By Tracy G. Cassels

I have to admit that I was never one for reading pregnancy and parenting books.  I’ve read plenty on the political and social aspects surrounding the two, but never any book that actually tried to tell me anything to do.  It’s just not really in my genes.  I read scholarly papers because they refrain from giving you lists of things you must or mustn’t do and just simply tell you what they did and what they found.  I’ve read bits and pieces of some of these books, and most of the time been so disheartened that I had to stop (though it did lead to Educating the Experts so perhaps that’s something).  So it was a bit of a stretch for me to try and read this book cover to cover, but I did.  Surprisingly I didn’t hate it, and here’s why—the authors focus on one piece of advice that I can at least partially get behind: Changing your expectations.

The primary focus of the book is getting parents, predominantly mothers, to realize how insane and out of whack their expectations are.  They use anecdotes and survey data they collected (well, data may be a bit strong because it was informally done, but still gathered information from over 100 mothers) led them to the conclusion that the average mother today thinks she has to do far too much.  That is, they rightly point out that moms need to step back and question whether or not they need to have the laundry done, homemade meals every night, work full-time, and have “quality time” with their kids (I hate that term, but that’s a post for another day).  They argue instead that moms should step back and question what is really important and focus on getting those things done.  If the toys aren’t picked up every day, who cares if that’s not important to you?  Inherent in all this is the idea that we allow other people’s perceptions of us and what we ought to be doing run the roost.  And while I agree, I was dismayed at the bit of flip-flopping they did when tackling this issue.

At first, they were great.  They tell you flat out that no one can judge you if you don’t let them.  I felt like I could hear that birds chirping and the sun coming out when I read that little nugget as it’s so, so rare to find a more popularized book actually lay the idea of judgment on the feet of those who feel it.  But it’s true – only you can allow yourself to feel bad about what others think of you.  Yet the sun was not to stay up and the birds were to fly away because it seems, for whatever reason, Misses Trisha Ashworth and Amy Nobile thought they needed to backtrack and add an entire section advocating the more common view that we need to actually work on not judging other moms or other parenting practices.  The first problem I have with this is that asking parents to not judge is like asking people to not breathe.  Whether or not we’re vocal about it, we judge, and it’s how we change and learn.  We’ve put an inherently negative spin on judging (like guilt) and yet that’s not the whole story.  Children learn good from bad by judging other actions and witnessing us judging other actions.  As adults, we learn a lot about people by judging their actions and about ourselves by our own judgments.  The idea that anything goes just doesn’t hold water at an individual level or societal one.

Second, and perhaps more pertinent, I don’t think asking people not to judge does much good in the long term.  Look, I don’t think it’s right to judge other parents (though I certainly think we can safely judge practices without condemning parents), but wouldn’t it be better to focus on what they first pointed out?  That if we don’t let other people’s judgments bug us, they hold no power over us?  In my mind, we’ll never stop people from judging one another, it seems to be something that’s built into our DNA (or damn near close), but we can work on making sure people don’t pay any attention to it.  When that happens, all those people who do negatively judge a person (and not an act) will lose all power they have over others.  They can stand on a rooftop screaming, but if no one listens or cares, they’re simply going to lose their voice.  And if we’re one of the ones screaming, do we not learn best from realizing no one is listening than from someone wagging their finger and saying, “Don’t do that”?  I think so, but I’ve been known to be wrong before.

All in all, I actually would recommend this book for some people.  I think if you feel overwhelmed by parenting and find you’re pulling your hair out trying to make everything work, the wisdom of setting your priorities (whatever they are) and realigning your expectations is wonderful.  However, if you’ve already figured out what’s important in your life and you’re finding your own ways to make things work, you’ll get no added benefit from reading this book.

Overall Rating: 3/5

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