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Act Natural: A Cultural History of Misadventures in Parenting
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Act Natural: A Cultural History of Misadventures in Parenting

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  258 ratings  ·  50 reviews
From a distinctive, inimitable voice, a wickedly funny and fascinating romp through the strange and often contradictory history of Western parenting

Why do we read our kids fairy tales about homicidal stepparents? How did helicopter parenting develop if it used to be perfectly socially acceptable to abandon your children? Why do we encourage our babies to crawl if crawling
ebook, 352 pages
Published January 8th 2019 by Ecco
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3.92  · 
Rating details
 ·  258 ratings  ·  50 reviews

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Scott S.
Mar 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars

"The word [parenting] only came into common usage about forty years ago . . . like many nouns that became verbs and changed history for the worse -- jam, trip, streak -- this happened in the 1970's. [However,] before that, children weren't 'parented,' but reared, which did not require much anxious philosophical examination. You loved them; you did your best to make sure they didn't die . . . If they kept a handful of their teeth and lived to thirty-two, you'd done your job." -- Jennifer
Mar 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fun to read now that I am all done with this nonsense. A little disconcerting to discover some of the best practice techniques we used in the 80's and 90's are looked on with horror. But, hey, at least I could never bring myself to put my little darlings down at night and let them cry themselves to sleep for an hour, as was recommended at the time.
My parents did better than their parents did, and my husband and I did better than our parents. It all works out.
Apr 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a phenomenal history of parenting. I learned so many bizarre and fascinating insights into how we took care of children in the past. It's amazing we're alive at all. Here are some interesting bits:
--During Classical Greece and Rome, it was considered completely normal to expose an unwanted infant to the elements. It's estimated that 20-40% of families did so. Aristotle even has a chapter about how to choose what child should be exposed.
--It's only been a recent development that we sleep
May 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good book on the history of parenting and childhood. It strikes a nice balance between academic and conversational or amusing.
Lauren Floyd
Mar 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
A funny way to remind yourself that you probably aren't going to mess your kids up too badly
Bonnie Scott
Feb 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very funny. I laughed out loud many times. And a nice reminder that really none of us know what the hell we are doing.
Feb 19, 2019 rated it did not like it
Interesting history tidbits but got repetitive or at least thematically redundant to me. It might be the subject matter's fault, but I feel like the book could have been 25% it's volume and communicated the same ideas effectively.
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I have no idea if one has to have children to find this entertaining, but holy moly did I like it. Her footnotes were as interesting as the book itself. I wish the chapter on children's literature were a stand-alone. It was so good and interesting.

Also, if you're stressed as a parent, it's good to know things have been weirder and easier and harder, etc. I need this same book written about working adults just to give me perspective on that, too.
May 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I came across this on the new book shelf at my library and decided to give it a try. It was a really pleasant surprise! The book is divided into themes (like guidebooks and children's literature) and provides a quick history of each. There are tidbits about guidebooks that recommended that children be given solid foods and coffee from 1 week old, and about children's books that taught how to read by telling horrific tales. The author also includes humorous anecdotes and asides from her experienc ...more
Mar 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I'm bereft because the book ended too soon for my taste. It was a wonderful funny and illuminating take on parenting and developmental milestones through the ages. Each chapter explores a different topic: sibling rivalry, discipline, sleep, eating, and my favorite chapter on the birth of children literature and picture books.
Feb 07, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5. The chapter on children's literature got a little overlong (this one's for you, Agnes!), but otherwise this book kept me entertained and smiling on a 13-hour-flight.
Apr 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What Bill Bryson did for the home, Jennifer Traig has achieved for the history of parenting. Often really, really funny, Act Natural is always interesting. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on children's literature, discipline and sibling rivalry. Traig reminds us that "priorities and methods change, but the big, big stuff stays the same, and the species continues on, another morning and another evening, and back to bed we go".
Mar 14, 2019 rated it it was ok
Act Natural is so repetitive. I only want to read about how Benjamin Spock didn't really advocate a permissive parenting style once, but the reader is fed that fun fact in multiple chapters. We know, because we are reading this book! Traig is trying to make all the stories and facts she wants to tell flow into each other, but she needed to use more tidbits to make this style work. Recycled tidbits are annoying and feel borderline condescending.
This book is surprisingly 19th century in format, m
Apr 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
For the literary parent who geeks out over historic texts.
Feb 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Darkly hilarious
Apr 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Too long (could've ended after 3 chapters and fully made its point), and the relentless cheeky humor got irritating/grating at times. But the author has certainly done her research. So much of childcare advice in the Western world over the last 2,000 years was--to current sensibilities--completely NUTS. But who knows if the stuff us parents are reading today will one day be considered just as crazy.

