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Parenting off the shelf

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My parents' generation turned to Benjamin Spock for advice and guidance on childrearing. In the 1950s and '60s, he was the authority on babies. When my son was born five years ago, Dr. Spock had been joined by William Sears, T. Berry Brazelton, Penelope Leach, and countless other experts. Sometimes, their advice conflicted. (See story.)

As a new mother (without my own mom around to serve as consultant), I waded through parenting books, often in a desperate state of mind. My son wasn't gaining enough weight, he was too sensitive to noise, he wouldn't nap except in the car. I alternately worried that I was starving him, irritating him, or guilty of wasting gasoline.

Looking back, I realize that such anxiety made me a sitting duck for every parenting theory around. I felt buffeted between experts who advocated constant contact with the baby (including bringing him into his parents' bed at night) and those who urged me to set boundaries and not totally submerge myself in the role of mother.

I felt so overwhelmed that I began to see enemies in every corner. I first read about "attachment parenting," which included "wearing your baby in a sling and taking him everywhere," in Dr. Sears's "The Baby Book," written with his wife, Martha, a registered nurse. All I could think was that I needed "detachment parenting."

I found a more reasonable and comforting approach in "What to Expect the First Year," by Arlene Eisenberg, Heidi Murkoff, and Sandee Hathaway, but felt guilty that I wasn't interested in cooking the foods recommended in the book's diet plan for infants. It seemed too complex to me.

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