Will: Arcane Science of Parenting?

July 13, 2003 -- — Recently, I took a wrong turn in a bookstore and wound up in a dangerous neighborhood — the one with fat volumes on the fine art and arcane science of parenting.


I've been raising children for three decades. Little did I know I was doing something as fancy as … parenting.

When, may I ask, did the simple, honest noun "parent" become a verb?

Probably about the time barbers became hair stylists, and janitors became custodial engineers.

Such inflation of the language happens when people take a common — and common sense — activity and try to make it seem complex, even exotic.

Secrets of Parenting

The puffing up of parenting into a profession serves the interest of a new class of experts — high priests of parenting, whose solemn advice, and books, come to be considered indispensable.

All this makes parents neurotic. They worry that some seemingly small thing they do — or fail to do: Any departure from the latest expertise might blight their child's life. Some defect of parenting might destine their child for prison, or at least keep the child from getting into Princeton.

Could the difference between breast-feeding and bottle-feeding be the difference between a child becoming a senator or a burglar?

Today, some infants in their cribs are bombarded with Bach concertos. The theory is that music improves brain circuitry, which might someday improve the child's SAT math scores.

The parenting literature is a new wrinkle in an old argument: Is it nature or nurture that determines the trajectory of a child's life?

If you think nurturing is all-important — if you think thick tomes of experts' advice are crucial — you probably believe parenting is a science.

If you do not believe that, you probably are a parent.