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Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear

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"Part memoir, part history, part documentary, part impassioned manifesto...it might be the most important book about being a parent that you will ever read." --Emily Rapp Black, New York Times bestselling author of The Still Point of the Turning World "A beautifully told, harrowing story..."--Heather Havrilesky One morning, Kim Brooks made a split-second decision to leave he "Part memoir, part history, part documentary, part impassioned manifesto...it might be the most important book about being a parent that you will ever read." --Emily Rapp Black, New York Times bestselling author of The Still Point of the Turning World "A beautifully told, harrowing story..."--Heather Havrilesky One morning, Kim Brooks made a split-second decision to leave her four-year old son in the car while she ran into a store. What happened would consume the next several years of her life and spur her to investigate the broader role America's culture of fear plays in parenthood. In Small Animals, Brooks asks, Of all the emotions inherent in parenting, is there any more universal or profound than fear? Why have our notions of what it means to be a good parent changed so radically? In what ways do these changes impact the lives of parents, children, and the structure of society at large? And what, in the end, does the rise of fearful parenting tell us about ourselves? Fueled by urgency and the emotional intensity of Brooks's own story, Small Animals is a riveting examination of the ways our culture of competitive, anxious, and judgmental parenting has profoundly altered the experiences of parents and children. In her signature style--by turns funny, penetrating, and always illuminating--which has dazzled millions of fans and been called "striking" by New York Times Book Review and "beautiful" by the National Book Critics Circle, Brooks offers a provocative, compelling portrait of parenthood in America and calls us to examine what we most value in our relationships with our children and one another.


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"Part memoir, part history, part documentary, part impassioned manifesto...it might be the most important book about being a parent that you will ever read." --Emily Rapp Black, New York Times bestselling author of The Still Point of the Turning World "A beautifully told, harrowing story..."--Heather Havrilesky One morning, Kim Brooks made a split-second decision to leave he "Part memoir, part history, part documentary, part impassioned manifesto...it might be the most important book about being a parent that you will ever read." --Emily Rapp Black, New York Times bestselling author of The Still Point of the Turning World "A beautifully told, harrowing story..."--Heather Havrilesky One morning, Kim Brooks made a split-second decision to leave her four-year old son in the car while she ran into a store. What happened would consume the next several years of her life and spur her to investigate the broader role America's culture of fear plays in parenthood. In Small Animals, Brooks asks, Of all the emotions inherent in parenting, is there any more universal or profound than fear? Why have our notions of what it means to be a good parent changed so radically? In what ways do these changes impact the lives of parents, children, and the structure of society at large? And what, in the end, does the rise of fearful parenting tell us about ourselves? Fueled by urgency and the emotional intensity of Brooks's own story, Small Animals is a riveting examination of the ways our culture of competitive, anxious, and judgmental parenting has profoundly altered the experiences of parents and children. In her signature style--by turns funny, penetrating, and always illuminating--which has dazzled millions of fans and been called "striking" by New York Times Book Review and "beautiful" by the National Book Critics Circle, Brooks offers a provocative, compelling portrait of parenthood in America and calls us to examine what we most value in our relationships with our children and one another.

