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An American Fixation: An Excerpt from Raising America

It is a messy and often impulsive business carried on mostly behind closed doors. We think of it as the source of our deepest happiness and our most intense anxieties. How does our performance measure up? How well, we ask ourselves, do others do it? Do they have any special techniques? Is everyone else as susceptible to seizures of guilt as we are? We want reassurance that our experience is not too far from average, especially in the frustrations, disappointments, and embarrassments we suffer. We also want to feel that our experience, above all in its pleasures, is unique. . . .

Raising children has rated very near to sex—and to success—as an American fixation, especially since the start of the twentieth century and particularly among the middle class. "In no other country," one historian noted in the 1950s, "has there been so pervasive a cultural anxiety about the rearing of children." Never has this concern been as intense, as self-conscious, and as publicly debated as during the past hundred years. You don't have to believe (and many historians no longer do) that the idea of childhood was invented in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as Philippe Ariès argued in 1962 in Centuries of Childhood, to be convinced that late in the second millennium the idea of parenthood was reinvented again and again.

From Raising America: Experts, Parents and a Century of Advice About Children
Ann Hulbert
Alfred A. Knopf, $27.50

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