Instinctive Parenting: Q&A with Ada Calhoun

instinctive-parenting-ada-calhoun1Founding editor-in-chief of Babble, Ada Calhoun, penned her own parenting book, Instinctive Parenting: Trusting Ourselves to Raise Great Kids that you can pick up in stores today. I used to work with Ada and her book is not unlike our “Can you believe that??” chats about modern parenting and the potential for insanity surrounding every single issue. Instinctive Parenting is a seriously fun romp through those querulous topics we love to chat about on message boards or at the bar where our babies are perched precariously on a stool (kidding, see below).

I sat down with Calhoun to discuss the new book, and those favorite and frightening parenting topics that make people froth at the mouth: Vaccines, Food, Home Ec, Baby Boomers and those other crazy parents. She obliged.

Why aren’t parents listening to their pediatricians?

It’s funny because my son’s pediatrician  — that was my pediatrician when I was a little kid — was saying that what happened in the ‘60s was a move away from any authority at all. It’s okay to be against people who are authoritarian and try to boss you around but to take that, and then be against all authority because they’re in charge, is not right.

He does think it’s true that a lot of doctors do alienate people because they can be very condescending. So when you have Jenny McCarthy or someone really touchy-feely on the other side saying, “I’ll listen to you,” of course that’s more appealing. I think people would rather live in a bubble if it were going to keep them from getting up in the morning without feeling despair.

Why is food so contentious?

We’re in such a luxurious position right now where we have all these options. There are ten different kinds of apples you can buy. They’re all different colors, they’re local and they’re organic. It’s ridiculous. They range in price from 5 cents to $12 for an apple. Everybody has so many more choices right now. I think it makes people crazy having that many choices.

Do you buy organic?

I try to. I don’t always because of the money. I believe in organic farming. I’m not totally convinced that we can get rid of some of the modern conveniences involved in producing large amounts of food. As a priority, feeding the planet is more important than one kid getting the perfect locavore grape grown on a rooftop in Queens.

If your son has a party, will you try to be conscientious of your neighbors and their food issues?

It’s one thing if you know a kid has a peanut allergy. You just don’t break out the peanut butter and jelly because that’s homicide. But in general, pickiness is something you don’t want to foster. If it’s life threatening I’ll bend over backwards to find the gluten-free cupcakes. But if it’s just a question of things having to be from a specific valley or field of organic perfection . . . you just can’t do that.

Why are the Baby Boomer Grandparents so different than the previous generations?

They were breaking free of this ‘50s idea of duty and responsibility and family. In some ways it was great. A lot of strides were made in the feminist movement. But the downside is you’re moving away from a sense of duty with the family. Divorce was huge when we were kids.

Also they’re busy because they’re still working. We’re in a recession and a lot of time they have their own really busy lives. They don’t necessarily have the time their parents had to kick back with the kids because they’re still working.

It seems that there is a return, with Generation X, to traditionalism and really valuing the family.

You recommended we all take a HomeEc class. Today DIY and home cooking is really big and for some reason, it doesn’t feel sexist. Why is that?

I think it’s a question of it being an obligation versus it being a choice. There’s a lot of pleasure in cooking dinner for your family. But it’s way more of a pleasure if you came up with the idea, and went shopping with your own money, and bought your own food. It’s not fun if it’s a social obligation where you have to have dinner on the table by five o’clock or you get yelled at. It’s the taking back of the pleasure of the domestic arts.

Men also are cooking a lot more and spending a lot more time with the kids. There’s nothing intrinsically sexist or oppressive about making dinner or cleaning the house. These are things that have to get done.

What else would you say if you could write an entire book about this generation and marriage?

The only helpful marriage advice is to find every way you can to decrease the pressure. For us it was moving to a much smaller, rent-stabilized apartment and decreasing our overhead in a huge way. Never cut date night. Going to the movies is an investment in your marriage. That $20 is not frivolous. Better put it there, than the IRA.

You advocate taking the kids along when you can. What is your position on babies in bars?

It’s a question of context. There’s a beer garden near me and in the early hours there are kids running around eating sausages while their parents have a beer. I think that’s very civilized. Nobody is coming there at six o’clock to pick someone up and get loaded. So it’s not like they’re getting cock blocked by toddlers. I think in those circumstances it’s totally fine.

I do think there’s been this weird push for babies in bars like, “We are an oppressed minority! We adults with children want to be allowed!” This is not a lunch counter situation. If you have a two-year-old and want to get out of the house I totally appreciate that; but that does not make you an oppressed people. You do not have the right to storm places and let the kid pour all the sugar out on the table in the name of you getting out of the house.

What’s the craziest example of the extreme pressured parent you’ve seen?

We were at the Union Square playground and these two little boys — I think they were twins — probably a year and a half old were sitting in this tire thing, perfectly happy. Then this mother comes over and was like, “Jackson, Cassidy!” (Not their real names.) “Okay, what are we going to do now? Should I go get hot dogs? Or should we go get hot dogs together?”

I got this vibe like it was because she’d read something about how you have to give toddlers options because it makes them feel empowered. I think that’s often true but these kids were totally zoned out they could not have cared less about what they were doing. They were perfectly happy. And she kept it up, “Do you want to go on the swings? We could go on the swings? Or we could get hot dogs.” Then the father kneels down next to her and says, “Cassidy! Jackson! Answer your mother! Swings. Hot dogs. Hot dogs? Hot dogs?” These perfectly content little kids! They do not care. Just go buy some fucking hot dogs.

It seemed to me like it was about putting all this power in the kid’s hands to determine what was going to happen in the name of making things easier. But it was making things so stressful. They were hinging their whole day on the whims of these two kids! I just thought, “What if one says swings and the other one says hot dogs? What do you do?” You’re going to be screwed.

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