There’s Only One Parenting Book That’s Actually Useful – Men’s Health

I HAVE NEVER liked people giving me advice.

I cant stand to read directions on new appliances. For years, I resisted my wife Emilys pleas to turn on Google Maps voice guidance. I thought we were better off having Emily monitor the map. I couldnt understand why she did not enjoy doing this.

But almost immediately after our first child, Raffi, was born, I found something I desperately wanted advice about: raising a child. I read everything I could get my hands on. But the advice was often contradictory.

One book wanted you to sleep in the same bed as your baby for as long as possible; another encouraged you to banish him to his crib. When Raffi turned three and started misbehaving, I read about how to empathize with his emotions. I read about how to parent like a French person, and a tiger mother, and a Swede.

After finishing each of these books, I would emerge invigorated and inspired, a brand-new parentonly to revert, within days, to the parent I had always been. It was a frustrating experience. Here I was, finally seeking out advice. Why couldnt I take it?

It was books that had gotten me into this mess, and it was a book that got me out of it: The Everyday Lives of Young Children, by a developmental psychologist named Jonathan Tudge, Ph.D.

Tudge had studied the activities of children all over the world. What he learned was that kids did what their parents did and parents did what their parents had done. Culture and history, in other words, were decisive; advice was useless.

This applied to me in the following way: I lived in Brooklyn in the 21st centurynot in Sweden or France or even Russia, the country of my birth. I was stuck here. And I was stuck, too, with my personality. I was a stubborn and impatient person who did not like to follow directions. But I was consistent. I had integrity. Maybe I could work with that.

Instead of total transformation, I now seek modest reform: to be the best version of the imperfect person I already am. It hasnt turned me into a superdad, but I think its an improvement. I still dont read directions, but I have started letting Emily turn on Google Maps voice guidance. I keep my eyes on the road and let the Google lady tell me where to go.

A version of this article originally appeared in the May/June 2022 issue of Men's Health.

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There's Only One Parenting Book That's Actually Useful - Men's Health

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