There are certain parenting issues that get yanked up in the air at regular intervals so we can all get out our baseball bats and beat them until the culture candy that is circulation, letters to the editor, blog comments, emails and web traffic comes raining down and we all eat so much we feel sick.
For the most recent example of this collective time suck, I am going to pick…let’s see, why don’t I just pull it right out of the number one spot on this morning’s New York Times’ most emailed list? Whose Bed Is It Anyway? is really is a classic of the parenting pinata genre. Let’s deconstruct it, shall we?
The trick is to start with a legitimate parenting dilemma and tweak it into a pinata so tempting, so full of culture candy, that a whole crowd of people will stand in a furious line for their chance to have at it. In Whose Bed Is It Anyway?, the legitimate parenting concern is how to ensure that everyone in the family gets enough sleep. Here is how you, too, can turn a reasonable problem faced by millions of parents into a parenting pinata.
Step 1. Introduce hapless examples of the rich and mighty. In this case, the Costellos, who live in “a diminutive red brick three-story in the West Village”. Just as an aside, can a building actually be diminutive and three-stories at the same time? Oh well, never mind, because the point of the introduction is to inspire envy in the reader. And if the description of the exterior of their abode doesn’t do it, you still have the inside to work with. Thus, in short order describe the Costello parents, arty professionals with dream jobs, who wish they were sleeping together in their “king-size, Anglo-Indian four poster.” This, alas, is not the case because Mr. Costello is sharing the aformentioned bed with their five year-old son while Ms. Costello snoozes upstairs in the “hammered-metal four-poster queen dressed in pink paisley sheets with a ruffle” that, though it belongs to her three year-old daughter, is in fact Ms. Costello’s “dream bed.” Before the end of the first paragraph, envy for the sleep-deprived Costellos has turned into contempt. Voila, your parenting pinata is taking shape.
Step 2. Introduce, in language that is subtly derogatory, the cultural hot-button that is the sweet spot on your pinata. In this case, use “so-called” to preface the phrase “family bed.” Doing so demeans the family bed and by association, those who spend time in it. Hope no one notices that the expression "so-called family bed" doesn’t actually mean anything. In order to accent the sweet spot, marginalize the “so called family bed” by describing it as “inching its way into the mainstream” and, in doing so, further annoy the hell out of family bed practitioners, who are busily drawing a target on the sweet spot of your pinata.
Step 3. You need someone to do the dirty work of pulling on the rope to get the pinata in the air. No need to fret, the Costellos deliver for you in paragraph three with “yet it is so gross to think you’ve ended up with a family bed.” Naturally, the family bedders take offence. That is, of course, the point. Your pinata is now positively glowing with allure.
Step 4. Trot out yet another hapless example of the rich and mighty, in this case a “former banker who lives on the Upper East Side and is President of the Manhattan Twins Club.” Pause while your readers read that again to make sure they read it right. Quote Madame President using the word “expensive” twice in one sentence to describe her furniture, ensuring that she will be an easy mark for your increasingly irate readers who find themselves looking around blindly for implements of destruction. You have your pinata, now you’re building your crowd.
Step 5. Introduce your old school expert, Dr. Ferber. The cry-it-out contingent swells. Their hero!
Step 6. Switch alleged allegiance to family bed advocates by describing Dr. Ferber as the man who “horrified parents” with his approach.
Step 7. Create the illusion of solidarity between your hapless victims, cry-it-outs, family bed-advocates and agenda-less bat-wielding readers by introducing people we can all comfortably despise: “child-sleep gurus” and their celebrity clientele. Make a point of mentioning the child-sleep gurus’ $395.00 fee for a two-hour session. Too bad you can’t bold it. Sheesh, the New York Times copy editor is such a stickler.
Step 8. Introduce a magazine editor who poses the following profound question: “Is there anything more poignant than a princess bed?” Before your readers can answer, “Why, yes, there is,” give the editor a golf club and let him cut the line forming to whack the pinata.
Step 9. Allow hapless victim to bring up the possibility that sleep problems are caused by working mothers. Some members of the crowd take a few practice swings.
Step 10. Quote expert on the fact that working mom’s guilt is not to blame. This effectively brings the issue twice to your readers’ attention, increasing the number and intensity of their practice swings.
Step 11. Bring out a psychoanalyst who conveniently asserts, without citing evidence, that “it is commonly believed in the mental health field that it is important the children learn to sleep on their own.” Whatever you do, do not point out the obvious – that there is nothing in the idea of the family bed that inherently inhibits children from learning to sleep on their own. The family bed supporters in the crowd whip out their cell phones and tell their friends to come over. They call them back to remind them to bring bats and large clubs.
Step 12. Just to make sure that even childlesss readers have a reason to take a swipe, remind everybody that the Costellos are so lazy “they only ‘try’ to parent…once or twice a week.”
Step 13: Let your 401 readers loose on the pinata with bias-betraying loaded question, "When is it time to reclaim your bed from your kids?"
Step back, hold out your hands, and wait for rain.