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Ada Calhoun on Parenting: 'Trust Yourself!'

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Ada Calhoun, author and founding editor-in-chief of Babble, has a few tips for all you helicopter mommies who are hunting for the perfect stroller. On the top of the list: "Relax!"


momlogic's favorite "Gay Uncle," Brett Berksat down with Ada to get her take on all the paranoid parenting out there.

Ada Calhoun: Hey Brett. Good to hear from you. How are you? Where are you?

Brett Berk: I'm in Chicago working on a consulting project for some new kids' products, so I've been in focus groups for the past four days, eating snack mixes and PowerBars with 9-year-olds.

AC: That sounds exciting.

BB: It is, if you like a fiber blast -- which I do. But we're not here to talk about my digestive system, as interesting as that may be. We're here to talk about "Instinctive Parenting: Trusting Ourselves to Raise Good Kids" -- your new book that's just out from Simon and Schuster. So ... tell me about it.

AC: I wrote it while I was at Babble. I was pitching this book about crushes, and Simon and Schuster came back and said, "You're at Babble; why don't you do a parenting book instead?" and I was like, "There are too many parenting books already." So they said, "Why don't you do a book about that?" So I did. It's about parenting culture and how it's gotten so obsessive and it's making people crazy. And that the truth is that being a good parent isn't about the things you give your kids, it's about getting confidence to trust yourself to make good decisions. It's about what kids need instead of what we think they need.

BB: So, what DO they need?

I break it down in the book into three categories: food, shelter and love. Contemporary parents often think that kids need a specific kind of stroller and that they need this whole range of developmental toys. For me, it was very liberating to realize that my son, Oliver, is just as happy playing with a cardboard box as with anything else, as long as we're around and loving him. So I realized that I can get the $100 crib at Ikea instead of the special $1,000 one with the ergonomic positioning pillows. It's about getting over the kind of obsession that we have in our contemporary culture, the kinds of conversations that happen on message boards: "Circumcision is evil and must be avoided at all costs!" or, "Circumcision is necessary and you have to do it." We get lost in these specifics and lose sight of the bigger idea, which is that you're trying to raise a person who is going to take care of him or herself and is not going to grow up to be a sociopath.

It's hard, but it doesn't have to be so complicated. All these little details don't really matter as much as we think they might.

BB: So, what has the response been?

AC: Well, it's funny. The first big press for the book was that I was on NPR on "Tell Me More." And the host sort of ripped me apart. She was going after me for this whole idea of trusting yourself as a parent to make good decisions and saying things like, "So, genital mutilation ... is that instinctive?" She grilled me with all these questions like that, and then after the interview, she had Po Bronson on and just ripped me apart. She set it up as this duality where I was representing this idea that people should trust their instincts, and "F*ck science," and then had Po Bronson on to represent "All science, all the time." And that got picked up everywhere, so the sound bite about my book is that it's this hippy-dippy advice thing that's all about going with your gut, and totally against science. Which just isn't true.

In truth, the book rails against this dual-positionality where it's me versus you, hippies versus control freaks, instinct versus science. The book is not actually like that at all. I'm very much in favor of following the news in the latest scientific studies; I just think the reality is that there aren't just two simple reductive sides to every conversation about kids. I'm out talking to parents all the time, and the truth is, no one is really full-force on one side versus the other.

BB: Well, I know people who are totally one or the other.

AC: Yeah, that's true. But I find that I sometimes have as much in common with people who are totally different from me in the way they parent than I do with some of my friends.

BB: I can see that. So now what? "Instinctive Parenting," the reality show?

AC: I don't know. Probably not. I kind of wanted to get out of writing about parenting. I wrote "Instinctive Parenting" while I was still at Babble, and I wrote from nine to midnight every night, and I wrote it in like four months, and that made me kind of insane. So I really believe in the book, and I'm so happy about it and proud of what it says. But right now, I'm trying to branch out and do other things.

BB: So what's next?

AC: Well, I have a piece coming out in the L.A. Times this week about tween culture. It's about what is there for boys in terms of live-action TV programming. And I just finished writing this book with Tim Gunn that's going to come out in September; it's an etiquette book, but it ended up being a sort of memoir. It's really juicy. And now I'm working on, like, a hockey book.

BB: TV, Tim Gunn and hockey. The three pillars of instinctive parenting! Well, I'm glad to hear you're so busy. That means I'll get to read much more of your writing in the near future, and I'll have more excuses to call you up for interviews. I know I'll like that.

AC: I know I'll like that, too.

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