30 review for Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey

    Although I appreciated, in part, the message of this book, I am also conflicted in my feelings towards the author's view of her actions, which led to a pretty lengthy involvement with child welfare services. The premise of the book is that we treat our children as if they were made of glass, and want to protect them from every little injury instead of allowing them to experience the world in all its forms, good and bad. Putting kids in a bubble stunts their ability to interact meaningfully with Although I appreciated, in part, the message of this book, I am also conflicted in my feelings towards the author's view of her actions, which led to a pretty lengthy involvement with child welfare services. The premise of the book is that we treat our children as if they were made of glass, and want to protect them from every little injury instead of allowing them to experience the world in all its forms, good and bad. Putting kids in a bubble stunts their ability to interact meaningfully with the world around them. I wholeheartedly agree, and letting my 7-year old daughter explore even if she might get hurt is hard for me. But, but, but. There is a HUGE difference between saying "we can't protect our children from everything, accidents will happen" and saying "because I can't protect them from everything, why bother trying to protect them from anything." I can't keep my daughter from scraping her knee after falling off her bike but I can protect her from being hurt as a result of improper supervision. I do that by not leaving her home alone, where she could hurt herself on the stove, with the knives, with the cleaning chemicals, by wandering out into the street. My level of supervision will change as she gets older. What isn't age appropriate now may be appropriate when she's 10, 12, 16. We have to be able to judge our child's limits in their ability to protect themselves under certain circumstances. We have to be able to judge a situation, not by the statistical probability of an injury or negative incident occurring, but by whether we could have protected our children in a particular circumstance by changing our behavior. This is where my feelings about the author's actions and her feelings toward them diverge. Kim's story is that, while visiting her parents, she and her husband were in a rush to make it to the airport on time so as not to miss their flight. They were traveling with two small children, and one of them had misplaced a pair of headphones, the absence of which would have caused a meltdown in said child. In order to avoid the meltdown and skip the step of having to search for them unsuccessfully, Kim decided to just run to Target and buy a new pair. Her 4-year old son said he wanted to go with her and, even though she was in a huge hurry, in order to avoid an argument she said yes. She drove to Target, parked, and, when her son said he didn't want to go in the store, she said okay and left him in the car. She says she was only in the store for 10 or 15 minutes (which I have a hard time believing but we'll go with her version of events) and when she came out there was a woman taking pictures of her car with her son in it. She later finds out that there is a child welfare investigation and that she is potentially facing charges (I assume of child endangerment). Her life is a nightmare for the next year or so, and she doesn't understand why what she did warrants such an intense reaction. She spends an untold number of pages trying to justify her actions - she was young, she was in a hurry, they were in a safe neighborhood, it was only a few minutes, the weather was mild, it was more convenient, the likelihood of her child actually getting kidnapped is minimal, her son couldn't unbuckle himself, etc. And anyway, nothing did happen, so what's the big deal? I'm a child welfare attorney. I represent parents whose children have been removed from them by DHS because of negligence. I have heard every single excuse she comes up with. Negligence doesn't only include actions (or inactions) that actually cause injury. It also includes behavior that COULD HAVE resulted in injury. If you allow a child molester to babysit your child and your child doesn't get molested you don't get to say your behavior wasn't negligent just because the injury didn't happen. THANK GOD it didn't, but your child never would have been put in that position if not for your behavior. Negligence isn't comparable to accidental injuries during the course of normal childhood activities like riding a bike. When deciding whether your child is old enough to stay in the car alone while you run into a store you have to ask yourself if your child is capable of protecting himself if something, ANYTHING, were to happen while you were away. The fact that her son couldn't get himself out of his seat makes it worse, not better, for her to have left him in the car alone. Kidnapping isn't the only possibility. The parked car could be hit by another car speeding through the parking lot. It could catch on fire. It could become unbearably hot. And though you can't predict whether something like that might happen, you can predict your child's ability to help himself. If you know your child can't get himself out of his seat, and the car somehow catches on fire or rolls into a ditch, and your child gets injured, YOU HAVE BEHAVED NEGLIGENTLY TOWARD YOUR CHILD. But for your actions, your child would not have been injured. Causation is sometimes difficult to understand in child neglect cases but if you are having to bend the laws of time and space in order to justify yourself then you know, deep down, that what you did was wrong and you're just trying to minimize how harshly people judge you for it. Saying that, in hindsight, you would do things differently in order to avoid the negative consequences you had to face doesn't acknowledge the actual issue at stake here, which is that you made a poor decision that put your child in harm's way. It's important to make the distinction because it dictates your future behavior in regards to whether you are able to keep your children safe. I don't think Kim gets that distinction. Probably just because she doesn't want to. My final problem with the book is its glaring omission of any mention of the author's privilege due to her race and class. The consequences she had to face were actually pretty mild compared to what a woman of color or a woman in poverty would have faced. Not only is this assertion supported by research, I witness it every day. The readers find a way to forgive or justify her actions, just like she has, without ever considering that if you change the race or income level of the person engaging in the behavior society has no problem branding them a bad mother. I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Shelley

