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Susan Wise Bauer

No One Knows Best

Any parent of a newborn will tell you that an unbroken night is God's most underappreciated gift. Seven hours of uninterrupted sleep is far more precious than guaranteed college tuition. On this much, agreement is unanimous. But the debate about how to achieve this nirvana before the baby goes off to school is fragmented beyond repair.

Gary Ezzo, author of the much-loved and much-vilified parenting guides Babywise and Preparation for Parenting, suggests that babies can learn to sleep through the night by nine weeks; sociologist Amy Scott calls Ezzo's plan "misinformation, denial, and disguised child-hate." Sleep is always an emotional topic, especially for the deprived, but passionate discussions over infant training reach far beyond the crib. Ezzo suggests that toddlers can be trained to eat neatly; pediatric guru T. Berry Brazelton counters that a child must be allowed complete control of her food, even if this involves "tossing it to the dog. … We fed one of ours in the bathtub so she could play with her food, drop it and smear it at will!"

"Raising good children," says Gary Ezzo, "is not a matter of chance." Carol Rubenstein, Ph.D., writes, "A child's personality and temperament has little to do with his mother or her sacrifices, and a great deal to do with what she has passed on to him genetically." And the 1998 annual convention of the American Psychological Association was all abuzz over the contrarian theory of outsider-scholar Judith Rich Harris (The Nurture Assumption), who believes that peers are far more influential than parents in shaping a child's personality.

There is little prospect of peace talks between these warring child-care generals; but what do those of us in the trenches do? Enter Julia Grant with a different approach: the metadiscourse of parenthood. Grant's Raising Baby by the Book: The Education of American Mothers doesn't offer any new answers to the perennial questions of parenthood, but instead tackles the assumptions that allow the ...

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