Bottom line: Great to see how parenting advice is ideology, rather than scientific fact. And paren
Feb 19, 2019 rated it liked it
This book mostly made me feel gratitude to be me, a parent in 2019 (despite the constant fear of what climate change will do to my kids’ lives). Grateful that I’m not a hyena pushing a FOUR POUND baby out of what Traig describes as a penis. Grateful that formula exists and I was never expected to ship off my child to nursemaids who may or may not have actually nursed him. Grateful that the concept of swaddling now involves organic muslin cloths with cute animal prints, instead of the body bindin ...more
Mar 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Not what I expected but educational and quite funny. Traig investigated parenting throughout history and uncovered some humorous, surprising and unnerving information. She walks us through the many changes from pre-historic parents to the present day. If you thought the Grimm brothers
tales were horrific you may be surprised that American Puritans were equally skilled at providing nightmarish literature. Ultimately, will make most parents feel they are doing a pretty good job.
Yunis Esa
Feb 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
History with a lot humor. As parent, Professor Traig's book give a lot of insight to parenting throughout history. One of the biggest takeaway from the book is seeing that older generation ideas of children is not out of the blue. Their understanding is based on a long history that has recently transformed.
Feb 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Bit of a mishmash of topics--food, discipline, sleep doctrine through the ages. Entertainingly written and easy to read.
Feb 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Warning: do not read this book in public unless you are fully prepared to explain why you are giggling, snorting, and choking on your lunch. I laughed so much that my kids started asking why I was laughing. But you can't explain to a six year old why it's funny that the author's daughter once woke her up to tell her she could fold a plastic bag. And, while some of the research does repeat itself in various chapters, you don't really mind. Because the author is quoting Bill Bryson, one of the mos ...more
Katie Bruell
Feb 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was hilarious and a ton of fun to read. I did get the feeling that instead of telling a straightforward history she picked out the most ridiculous, shocking, or strange pieces. Which, of course, is why it was so entertaining!
Mar 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
My feelings about this book varied depending on which chapter I was on at the time, but overall this was a fascinating sociological look at western parenting and how it has evolved to be what it is today. I learned a great deal--biphase sleep, the relative newness of "picky eaters," the identification of developmental stages, which advice books have shaped our thinking, for better or worse--and found all of the little extra tidbits Traig weaved in very interesting as well. She sprinkles some hum ...more
Debrah Roemisch
Mar 12, 2019 rated it liked it
It was amusing in parts and certainly helps modern parents to feel that they are probably not going to mess up as bad as parents did in the past! But this is not in any way a scholarly work on the history of parenting. Picking out the most outrageous practices ever recorded does not tell us what the average parents were doing. Can you imagine 200 years from now an author picking out the craziest or most horrifying things from the headlines of today? I can see it now--parents of the early 2000's ...more
Rosey Waters
Reading this over the course of five days felt endless and I don't know why. The writing was amusing and definitely had that little bit of flair that you need in a book like this, and the author wasn't noxious.

I think in the end, this book, like the thing it describes, was just not for me. The history of parenting, something most people end up doing, was a little thin, and we got a lot about the author's own opinions and life facts. Not that I minded, but it felt oddly out of place, and definit
Anneke Alnatour
Apr 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this read, and I suddenly think I am such a great GREAT parent. It was enlightening, though many things I did already know, kinda. What bothered me though is how some of her own stories took over and I really did not find much of her descriptions of her family and parenting style adding much to the book. Actually, it turned me off quite a bit.
Overall, it was a good read for those who doubt if they are doing the right thing as parents. Of course it is very focused on Western (Eur
Apr 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: babies
Really interesting. I appreciated the organization by subject instead of chronological. She also made what could be a very dry text seem hilarious by infusing modern judgement throughout. We are in an age of mommy wars and judgmental parenting and I don’t like anything that assumes that or leans into it... yet we can all agree most parenting choices from history wouldn’t fly today. I always like personal anecdotes best in these sorts of books, but not this one. I don’t really like her family or ...more
Erin Charpentier
Mar 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Guess what, guys? If you formula fed or had an epidural and ever felt shamed for those things, you're still 1000% better than Medieval parents who changed diapers once every couple of days and farmed out their kids or ancient Greeks or Romans who just left unwanted babies in the woods.

Although I knew some of the things in this book, it was still really fun reading about parenting over the years. Some of it did start to feel a bit boggy and repetitive, but overall, I enjoyed the information and t
Mar 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
More of a Textbook Than Humorous Examination of Parenting

Interesting if you are a student of child development. Well researched. I lost interest after reaching the 21% mark, however, because I was looking for more of a humorous book on parenting rather than a textbook. I skimmed through most of the book. It is a great history book. I did get some real laughter at the author's descriptions of her parenting experiences. I was just looking for a different type of book. Good read all things consider
Mar 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Fascinating, funny, horrifying. Reviews various child-raising theories, studies, and practices going back to the middle ages. Some of the authors I read during college now have their theories debunked which I found especially fascinating. My optimistic take from the book is that, amazingly, most children turn out just fine no matter what the crazy theories were in vogue as they were growing up.
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Jennifer Traig is a frequent contributor to McSweeney's and The Forward. She is the author of a series of young adult books and a humor book, JUDAIKITSCH. She has a Ph.D. in literature and lives in San Francisco.
“Teenagers who experience moderate conflict with their parents tend to be the best adjusted, more even-keeled than those who have little conflict with their parents, or, obviously, a lot.” 2 likes
“With or without the books, most children eventually learn, and remember, to control their volume, but not everyone does; it can be an especially difficult skill for autistic children to master.” 1 likes
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