We’ve had to suffer through years of glorification of the Super Mom: the insistence that good mothers (1) don’t just send their kids to school but go there with them and sit beside them at their little desks; (2) keep scrapbooks of every last finger-painting the little darlings produce; (3) attend every damned Little League game; (4) throw birthday parties that cost as much as the family Explorer, and so forth. No wonder some women nowadays decide that having children just isn’t worth the trouble. The child-care experts make women feel as though they’re letting their kids down if they’re not not sharing and supervising their every experience.  

Now Muffy Mead-Ferro, a 43-year-old advertising copywriter and mother of a four-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter, has a new book, Confessions of a Slacker Mom, that’s a throwback to the sane parenting styles of the 1950s, when mothers made their kids do their homework and clean their plates but otherwise pretty much left them on their own–to think up their own fun, fight their own battles, and figure out for themselves how to cope with the world and make friends.

Here’s what Publisher’s Weekly (linked through Amazon, which is out of the book right now but suggests some alternate sources) has to say:

“[Mead-Ferro] has drawn valuable lessons in ‘making do’ from her grandmother, who “had none of the proper equipment by today’s standards’ yet ‘never described motherhood as a hardship.’ Mead-Ferro doesn’t care for creating clever scrapbooks, accessorizing the nursery or trying to impart baby genius status to her three-year-old. Rather, she teaches her children that ‘making do’ with their imagination is as good a route to inspiring creativity as any educational toy. She believes in letting her kids learn that the physical world is a complicated place; it’s better than smothering, isolating and ‘child-proofing’ the world for them, she says. Rejecting the mentality that results in pre-school admission anxiety attacks and overly competitive soccer leagues for six-year-olds, Mead-Ferro both soothes and inspires as she prompts parents, and mothers in particular, to trust their own instincts rather than that of the ‘experts.’ Let the kids get messy, she says, and let them figure some things out for themselves.”

I discovered Mead-Ferro’s book in a nice article about her by Washington Post columnist Jennifer Huget. Huget writes of Mead-Ferro and her kids, whom she clearly loves but declines to coddle:

“She refuses to indulge their whims, and she sees that only by making their own mistakes will her children learn to navigate life’s challenges. In many ways, Mead-Ferro is conservative parenting expert John Rosemond in drag….

“She writes hilariously about attending a ‘scrapbooking’ party at which a neighbor meticulously memorializes her child’s first experience eating peas, about writing a nursery-school recommendation for a friend’s child (‘”He’s never thrown up on me,” I began.’) and, most politically incorrect, about spanking her kids.”

Huget writes that she posed a series of overprotective Super Mom scenarios to Mead-Ferro, who came up with some hilarious responses on the way Slacker Mom would handle the situation:

“1. Super Mom spends practically as much time in school as her kid does, volunteering for committees and hanging around in the classroom. Slacker Mom wants her kid to succeed, or fail, under his own power. That means she’s not always going to be standing on the sidelines of his life either berating him or cheering him on.

“4. Super Mom tweaks the rules for Pretty Pretty Princess so nobody loses; everyone’s a winner! Slacker Mom knows her little girl has at least as much to gain from losing as winning and, if necessary, reminds her that even Abraham Lincoln lost a few elections before being elected president.

“5. Super Mom cooks different meals for everyone in the family. Slacker Mom knows that if they don’t eat, they’ll be good and hungry come the next meal — and won’t be so picky.”