- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 15, 2005

A couple of generations ago, parenting advice came from grandma’s traditions, the neighbor’s opinion or, in case of a high fever or temper tantrum, a dog-eared copy of Dr. Spock.

Seeking answers in the new millennium has gotten a lot more complicated. Five times as many parenting books are published today as in 1970, says District writer Ann Hulbert, author of “Raising America: Experts, Parents and a Century of Advice About Children.”

There are systems such as “potty training in a day,” “affirmative parenting” and “attachment parenting.” Tips come from the television, where Dr. Phil McGraw, author of the best-selling “Family First: Your Step-by-Step Plan for Creating a Phenomenal Family,” challenges parents to create a meaningful family life. There is the Internet, where parents are united with like-minded counterparts — yet strangers — for advice on everything from breast-feeding to bullies.

With so many choices, it can be tough know where to set your family’s dial. Do you go with the strict, Bible-based teachings of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson? Should you embrace the nurturing confidence of Dr. T. Berry Brazelton? Or are the principles of attachment parenting, with its extended nursing and family-bed philosophy, just what your family needs?

Barbara Coloroso, author of several parenting books, including “Kids Are Worth It! Giving Your Child the Gift of Inner Discipline,” says there are a few things to keep in mind when looking for a parenting philosophy. She says to look at your own philosophy first before searching for a parenting guru.

“You have to know where you are coming from,” she says. Ms. Coloroso points out that a lot of unproductive and unhealthy advice can be put forth by experts, and if you don’t know who you are or what you believe, you won’t be able to separate the good experts from the bad.

After that, use three basic tenets, Ms. Coloroso says: that children are worth it (meaning you should have unconditional love for them even when the going gets tough), that you should not treat your child in a way you would not want to be treated, and if something works and leaves your child’s dignity intact, use it.

Parents also should keep in mind that one size does not fit all when it comes to raising children, says Ann Douglas, a Toronto mother of four and author of several parenting books.

“If there was one formula, it would almost be too good to be true,” Ms. Douglas says. “I haven’t even found one formula that works for all of my kids. I say take what you need and run it through your common-sense filter. You wouldn’t consult just one girlfriend for advice, so you might want to consult more than one book for parenting advice. Maybe you want to get many viewpoints, percolate it all and come up with your own unique approach.”

Experts everywhere

America has become an expert-driven society, Ms. Douglas says. An abundance of legal commentators and domestic divas offer their views, so naturally there are many parenting pundits to help guide a family’s most precious resource.

“As passionately as we care about parenting, it makes sense that there would be an explosion in this area as well,” she says.

Ms. Hulbert says experts have been gaining momentum steadily for the past 30 years.

Dr. Benjamin Spock fit the bill for the post-Word War II generation. His reassuring advice that parents should trust themselves turned his books into best sellers for years.

However, by the late 1960s, when Dr. Spock became an anti-war activist, he fell somewhat out of favor with Middle America.

Meanwhile, society was undergoing some changes as well. Women went to work in large numbers. The divorce rate rose, and many families found themselves in a stepparenting or blended family situation. Increased competition in schools and careers meant parents were eager to find the secret to being the best.

That “opened the floodgates,” Ms. Hulbert says. Some families looked to pediatricians such as William Sears or Dr. Brazelton to guide them. Others looked to faith-based traditionalists such as Mr. Dobson or Gary Ezzo for answers.

“People looked for advice where they could find it,” Ms. Hulbert says. “That makes sense because even after a century of advice, there was no definitive wisdom. There was a sense of demand for it.”

The common notion is that a pendulum has been swinging from permissiveness to authoritarian parenting styles all these years. Ms. Hulbert says, however, that there always have been competing perspectives, usually popular at the same time.

In today’s red-state-versus-blue-state society, it is no different.

“Parenting has sort of divided itself into a secular/religious divide,” she says. “The culture war is indicative of a larger canvas. That has been true for more than a decade.”

However, move past debates on spanking or schooling, and most experts want the same thing: to find the balance between limits and love, discipline and empathy, Ms. Hulbert says.

In fact, Ms. Hulbert says, sometimes parents can learn a lot when they seek out an expert with whom they think they will disagree. It is easy to find the expert who fits your own style, but you may run the risk of feeling like a failure when you can’t live up to exactly what he or she is prescribing, she says.

“It can be the guidance that goes against your own grain that can be the most enlightening,” she says. With a fresh perspective, parents can feel free to adapt or scoff as they see fit, she adds.

Finding that fit

Karen Krueger and Richard Fawal of Takoma Park knew exactly how they wanted to raise their daughter, Alya, who is 3 years old. Ms. Krueger says she read Dr. Sears’ tome, “The Baby Book,” before Alya’s arrival and decided his style of attachment parenting was for her.

“I looked at this and said “Why wouldn’t you do this?’ This shouldn’t even have a name; this should be just called ‘parenting,’” Ms. Krueger says. She says she liked all the principles — from wearing her baby in a sling to using positive discipline.

“Parenting is a tough job,” says Ms. Krueger, a leader of Takoma Attachment Parenting, a support and discussion group. “But I firmly believe in my heart that this is the best way to raise my daughter.”

