One of the things Ronia’s mother and I argued about was my lack of reading relevant literature, first pregnancy then childrearing books. It is somewhat impossible to argue for not reading them without making excuses for yourself, and I had the same reaction to Dan Friedman’s recent(ish) Kveller post about what men read.
My defense for not reading parenting lit was similar to Dan’s, that I was using my downtime to focus on other things. I still maintain that the parts of our brains that aren’t devoted to parenting are precious and need to be nurtured. As a stay at home parent, no one was going to guilt me. In fact, I felt like the great advantage of fatherhood is that expectations were so low for me, that I didn’t have to worry about the guilt that people heap on mothers.
Still, I find Dan’s response rather thin. That’s great that Dan reads a lot of literary fiction. I love fiction, and read it too. I could probably even come up with reasons why it makes me a better father. But if you asked me to make a list of “things parents should do that they don’t have enough time for” or more to the point “things fathers aren’t involved enough in,” reading literary fiction would not be at the top of my list.
I can also relate to Dan’s concern that reading these parenting books would dull his own instincts. I also worry that it’s dangerous to rely on the ever-shifting judgments of experts. It is worth remembering how people parented before they had access to such things. Although following one’s own parents is not always a panacea, Alfie Kohn (see I did read someone!) talks about the “bad enough for me” argument, where we are investing in perpetuating our parents’ parenting to show it wasn’t that bad.
In the end, I read a lot of critiques of parenting, discipline, and the obstacles that exist to egalitarian parenting. As when I was a teacher, this gave me a better idea of what not to do, then what do. In a way, I have it easy as a separated father, though I have Ronia slightly less than half the time, by necessity I parent in that time how I see fit. Those instincts have come in handy.
So why should, you, a dad, read parenting books? Well for one thing, because some of them have good writing. Because they cover a wide variety of philosophies, and you might broaden your own. And because you can learn a lot, about where you fit in the history of parents, about your own assumptions, at the larger forces at work in what seems like the most natural thing in the world. And because other parents are out there writing, and trying to connect with you.
Hey dads, want to read something? Here’s a list of 10 books you shouldn’t miss.