna be the parent when let’s their kid eat in the car, or watch to much TV, or eat Mac & Cheese 3 nights running.

    Those were the days…

    I will say, the parents with the really goofy ideas who stick with them, those are the ones you read about in the news, because they are facing some kind of child endangerment investigation (like the vegan parents who wouldn’t breastfeed & fed their baby almond & soy milk).Report

  6. Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

    I think much of the source of crazy parenting ideas is a crazy idea that the extremes are the only possible choices, so you have to figure out which extreme is less bad. I see this with the Great Spanking Debate. I have a dark confession: I have spanked my children. Indeed, I have done it more than once–possibly as much as three times each! This has the salutary effect that they know the recurrence is a genuine possibility, though in truth they are both getting a bit old for that. I have a lot less trouble getting them to do (or not do) stuff than does my wife, who could never bring herself to spank them. The thing is, if I say “Yes, of course a parent should be prepared to spank his kid” a lot of people hear this as “Yes, of course a parent should routinely beat his kid with a clothes hanger.” In fairness, some guys who say what I said really do mean what those other people think. This woman, with her deeply silly ideas, is responding to some idea of extreme controlling parenting and resolving to go to the other extreme.Report

  7. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The phenomenon where “I’m going to do it like *THIS*” evolves into “doing it like *THIS* is the moral way to do it and we should remold society to reflect that” is one that shows up in the weirdest places.Report

    • Avatar j r in reply to Jaybird says:

      Do we have any evidence that this is a real phenomenon? By that I mean does anyone know anyone in real life who both subscribes and strictly adheres to some extreme parenting paradigm and isn’t also blogging about it?

      The only people that I’ve ever come across who do are people who are following religious beliefs and maybe the odd hippy.Report

      • Avatar gregiank in reply to j r says:

        Very true. I work with parents and finding any that really adhere to any of these far out parenting fads is rare to non-existent. They get a bit of attention but don’t add up to anything more then the fact there are always eccentric people out there. There have been a million parenting fads that caught a bit of spark then faded. Almost all of them were rock stupid.Report

        • Heinlein includes a lot of parenting advice among the obiter dicta that his Marty Stu characters issue, and many of his fans that I used to know online treated it like gospel. Fortunately, few of them were parents.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to j r says:

        Maybe not entire movements, but you do have micro-zealots: organic food, gluten-free everything, attachment parenting, breastfeeding, no screens, etc.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to j r says:

        The anti-vaxxers definitely suggest that knee slapping drooling internet idiocy can and does migrate into meatspace.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to j r says:

        It’s not limited to parenting.

        Would that it were.Report

  8. Avatar KenB says:

    What parents need is one of these.

    I have a friend who had a tendency to be a know-it-all when it comes to general how-to-live-your-life stuff. I became a father about a year earlier than he did, and whenever we got together, he had plenty of parenting “advice” for me, that generally had the overtones of “this is the only right way to do things, you’re screwing it up, my kid is/will be awesome due to my awesome parenting”. This lasted up until his child turned 18 months or so, where he started to see it all go horribly off script. After that our conversations shifted more to common challenges, and it was easier to spend time with him.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to KenB says:

      I’ve got a long rant about how we all need to cool out a bit and stop the parent wars and support one another. I should write it down. Maybe call it, “You’re all doing it wrong.”Report

      • Avatar KenB in reply to Kazzy says:

        Based on some recent studies showing relatively weak correlations between parenting decisions and child outcomes, i guess you could add “and it doesn’t matter much anyway”.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to KenB says:

          Absolutely. I mean look at human history. Babies have survived and thrived through the Stone age, the Mediterranean Antiquity and the fishing Victorian era (now there was some people with screwy childrearing ideas). Compared to that the stuff we’re arguing over is really trivial. Babies are evolutionarily designed to be resilient.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to KenB says:

          I’d like to see those studies.

          If by “outcomes” we’re linking at a single spectrum ranging between All-Star and Awful, I buy the correlation is weak.

          But if we’re looking at more specific metrics, I’d be there are certain practices that are more likely to yield certain outcomes.

          Of course, a major caveat is that parents are only one part of a dynamic. We aren’t parenting rocks but other humans rife with all their own humanity.Report

          • Avatar KenB in reply to Kazzy says:

            Here is one overview of many. If you Google phrases like Do Parents Matter you’ll get many others.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy in reply to KenB says:

              Thanks, @kenb .

              Having just skimmed the article (sorry, it’s early… and I have ready many similar articles before… at some point I want to dive into the research itself), this stands out:

              “Based on the results of classical twin studies, it just doesn’t appear that parenting—whether mom and dad are permissive or not, read to their kid or not, or whatever else—impacts development as much as we might like to think.”

              So the real takeaway isn’t that parenting doesn’t/parents don’t matter, but that parenting/parents impact less than we tend to think. Which I would wholly agree with.

              As I said above (briefly, from mobile), I think the idea that “Parent Action X” guarantees “Super Star Child” is pretty silly. But I think looking on smaller scales, you can probably find many “Parent Action Xs” are more likely to yield to “Child Action Y”. You’re not going to approach correlations of 1 (unless we’re talking about like, not feeding an infant and how that’ll guarantee death, but I assume we all agree on at least feeding the child… hopefully?). But I think you will find some correlations that are strong enough to consider altering parent behavior (on the individual level) with the necessary cost-benefit analysis of whether the alterations and potential benefits are worth the effort.

              Whether talking to parents or teachers (I am increasingly involved in teacher training), I am often asked, “What is the right way to approach X?” And I often respond with, “Well, what are you trying to accomplish?” Which frustrates alot of people. They want there to be a ONE RIGHT ANSWER which will guarantee the ONE TRUE OUTCOME. Nonsense.