    True story 1: When my daughter was about eight, we walked past a car where a tween was reading a book with the windows down. My daughter gasped, worried about the kid being alone in the car, in the middle of a Safeway parking lot. "That was normal when I was growing up," I said. "I used to ask to stay in the car so I could read." True story 2: Every female lawyer I know is terrified of her jurisdiction's version of child protective services. None of the male lawyers I know are. We all have the s True story 1: When my daughter was about eight, we walked past a car where a tween was reading a book with the windows down. My daughter gasped, worried about the kid being alone in the car, in the middle of a Safeway parking lot. "That was normal when I was growing up," I said. "I used to ask to stay in the car so I could read." True story 2: Every female lawyer I know is terrified of her jurisdiction's version of child protective services. None of the male lawyers I know are. We all have the same due process rights and know the system, so why the difference? I chalked it up to women being more anxious than men and let it go. After reading this and reflecting, I think there's more to it. As women we are more anxious about being labeled bad parents...but only because it's much more likely that someone's going to come along and tell a woman she's a bad parent than someone's going to come along and tell a man he's a bad parent. A mom leaves a kid in the car for five minutes while she goes to the store? Bad mom who doesn't deserve to have a child. A dad leaves a kid in the car for five minutes while he goes to the store? Ah, he just didn't know better. The kid's okay, so no harm, no foul, right? It was emotionally tough, reading this book (not that it stopped me from zipping through it as soon as it arrived). It made me anxious--these are some of my biggest fears--but also angry and frustrated; I whole-heartedly agree in the idea of free range parenting but am too chicken to put it in practice.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    Having kids has always seemed to me to be a form of madness. Kim Brooks' book shows that if you were not already a little bonkers when you had kids, then virtually every feature of America's fear-filled, outrage-driven, misogynistic culture and hyper-competitive dedication to capitalism are structured to drive you to that point. "Unfortunately, just as there is little individual Americans feel that they can do about the threats of climate change, rising income inequality, and the dehumanizing ef Having kids has always seemed to me to be a form of madness. Kim Brooks' book shows that if you were not already a little bonkers when you had kids, then virtually every feature of America's fear-filled, outrage-driven, misogynistic culture and hyper-competitive dedication to capitalism are structured to drive you to that point. "Unfortunately, just as there is little individual Americans feel that they can do about the threats of climate change, rising income inequality, and the dehumanizing effects of automation and globalization, people in the 1970s and 1980s felt they could do little to protect themselves from what seemed to be the encroaching threats of the day. 'Focusing on threats to children,' [Steven] Mintz suggests, 'may have provided a solution to this psychological dilemma. Anxiety about the future could be expressed in terms of concerns for children's safety,' which, after all, feels more manageable" (89).