Other parents find their choice for guidance changes from year to year or child to child.

Torryn and Tim Brazell of Vienna are the parents of two sons: Ty, 6, and Bannon, 7 months. Mrs. Brazell says she referred to “What to Expect the First Year,” by Arlene Eisenberg, Heidi Murkoff and Sandee Hathaway, as well as a Dr. Spock book when Ty was a baby.

These days, she finds herself reading a Dr. Sears book when trying to find a way to solve Bannon’s sleep issues.

“They are very different children,” Mrs. Brazell says. “Also, I’ve changed between kids. I’m less stressed now, more laid-back.”

Also, Mrs. Brazell’s reading has become more specialized lately. She is reading “The Wonder of Boys: What Parents, Mentors and Educators Can Do to Shape Boys Into Men,” by Michael Gurian.

“I am more interested in understanding what Ty is going through,” she says.

Ann Lewis, mother of Mattie, 7, Jack, 2, and infant Clare, says her search for parenting advice has evolved along with her family. At first, Mrs. Lewis says, she was a devotee of Dr. Brazelton’s. Then Mattie hit the “terrible 2’s,” Mrs. Lewis split with her first husband, and she found good advice in an unlikely place.

“Marilu Henner wrote a book called ‘I Refuse to Raise a Brat,’” says Mrs. Lewis, of Arlington. “She is a TV actress, so I was skeptical, but I loved it. I was a single mom, and I didn’t have a lot of money, so it was great to read that book and learn how to say ‘no’ to my child about certain things.

“Around the same time, someone recommended a James Dobson book,” Mrs. Lewis says. “I got through two or three pages, and he was talking about when to spank your child. Spanking is not for me.”

After marrying her husband, Paul, and having two more children, Mrs. Lewis read Dr. Phil’s book after a friend recommended it.

“I like that Dr. Phil talks about developing family traditions,” Mrs. Lewis says. “He has some sound advice for families who have split and re-formed.”

Mrs. Brazell and Mrs. Lewis are typical of what Ms. Hulbert found in her research. Parents are reading the books, but it is tough to know if many of them follow the advice to the letter, she says.

“Most parents turn to these books in anxiety or panic mode,” she says. “They consult them and get a lot of information. A lot of parents read them, though, and think, ‘This is helping me see I don’t need it.’”

By the books

Who: Pediatrician William Sears

The principles: Dr. Sears, a father of eight, promotes “attachment parenting” — which fulfills a child’s basic need for trust, empathy and affection through a set of eight ideals. Enthusiasts usually feed baby on demand, share the same bed, wear baby close to them in a sling and use positive discipline.

Book: “The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby From Birth to Age Two”

• • •

Who: Pediatrician Benjamin Spock

The principles: The late Dr. Spock, the father of two sons, reassured post-World War II parents to trust themselves and be an encouraging and flexible presence for their child. He pointed out to parents that there is no such thing as “letter perfect” when it comes to parenting. Dr. Spock’s books have been revised and updated and are still popular.

Book: “Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care”

• • •

Who: Boston pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton

The principles: Dr. Brazelton, a father of four and grandfather of six, became a soothing presence for the 1990s. He emphasizes nurturing children and anticipatory guidance. His syndicated column runs in The Washington Times.

Book: “Touchpoints: The Essential Reference”

• • •

Who: Family therapist John Rosemond

The principles: Mr. Rosemond, whose syndicated column runs in The Washington Times, is an advocate for less psychobabble and more common sense. He is the father of two grown children. His “affirmative parenting” approach says emphasis should be placed on the marriage and not so much on being pals with the children. With the right parenting example, children can be kept in line but have lots of room to learn from mistakes. Mr. Rosemond is against TV watching and in favor of giving a child household responsibilities at a young age.

Book: “John Rosemond’s New Parent Power”

• • •

Who: “What to Expect” writers Arlene Eisenberg, Heidi Murkoff and Sandee Hathaway

The principles: These writers’ best-selling series is in a question-and-answer format, making it an easy-to-read guide when a problem arises. It is written by women with children, rather than a doctor or psychologist dispensing theoretical advice. Ms. Eisenberg wrote the books with her grown daughters, Ms. Murkoff and Ms. Hathaway, who is a registered nurse.

Book: “What to Expect the Toddler Years”

• • •

Who: TV psychologist Phil McGraw

The principles: Dr. Phil, who has two sons, advocates having a new mind-set, philosophy and plan of action to make changes in your family. This starts with improving communication, helping children discover a sense of purpose, setting an example, establishing a routine as well as meaningful traditions and rituals, and learning to manage a crisis.

Book: “Family First: Your Step-by-Step Plan for Creating a Phenomenal Family”

• • •

Who: James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family

The principles: Mr. Dobson, a conservative Christian and father of two grown children, promotes a return to traditional values, including administering discipline (including spanking).

Book: “The New Dare to Discipline”

• • •

Who: Gary Ezzo, executive director of Growing Families International

The principles: This controversial Bible-based program advocates “structured parenting,” including feeding on a schedule (which should result in babies sleeping through the night at 8 weeks old) and “swats” for discipline. Mr. Ezzo has grown children and six grandchildren.

Book: “On Becoming Babywise”

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