              “Should I let my child eat in front of the TV or insist they eat screen free?”
              “Well, what are your goals for food and meal time?”
              That questions feels like it has an obvious “correct” answer but… it doesn’t. And the answer today may be different than the answer next year because the goals may shift.

              We also have to recognize how much we influence our children without realizing it. Yes, there are the things we do very intentionally and with clear purpose and planning. And then there are all the ways we just exist in the world. Children grow up in a context… first within the family unit and then ever-increasing concentric circles of culture and society. There are actually really interesting studies on all sorts of little social norms that we rarely if ever consciously teach but nonetheless are passed down. One of the ones I find most fascinating has to do with personal space. What is consider “appropriate personal space” varies from culture to culture worldwide… and sometimes even city to city. And while we’ll usually give young children basic guidelines about personal space, we don’t typically tell them that X number of inches is the goal. It just… happens. Through modeling, through the way we organize our world, etc.

              So… parenting in all its forms undoubtedly impacts children. But children aren’t machines or experiments with direct cause-effect dynamics or input-output guarantees.

              One day I’ll write my rant… which is really not about scolding anyone for how they parent but scolding pretty much all of us for how we tend to talk about parenting.Report

  9. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    Kristin – just wanted to chime in and say this was a great essay. I found myself nodding along the whole way, but I frequently feel like an outsider to modern parenting. I became a dad at 19 and found that because society set the bar so incredibly low for me, if I simply showed up no one questioned anything else. So I had the freedom to parent almost entirely by impulse, and not through the expectations of my friends (because none of them had kids or opinions about how to raise them). So all-told it was pretty awesome and I think my daughter turned out relatively well.

    I can’t imagine parenting young kids today. It seriously seems awful given our culture of Me.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      The best bit of parenting advice I ever heard goes like this:

      The first child, you’ll take him to the doctor over the merest hint of a sniffle.
      The second child, you’ll take him if he’s stuffy and you can’t figure out what’s wrong.
      The third child, you’ll take him only if he’s bleeding and it’s not a head wound.

      And all three kids will turn out alright.Report

  10. Avatar Mark Elf says:

    I read this morning that teenage pregnancy rates have continued to drop, and the rates for 2016 were lower than they have been for decades. I have also read that use of alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco are declining among teenagers. We must not be too bad at parenting.
    Of course, none of what I have said contradicts that the upcoming generation is the worst ever, and civilization is about to collapse.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Mark Elf says:


      But aren’t the rates for meth and heroin up?

      I don’t think civilization is collapsing, but I do think these kids are going to have some trouble in the adult world. I see it at my job already with our youngest employees.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Of course civilization is collapsing, haven’t you heard of Donald Trump?
        No, I’m not serious.

        How much of the earth has to be rendered uninhabitable before Civilization Has Collapsed? How much international shipping has to stop?Report

      • But aren’t the rates for meth and heroin up?

        Yeah, but it isn’t it the parents and grandparents? We Boomers, not being satisfied with the drug use of our youth, are now overdosing at fairly remarkable rates?Report

        • @michael-cain

          You may be entirely correct. I’m not familiar with the breakdown by age group. All-in-all, if my two daughters are a representative sample, these kids are pretty un-interested in a lot of the stuff that seemed edgy when we were younger. I just worry about how well their peers will do when their boss yells at them. It’s the coping skills that I think they lack because their parents have nerfed the world for them.Report

          • fillyjonk fillyjonk in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            It’s surprisingly hard to find recent data (well, with about five minutes of Google searching…) but this WaPo article seems to suggest 25 to 44 is the biggest-using age group.

            Which seems to fit with the narrative I’ve seen: “rural white males in lower SES areas who don’t have many job prospects” seem to be the group most strongly hit.

            It is kind of horrifying when you read the stories about things like morgues running out of room for all the ODs…..though some of those are probably “dirty” drugs cut with something toxic. (which is not a new thing: I have a relative who was a chemist for the Illinois Bureau of Investigations back in the early 2000s who saw cases of heroin addicts who died from, I think it was, fentanyl-laced heroin)

            I dunno. I might be less resistant to the idea of recreational pot legalization if the end result was that it made drug-taking seem hopelessly uncool….Report

      • Avatar Jesse in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Sure, just like every generation has issues coming into the adult world. Then, they change the adult world to suit them. I mean, thirty years ago, just the concept of not wearing a suit ‘n’ tie to a white collar job was a front page story.

        Now, it’s not even a question outside of a relatively small percentage of white collar jobs, unless you’re customer facing.Report

        • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Jesse says:


          I’m talking more about their basic sense of entitlement. The analogy we frequently make at work is that while the rest of us understood that a career meant starting at the bottom of the mountain and seeing how far up you could go, the Millennials seem to think a college degree means they will get a helicopter to drop them off halfway up the mountain. More than one has expressed to me that his high school guidance counselor led him to believe there would be a lot more opportunity if he went to college. When I reminded him we work for a Top 50 Fortune 500 company and over 75% of our management is scheduled to retire in the next 5 years he said, “But I have bills to pay now.” Never mind that he graduated and immediately got married, bought a house and had two kids. And I don’t think his story is unusual.Report

          • Avatar Jesse in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            @mike-dwyer – Eh, every generation seems to be entitled to the generation previous. I mean, you never went and fought actual Nazi’s, did you? I’m being somewhat hyperbolic, but the truth is, you probably seemed a bit entitled to many of the older people at your company despite just acting as how society told them to do.

            In thirty years, there will be Millenials at your job complaining about the upcoming generation, assuming we’re not all scavenging for food because of a nuclear war started by a tweet.Report