Common to whom? (part 1)

While waiting for my order at a restaurant the other day, I picked up a section of newspaper that had been left behind by a previous diner. I was delighted to find that the section contained the daily comics and a number of other entertainments such as the horoscope, crossword, and various advice columns. Among these was a column called “Living with Children,” which intrigued me because I live with children myself. As I read the column, however, I wondered if it had been accidentally put in the wrong section of the paper; it read like tongue-in-cheek satire. When I reached the end of the piece, a tagline identified the author as a family psychologist and listed the URL for his web site. I smiled to think that there would be more delightful sarcasm where this came from.

I was surprised to find that the author, John Rosemond, might not have been aiming for satire when he wrote the column I so enjoyed. Each page of his web site asserts that the contents are “in touch with common sense.” This raised a cautionary red flag, because experience has shown that someone who uses the term “common sense” more often than not really means, “whatever I deem sensible, regardless of whether or not you and I hold this opinion in common.”

Mr. Rosemond is a proponent of what he calls “traditional parenting,” which he explicitly identifies as any parenting techniques practiced before 1960. The column that caught my eye is one of a series in which he criticizes “the myriad of stupid parenting ideas that came out of the 1960s” (April 7, 2009). He is spot-on in identifying and critiquing many of these notions and the practices that they spawned, but in the process he uses generalizations and assumptions that render his entire argument suspect.

Take the column I first read, for instance, which was about fathering. When someone (we’ll call him Mr. X) complained that his father was remote and distant, Mr. Rosemond’s response was, “I bet he wasn’t.” This seems an odd response for a psychologist; most people would ask, “What makes you say that?” or “What do you mean?” It would be more logical to discover Mr. X’s reasons for believing this in order to refute or debunk them.

Mr. Rosemond then tells Mr. X that he is the victim of “anti-traditional-male propaganda.” (This is point at which I began to think the piece was satire.) Mr. Rosemond goes on to describe Mr. X’s dad as “a responsible guy who worked hard…trying to provide well for his family,…and that when he came home he wanted nothing more than to spend time with…his wife.” Mr. X has an epiphany, recognizing the truth about his father in this description, and is told to go and do likewise.

(continued in next posting)

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