  4. 4 out of 5

    Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship

    I only recently realized the extent to which helicopter parenting in America has become the norm, the expectation, sometimes even in the law of the land. That the definition of a “good parent” now requires keeping an eye on your child at every moment. That kids’ hanging out with friends has been formalized into “playdates,” typically arranged by parents and involving play directed by at least one parent, often with both kids' parents present. That parents hover over their children on playgrounds I only recently realized the extent to which helicopter parenting in America has become the norm, the expectation, sometimes even in the law of the land. That the definition of a “good parent” now requires keeping an eye on your child at every moment. That kids’ hanging out with friends has been formalized into “playdates,” typically arranged by parents and involving play directed by at least one parent, often with both kids' parents present. That parents hover over their children on playgrounds, issuing a constant stream of instructions and intervening in their interactions with other children. That parents consider it highly risky to allow kids to play in their own yards unsupervised, and in some cases bystanders will call the police if they see it; walking around a suburban middle-class neighborhood in the daytime is right out. That parents’ decisions about the sort of childhood their kids will have are driven by fear, of improbable catastrophes or Child Protective Services or both. In retrospect this should have been evident. There are kids living in my neighborhood, I think; I only ever see them going from house to car and back. It’s all driven by fear, even though this is the safest time to be a kid in American history. Parents are paranoid about kidnapping, despite the fact that stranger kidnappings are extremely rare (and usually involve teenagers). A kid would have to be alone in public for tens or hundreds of thousands of years before they’re statistically likely to be kidnapped. As for the actual risks to kids? Car accidents are a big one, killing over a thousand American kids each year, yet harried parents will pile kids into a car rather than letting them walk or bike or take public transit alone. Childhood obesity and diabetes are on the rise, with 1/3 of the country likely to be diabetic by 2050, likely in large part because kids don’t get to run around anymore and instead spend their time staring at screens, losing out on exercise as well as opportunities to explore and develop social skills. Depression and anxiety are increasing among the young too, and no wonder, when they’re taught that the world is a terrifying place and simultaneously given no power over their own lives. What a terrible time to be a child! How can they become independent, self-reliant adults when their parents dictate their every move? How will they acquire good judgment or self-confidence without the opportunity to take risks and make meaningful decisions? How will they learn social skills when they see other kids only in highly structured, adult-organized environments, and with adults mediating their every interaction? How will they develop creativity without down time? How will they develop resilience without being allowed to fail or be hurt? How will they recognize obsession and controlling behavior from a romantic partner as early warning signs of abuse, when this is how their parents showed love? Is it surprising that the more powerless kids become, the more they bully each other? And what about simple enjoyment of childhood; isn’t kids’ enjoyment of the first 18 years of their lives important enough for parents to learn to tolerate some anxiety? This book delves into the culture of fear around parenting today. Brooks was a helicopter parent herself, but one day she was arrested for leaving her four-year-old son in the car for a few minutes on a cool, overcast day while she ran into the store. Her ordeal led her to learn more about what is going on with parenting in America, to examine why she and so many others are so fearful, and the consequences of it. How we got here makes sense: the news media broadcasts attention-grabbing headlines to draw in viewers; exposing oneself to stories about parents' worst nightmares makes the worst seem common and likely; parents respond, irrationally but understandably, by curtailing kids’ freedoms; once this becomes common, it’s expected, and even parents not inclined to be paranoid feel it is the norm and don’t want to feel that they’re putting their kids at risk, while others know their kids are safe but are forced to toe the line anyway for fear of someone calling CPS. There are some terrible stories in this book – like the single mother (much less privileged than the author) who let her 9-year-old daughter play in a park with friends (and of course lots of adults present) during the day while the mom was at work . . . not only was the mother arrested and interrogated, but her daughter was taken to a group home for two weeks without being able to see her mother, and ended up afraid to even leave the house. Of course this doesn’t happen to most families, but we’ve created a culture in which parents are expected to be always monitoring and focused on their kids, to the point that they have no lives of their own (a great example for the little ones I’m sure). How dare they do something as simple as running into Starbucks alone for their own convenience! They must not want to be parents, since they clearly don’t want to watch their kids! At any rate, I found this to be a well-written memoir and an accessible work of nonfiction (short and engaging enough that hopefully even parents consumed by the demands of shuttling kids to half a dozen activities will be able to read it!). It’s a reflection on the state of parenting today rather than a how-to book; the author talked to experts as well as dissecting her own attitudes and decisions, but stops short of offering solutions. I do wish she’d talked to more kids, or young adults raised by helicopter parents; she only interviews one teenager, and he’s an unusual case. Mostly she talks about the consequences of today’s parenting on parents themselves. She discusses interesting studies, writes about the way people are judgmental toward mothers in particular, and has insightful commentary on related subjects (like whether being a stay-at-home mom versus a working mom is really a choice for most people. Her answer: not really, but at the time she still turned necessity into a virtue when discussing her own “choice”). I hope lots of people read this book, and that it will be a wake-up call.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    I was at a target once and I saw a young mother in front of me in tears because the cops were coming for her for having left her kid in the car. An older woman had called the cops and the target employees were all on the other woman's side. I leapt to her defense. The kid was fine. It was cool out. She had run in to get diapers. She had the baby in there with her. She'd left another grown kid in the car. I had three kids in New York city and I would let them run around alone in the playgrounds w I was at a target once and I saw a young mother in front of me in tears because the cops were coming for her for having left her kid in the car. An older woman had called the cops and the target employees were all on the other woman's side. I leapt to her defense. The kid was fine. It was cool out. She had run in to get diapers. She had the baby in there with her. She'd left another grown kid in the car. I had three kids in New York city and I would let them run around alone in the playgrounds while I sat and watched. Other moms hovered everywhere their kids played. Often, someone would ask "who's kid is this?" pointing to one my girls who was happily playing alone. Another time, I let my daughter walk across the street (not in NY this time, but a quiet college town). She was going two houses across the street while I watched from the window. She was 8. A woman rolled up in a car next to her, demanded she get in the car and drove her the 100 feet to my house and walked up to deliver her to me. I informed her that she had put my daughter at more risk by forcing her into her car than she had been crossing the street. My daughter said she protested, but the busybody would not be deterred. I have observed exactly what she's describing countless times as a mother of three. In schools, playgrounds, and among parents. It is madness and it's hurting kids and moms. I am so glad that books like this are coming out and challenging the craziness of parenting today. Let your kid be free and learn how to make decisions. I mean, obviously, do not keep your kid in a hot car. I've never left my kids in cars either because it was unsafe or because I worried that people would call the cops, but all the other stuff--kids are fine. Critiques of the book: 1. I didn't love the memoir bits as much as the parts where she talks to the experts, which is weird because usually I feel the exact opposite. I usually feel like I can get the research from elsewhere and I just want to hear about the person. But I guess as much as I related to the problem she describes, I did not relate to her views on parenting. Even as she is writing about how people are overly anxious about parenting, I felt like she was too. She seems to be overdoing it, but perhaps she depicts herself that way to relate to her intended audience. 2. I don't think I agree with her about the causes of this phenomenon. Jonathan Haidt's new book The Coddling of the American Mind and a few others also blame the overemphasis on a few gruesome abductions as causing this overprotectedness. I think those were symptoms of an already building trend as opposed to its causes. I think what caused this is our discomfort with women in the workplace and a redirected misogyny. I think there were other social causes as well--the focus on super predators and the paranoia about crime-ridden ghettos. White flight created an insecure population that I think led to some guilt and projection. Anyway, those theories may not be right, but I don't buy the standard narrative

