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 won’t help them learn to walk?
These are just some of the questions that came to Jennifer Traig when—exhausted, frazzled, and at sea after the birth of her two children—she began to interrogate the traditional parenting advice she’d been conditioned to accept at face value. The result is Act Natural, hilarious and deft dissection of the history of Western parenting, written with the signature biting wit and deep insights Traig has become known for.
Moving from ancient Rome to Puritan New England to the Dr. Spock craze of mid-century America, Traig cheerfully explores historic and present-day parenting techniques ranging from the misguided, to the nonsensical, to the truly horrifying. Be it childbirth, breastfeeding, or the ways in which we teach children how to sleep, walk, eat, and talk, she leaves no stone unturned in her quest for answers: Have our techniques actually evolved into something better? Or are we still just scrambling in the dark?
About the Author
Jennifer Traig is the author of Devil in the Details and Well Enough Alone, and the editor of The Autobiographer’s Handbook and Don’t Forget to Write. She holds a PhD in English from Brandeis, and lives with her family in Michigan.
“Traig mocks contemporary and historical parenting advice with usually spot-on dark humor…. The upside of reading “Act Natural” is that you feel better about whatever nonsense your children have committed, which is the point.”
— Wall Street Journal
“In Act Natural, her informative deep dive into Western caretaking, Traig investigates the history of parenting manuals, nutrition, children’s literature, and more to show that, in the end, no one really knows the right way to raise a child. We’re all just doing the best we can.”
— Real Simple
“This is the best parenting book I read in a very long time. I recommended it to everyone I could.... After reading through this cultural history of parenting, I feel so much better about many of my parenting choices.”
— Book Riot
“With a dry wit, and brutal honesty about her own parenting experience, Traig weaves personal anecdotes throughout this thoroughly researched, incredibly interesting read.... Completely refreshing. Much like parenting itself, Act Natural will teach readers something new in one moment and make them laugh out loud the next.”
— Booklist (starred review)
“Traig explores parenting throughout the ages in this alternately hilarious and disturbing historical survey. A mother of two, Traig emphasizes how difficult parenting is in any era.... Traig exhibits a sardonic wit.... This information-rich history lesson is so entertaining it may keep parents up reading well past their bedtimes.”
— Publishers Weekly
“In Act Natural, Jennifer Traig brings wit and perspective to the grand stage of late-bloomer parenthood, infusing the by-now tired tropes of new family life with her own brand of zany common sense, irreverence, and deeply-researched understanding. A fundamental parenting guide for parents uninterested in parenting guides.”
— Elisa Albert, author of After Birth
“Meticulously researched, engagingly written, and often extremely funny, this excellent book will make you feel much better about your own lousy parenting techniques and decisions.”
— Neal Pollack, author of Alternadad