Fair warning: this book may shake any strong convictions you have about the right way to parent.
The LeVines have studied parenting practices in cultures all over the world. One of my favorite examples is the Nso people of Cameroon — there mothers don’t believe in face-to-face interaction with babies is valuable, which is incomprehensible to Western parents – but these same mothers were horrified to learn that German parents don’t often sleep in the same room as their children.
The LeVines show that many of the things we assume are universal truths about raising kids are actually cultural. What a relief! Right now, many Americans are still caught in the idea that the most intensive, extreme style of parenting is the best – even as young adult’s problems with anxiety and depressions rise — and even to the point where parents are committing crimes to buy their kids way into elite colleges.
It’s good to know that America’s hyper-parenting style doesn’t travel well—parents do not practice it everywhere, nor do they even aspire to it. The idea that helicopter parenting is best is driven more by our culture than anything else.
While this book doesn’t definitively answer the question of its title, it does give compelling evidence that American parents don’t matter as much as we think we do. Our children will survive if we don’t engage in all the intensive parenting activities our culture seems to demand—in fact, they may even do better without it.
I am recommending some of the many books and authors that influenced my own book Achtung Baby. See previous recommendations for Mommy Laid an Egg! by Babette Cole, Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy; Free to Learn by Peter Gray and The Wave by Todd Strasser.