Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Mass Media Semi-Independence

I will be the first to admit that I am a sucker for glossy, attractively designed lifestyle magazines. True, in the pre-kid days, I would never subscribe to anything other than Newsweek or Utne Reader (and if I were feeling particularly socially conscious, Mother Jones), but give me a doctor's office and a choice between InStyle and Time? I'll take the celebrity gossip and impossible-to-duplicate decorating tips any time.

This subscribe-only-to-serious-stuff credo went by the wayside when I became a mom. To fill an insatiable hunger for advice on raising children, I signed up for a bunch of commercial parenting periodicals. They are so pretty to look at! And so filled with helpful advice!

Something in me actually yearned for enumerated, multicolor lists that boiled down the complexity of childrearing into chirpy platitudes: 10 Quick Discipline Fixes, Eight Mistakes New Parents Should Never Make, 100 Baby Products You Must Buy (And Kindly Overlook the Convenient Product Placements from Our Advertisers, For We Do Not Let That Sort of Thing Cloud Our Editorial Judgment). Maybe I desired this because real-life parenting was so messy.

I've tried to overlook some of the more unpalatable assumptions underlying these magazines. Among them: 1) You clearly need help, fast, by reading conflicting advice from self-appointed experts; 2) if the advice doesn't work, here, buy some overpriced stuff you and your child do not need to fill that aching void in your life; and 3) in case you weren't aware, your child is in imminent danger from EVERYTHING in life.

To be fair, it's not that I haven't found useful advice or sometimes enlightening articles. But I find the overall tendency to simplify parenting (and marginalize working mothers, a rant for another day) to be insulting.

So this time, when I receive the 20 renewal notices for these magazines, I'll consign them all to the recycling bin. I might keep Working Mother for now, although I am growing to dislike its emphasis on white-collar jobs and upper-middle-class mothers. Surely the concerns of blue-collar women deserve equal, or perhaps even more, attention---I think it's unlikely that most work places in the U.S. can afford the plethora of family-friendly policies offered by the 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers.

The one magazine I will definitely keep? Brain, Child. I love this magazine, the polar opposite of the glossies. My only complaint is its frequency. Four times a year just isn't enough, especially now that I'll have far fewer other magazines to read between issues!