I am not a parent. I’m not even close.
I have two nephews and a niece who act like they adore me, but I think all parties involved are grateful they go home with my sister at the end of the day.
My mom took on most of the responsibilities associated with caring for our dearly departed red tabby. I gave up on the poor cat after he refused my adolescent attempts to train him to sit on command (I’m telling you, it can be done).
Many a houseplant has met a dismal fate in my incapable hands.
So no, I have absolutely no right to comment on parenting or caretaking in any way, shape, or form.
But that’s exactly why I’m so uncomfortable by the somewhat recent trend of parents profiting off the details of their “unique” child-rearing techniques. I don’t feel that it’s any of my business how a person chooses to raise his or her kid, but I feel compelled to form an opinion when parenting styles are transcribed, published, packaged, and sold for my reading pleasure at the local Barnes and Noble (R.I.P. Borders, you’ll be missed).
Plenty of bloggers, including the wonderful writer (and actual parent), Mary Elizabeth Williams have already articulated this issue more eloquently than I ever could. But I still feel obligated to address the hoopla surrounding Vogue contributer-turned-author Dara-Lynn Weiss.
For those who haven’t heard, Ms. Weiss penned a polarizing article in April’s Vogue titled, “Weight Watchers,” in which she recapped an “exhausting” year trying desperately to slim down her seven-year-old daughter who had “grown fat.”
The faint grinding sound you heard while reading that sentence was merely the crunch of my teeth destroying one another while my jaw attempted to restrain an emotional outburst.
See how well I held back judgment?
I’m all for TMI-laden personal essays, and I applaud anyone with enough guts to unabashedly chronicle all aspects of life, regardless of how unflattering the result may be. But now Weiss is spinning her one-off article into a book tentatively titled, The Heavy (I will emerge toothless but impressively stoic by the time I’m done writing this).
While it’s likely to be more of a memoir and less of a parenting how-to guide (though anything is possible in this cash-motivated, Kardashian-level-crazy era of self-promotion and media insanity), it still doesn’t sit well with me. I just don’t think I, or anyone else for that matter, should have the ability to buy the hard-covered details of how and why this mother instituted diet rules for her seven-year-old. The availability of the information for purchase makes me think I’m free to judge it (and I so badly want to), but I don’t believe I have the right, nor should I. I don’t know what’s best for Weiss’s daughter, and I don’t have a daughter of my own, so who am I to criticize?
I know what I think about encouraging and enforcing diet behaviors in children, and I know what I think about shaming kids because of their size. And I’m well aware of my opinions about the potential impact of parental influence in the development of eating disorders and distorted body image. But I don’t think it’s right to direct those thoughts at Weiss because I don’t know her, and I don’t know what it’s like to be a parent.
But whether it’s Weiss discussing diets, or Amy Chua praising the power of Tiger Moms, or Karen Le Billon telling us French Kids Eat Everything and so do hers, and so should yours, I can’t help but cringe thinking about the intended targets of these very profitable parenting styles. I don’t like the idea that these children are the subjects of such public scrutiny, and it irks me that they have no say in the matter.
So while I should really keep my already painfully clenched jaw shut on the matter of parenting, I can’t keep quiet about writers exploiting their kids’ struggles for cash. If that’s all I can look forward to on the non-fiction shelves, I’m heading back to the young adult section. Take me away, Katniss Everdeen!