  6. 4 out of 5

    Anne ✨

    Wow! This book resonated with me in a big way! As a mom of two now teens, I have lived through, and still experience many of the anxious feelings that Kim Brooks shares as she relates her experiences parenting in today's American society. The worries, pressures, expectations, and judgment. The polarizing platforms of helicopter parenting vs. free range parenting. It's seriously overwhelming! But it's also seriously important dialogue for moms/parents raising kids today to think about and underst Wow! This book resonated with me in a big way! As a mom of two now teens, I have lived through, and still experience many of the anxious feelings that Kim Brooks shares as she relates her experiences parenting in today's American society. The worries, pressures, expectations, and judgment. The polarizing platforms of helicopter parenting vs. free range parenting. It's seriously overwhelming! But it's also seriously important dialogue for moms/parents raising kids today to think about and understand. This book is so much more than just about Kim's personal experiences, as traumatic and emotional as they were. (Kim was videotaped by a 'concerned' bystander for leaving her 4yr old son in their locked car for 5mins, on a mild day/windows cracked open, in a parking lot outside a store while she dashed in to pick something up. She is criminally charged by police, and required to do community service ). Kim Brooks doesn’t just tell her own story here, she researches and explores a broader topic of how an increased societal focus on 'safety/protection' has come about, and the repercussions this focus has had on today's kids. The whole subject is absolutely fascinating to consider, regardless of where on the parenting spectrum you fall, or how you feel about Kim's actions/what played out. As the blurb to this book says, this work is "part memoir, part history, part documentary, part impassioned manifesto". Kim does an admirable job of navigating these very tricky waters, giving us a deep look at all the considerations, and definitely gives THIS MOM (me) a lot to think about! Audio Notes: Kim narrates her own book, and she does a great job. She’s passionate, energetic, and inquisitive. She looks to facts to support ideas, she pokes, ponders, and asserts, yet she remains respectful of others opinions. ! I really enjoyed listening to her tell her story!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jake

