Sunday, November 01, 2009

How to Help your Child Grow Up

So, we've been helping M's gran clean out her house, and she gave us a number of books. A couple of them, I hate to tell you, I took for the sole intention of mocking them for their outdated information, such as How to Help Your Child Grow Up (Angelo Patri, 1948).

Aside from the ridiculous title (whether you "help" them or not, child are going to "grow up" - how about helping them "grow up to be emotionally intelligent"... or somethin'?), I found the book disturbing from the moment I opened the cover. Inside the flap is a montage of photos of shiny, happy, white people with little boys doing woodworking and little girls washing dishes. Turn a few more pages: To the Mothers of America's Children. To me, that says:
A. You fathers can go fuck off
B. Mother's of other countries, fuck off
C. Children from other counties, fuck off

Well, you don't need ME to do a critical analysis for you of the bizarre-o world of the American mid-century, where the acknowledged audience was white, middle-class, Christian, heterosexual and healthy. I found it rather alarming that, at over 300 pages, the book failed to address any real and quite common issues like illnesses, sexuality, or mental or physical challenges.

The author's advice varies from hilarious to downright dangerous. A bit that, by all rights, should have been titled "Dealing with Bullies" was instead called "Cowardice Can Be Cured" and speaks of the "shame" of a young Freddy who "couldn't not seem to hold his own." Parents are told to contact a physician because "cowardice" is most likely a glandular problem. (!!!)

I got a real kick out of the section on kids who have trouble sleeping at night because my sister's 2 year old has been having trouble with that lately. The mother (specifically) is encouraged to "put courage in it's [fear's] place. Teach such a child to say his prayers to himself when he wakes." There you go, C! Just teach that 2 year old to say his prayers!

It's only relatively recently in human history that mankind has acknowledged childhood as we do today. This book, with it bottom-of-the-barrel advice, reminds me that our grandparents and great-grandparents had few resources for raising their kids - perhaps this book was a major step forward in that it didn't advise people to beat the hell out of their kids when they misbehaved and send them out to work in the fields as soon as they were able. Thank god the bar's a little higher now.

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