Reviewed by: Jennifer Chretien, Reference Librarian
Rating: 3.5 stars
One mild autumn day Kim Brooks left her 4 year old son in the car for moments while she ran quickly into a store. Another shopper recorded her son in the car and contacted authorities. This resulted in her investigation by child services and years of her life devoted to examining the role of fear in American parenting. Brooks combines legal, psychological, and sociological research with her own thoughts and experiences as a parent. Her argument is that fear and competition has taken root into being the primary motivation of American parents, particularly mothers. Further, it is the fear of judgement and litigation that is the driving force in American parenting styles of recent generations.
As an older parent of a toddler, I've long been perplexed by how fearful parents have become because it is so far removed from my own childhood experiences. When I worked in academia, so many parents escorted their adult children to interviews and strictly monitored their education from afar. Instead of allowing their children to flourish and flounder, they insisted in paving the way for them. It's an unkindness and not remotely beneficial to the child since it creates generational dependency. As a child of the late 70's and 80's I have at times struggled coming to terms with the dichotomy of my extremely free range childhood and societal expectations of me as a parent in the 21st century. To further exacerbate the confusion; my child has special needs. I want her to be able to be an independent and productive member of society, which requires me allowing her to fail, but I want to protect her from the harsh realities and I am also terrified that someone is going to label me a terrible mother. Brooks addresses all of this in Small Animals, which prompted some great philosophical discussions amongst my friend group.
Unfortunately, Brooks is writing from the perspective of a white person of privilege whose experiences, while frustrating, were much more favorable than a woman of a lower class or another color. People who do not have the funds for a good attorney, or women of color, are far more likely to receive a harsher consequence to similar actions. Additionally, they are more likely to experience a different type of judgement and pressure as parents than a white woman of means. While I don't mean to detract from Brooks' experience or research, I feel her book is missing a major piece of the puzzle by not exploring more about race and class.