    I got a free copy of this one from a goodreads giveaway. As a parent of three elementary school children whose parenting style has gone from helicopter (not necessarily by my choice, being a dad) to free-range over the last nine years, this book resonated. The author tells her story of being a do-everything-and-be-constantly-stressed-out mom who once left her child in a car for a few minutes while running an errand and was filmed by a "good Samaritan" and turned in to the cops and subsequently m I got a free copy of this one from a goodreads giveaway. As a parent of three elementary school children whose parenting style has gone from helicopter (not necessarily by my choice, being a dad) to free-range over the last nine years, this book resonated. The author tells her story of being a do-everything-and-be-constantly-stressed-out mom who once left her child in a car for a few minutes while running an errand and was filmed by a "good Samaritan" and turned in to the cops and subsequently made a criminal (this is not a spoiler-you'll find out in the first paragraph). This forced her to think about 21st century American style parenting in which children are protected from everything as parents live in a constant state of fear; of injury, kidnapping, lack of opportunity if each child is not enrolled in every bankrupting summer and after school program, and maybe most importantly is the fear of the judgment of other parents when you tell them you let the kids walk around the neighborhood or go to the park by themselves. This is a timely book for parents who love their children so much that they will protect them from everything including the ability to be a functional adult. This dad liked the book a lot, but I think moms will like it much more since they are generally harder on themselves.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Clouther

    Structurally, this book is more effective than what I've seen in other parenting books, though one needn't be a parent to be moved. Because the author is a fiction writer, the narratives are thoughtful, well paced, and selective in detail. She complements these stories with interviews and research, and in these instances, she allows the authorities to articulate their positions at length, rather than fit their arguments into her own worldview. The cumulative effect is a readable, sobering, hones Structurally, this book is more effective than what I've seen in other parenting books, though one needn't be a parent to be moved. Because the author is a fiction writer, the narratives are thoughtful, well paced, and selective in detail. She complements these stories with interviews and research, and in these instances, she allows the authorities to articulate their positions at length, rather than fit their arguments into her own worldview. The cumulative effect is a readable, sobering, honest book, sociological in nature and literary in spirit. It's also pretty funny.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Josie

    This isn't a long read, but it packs a punch. Brooks recounts her personal story of being "caught" leaving her young son in the car, in a Target parking lot as she ran in to get headphones for their airplane flight that day. Someone recorded the child in the car unattended. Later she was contacted by the police, pending a charge of child negligence. Was she a negligent parent for leaving the child in the car? I've certainly done it and I got called out for it by a stranger. Our parents most cert This isn't a long read, but it packs a punch. Brooks recounts her personal story of being "caught" leaving her young son in the car, in a Target parking lot as she ran in to get headphones for their airplane flight that day. Someone recorded the child in the car unattended. Later she was contacted by the police, pending a charge of child negligence. Was she a negligent parent for leaving the child in the car? I've certainly done it and I got called out for it by a stranger. Our parents most certainly did it. Brooks takes this story as a jumping off point to investigate the role of fear in parenting. Fear of what could happen to our children rules our society. And our kids are paying a steep price. Some argue that it is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to a child's physical safety. However, we must balance safety and risk. If we really wanted to keep kids absolutely safe, we would never drive them anywhere. Yet, women (mostly women) aren't getting arrested for driving their kids around. They are however getting arrested for letting their children out of their site and a little bit of freedom. This isn't fair to our children and it is harming them. A line from the book that has stuck with me, which I won't quote because I wont' be exact, is that kids deserve the freedom to be unobserved. I am on the social neighborhood site Nextdoor. I see so much fear on that site. People freaking out because they see little girls playing on the sidewalk, likely in front of their house. OMG! They could be kidnapped. There are so many psychos around these days - better to be safe than sorry. Yes, they could be kidnapped, but it is highly unlikely. What is more likely is that keeping them indoors or just in the back yard without the ability to explore the world for themselves is stunting their mental and emotional growth. Would you want to be kept indoors for your safety. Is that fair to you? Yes you could be raped or attacked walking down a street, does that mean you shouldn't walk down the street unless someone is watching you or walking with you? They certainly do this to women in some countries and the women are rebelling. I understand that children aren't adults, but they deserve some freedom to be out from under your eye. They deserve some time to be unobserved.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jen Wood

