Depressing? Sure. But not without wisdom, not without a profound understanding of the human experience or without hard- won lessons, forged through grief and helplessness and deeply committed love about how to be not just a mother or a father but how to be human.
Parenting advice is, by its nature, futuredirected. I know. I read all the parenting magazines. During my pregnancy, I devoured every parenting guide I could find. My husband and I thought about a lot of questions they raised: will breast-feeding enhance his brain function? Will music class improve his cognitive skills? Will the right preschool help him get into the right college? I made lists. I planned and plotted and hoped. Future, future, future.
We never thought about how we might parent a child for whom there is no future. The prenatal test I took for Tay-Sachs was negative; our genetic counselor didn’t think I needed the test, since I’m not Jewish and Tay-Sachs is thought to be a greater risk among Ashkenazi Jews. Being somewhat obsessive about such matters, I had it done anyway, twice. Both times the results were negative.
Our parenting plans, our lists, the advice I read before Ronan’s birth make little sense now. No matter what we do for Ronan— choose organic or non-organic food; cloth diapers or disposable; attachment parenting or sleep training—he will die. All the decisions that once mattered so much, don’t.
All parents want their children to prosper, to matter. We enroll our children in music class or take them to Mommy and Me swim class because we hope they will manifest some fabulous talent that will set them—and therefore us, the proud parents— apart. Traditional parenting naturally presumes a future where the child outlives the parent and ideally becomes successful, perhaps even achieves something spectacular. Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” is only the latest handbook for parents hoping to guide their children along this path. It’s animated by the idea that good, careful investments in your children will pay off in the form of happy endings, rich futures.