FROM ELLEN: Here's a stat for you: According to Ann Hulbert in her book "Raising America," in 1997 there were five times as many books about parenting being published than were published in 1975. If true, this seems to cut a couple of ways: Assuming that these books address a real need, either kids are more out of control, parents are more insecure, or that fragile unit we call the family has come under siege. I'd guess it's a mixture of all three.
As a veteran of the child-raising wars, I can attest to the one thing you learn from the experience: humility. That's not the driving force behind "The Seventeen Traditions," Ralph Nader's reminiscence about his parents and how they raised him, but it's easy to see why: Nader has never faced the awesome task of raising children himself. Still, the book is a classic for anyone pondering how to raise their child or children with the drive, discipline and compassion that is a Triple Crown formula for a successful life in the largest sense. (I notice in Robert Alter's new translation "The Book of Psalms," he makes the point that "the good life was imagined not in terms of wealth, but of sufficiency -- a man's enjoying the fruit of his own labor." I think Jesus followed up on this with something about the eye of a camel...)
It's hard to take the larger view of parenting when you're down in the trenches. This is why books like Nader's are important antidotes to our sped-up, consumerist culture, and another one that I've been reading is "The Mystery of the Child," by religion scholar Martin E. Marty. If you've got an allergy to footnotes, this may not be the book for you. And if religion turns you off, Marty may not be your cup of tea, either.
But, even when it's couched in a Christian context, the message is easy to understand and has universal application: Quit focusing on the ways to keep a child from running off the rails, he says. Think in terms of guiding rather than controlling. In Marty's view, having a "childlike mind" is a good thing, and the pity is that so few of us retain our "childish" sense of wonder when we become adults. Amen to that!