I really, really wanted to like this book. From the moment I heard about it, I felt it must have been written for me. Take this blurb from the jacket:
Because deep down you believe in an alternative approach, where kids learn to do things for themselves, where it’s perfectly all right to do less, have less, spend less.
It sounded perfect to me! And I still find myself reading the back cover and thinking that maybe if I read it again, I’d like it better.
First, the good stuff:
- It’s a quick read. A couple of hours tops. It was a great break from the 600+ page book I’m plowing through at the moment.
- I love her overall premise: that parents generally have pretty good instincts and don’t need all the “perfect parenting” messages out there.
- Her memories of growing up on a ranch in Wyoming and her parents’ (particularly her mother’s) parenting style were very interesting and sometimes touching.
The author takes on toys (as in too many), scrapbooking (she worries about kids with inflated egos), safety (kids are too protected), formal education (she favors kids thinking for themselves), large houses (small spaces and communal “stuff” promotes sharing and problem-solving), natural consequences (g00d), getting mad (okay sometimes), and villages (as in it takes one).
I happen to agree with her stance on many of these subjects; I think it’s the tone of the book I objected to. I didn’t find it light or humorous (as I was hoping it would be, based on the title). Instead I found it kind of shrill and judgemental.
And condescending. She uses some real-life friends and acquaintances as examples in the book. Like the friends who brought on a joint vacation a duffle bag of toys so heavy that it took both dads to carry it. (The author’s daughter was content with an empty paper towel roll.) Or the friend who asked her to write a recommendation for her son’s preschool application. (“He’s never thrown up on me,” was how it began.)
There may be some insight into her thinking in the chapter on scrapbooking. As the author wonders if her description of a scrapbooking party she attended sounds sarcastic, she admits it’s because she felt inferior and “way out of my league with this crowd.” That’s a really honest assessment and I wonder if her defensiveness doesn’t color the whole book. Maybe she’s not as comfortable with her own style as she could be.
Intellectually I’d give this book an “A” for the ideas she puts forth and her ability to hold my interest. But I didn’t like the feeling she left me with and life’s too short for that.