    I devoured this book in one day yesterday and kept waking up during the night thinking about it. Small Animals is part memoir and part sociological analysis. It’s an honest, well-researched look at how batshit crazy modern American parenting has become. The book starts when Kim Brooks decides it’s not worth the fight to get her son out of the car to run into Target for one thing so she leaves him in the car, locked, not too hot, happily occupied by a game on a tablet, for 5 minutes to grab headp I devoured this book in one day yesterday and kept waking up during the night thinking about it. Small Animals is part memoir and part sociological analysis. It’s an honest, well-researched look at how batshit crazy modern American parenting has become. The book starts when Kim Brooks decides it’s not worth the fight to get her son out of the car to run into Target for one thing so she leaves him in the car, locked, not too hot, happily occupied by a game on a tablet, for 5 minutes to grab headphones for a plane trip. He was fine and perfectly happy when she returned. Interspersed in the rest of the book are the two years following, when she gets home and finds someone had taken video of her son in the car and called the police. The bulk of this book is a mixture of interviews and case studies, conversations, and her own thoughts about the fear drives modern parenting: Judgement, avoidance of judgement, Irrational and improbable what-if scenarios, competition, social pressures, class and race. Brooks does the research and takes the time to uncover why parents, and mothers in particular, are overwhelmed, frenetic, unhappy, and forced to parent as a competitive sport. The writing is easy and friendly, and doesn’t read like a textbook. I felt like it was a conversation with a friend and found myself identifying with nearly every chapter, like it was an echo of my own feelings and conversations with other moms. If you’re a parent you should read this book, it will change the way you think about raising your kids and what it’s doing to them, to you, to our society. 5/5 stars ⭐️ I received an advanced reader copy of this book from Goodreads giveaways in exchange for an honest review.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ericka Clouther

    Even though there is a large memoir aspect to this book, I think it's an extremely important nonfiction book about the current state of parenting in America. It's important from a sociological, psychological, and also legal perspective. As an attorney and as an American, I'm horrified that people are being charged with laws that the legislature has specifically failed to pass, and that selective enforcement perpetuates all of the worst biases in society: racism, sexism, and the still-unnamed pov Even though there is a large memoir aspect to this book, I think it's an extremely important nonfiction book about the current state of parenting in America. It's important from a sociological, psychological, and also legal perspective. As an attorney and as an American, I'm horrified that people are being charged with laws that the legislature has specifically failed to pass, and that selective enforcement perpetuates all of the worst biases in society: racism, sexism, and the still-unnamed poverty injustice. As a person who believes in and appreciates science, I am persuaded by her argument about the difference between perceived dangers and real statistically verifiable dangers. As a mom, I'm exhausted, anxious, and often confused. I just moved to Nebraska from the East Coast, and most of the children here appear to free-range. I'm not comfortable to let the children wander as much as my neighbors do, and I'm also aware that their children are better prepared to be free-range because they've already been at it for a while now. The kids seem really self-possessed. The other parent's freedom seems amazing and I'm super jealous. I'm just going to wait a little longer before I start testing the limits around here. In the meanwhile, it would be nice if there were a real national dialogue about these parenting issues.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Kim Brooks’s Small Animals is a personal and honest look at dealing with the “moral panics” of raising a child. It is a good read from a writer with a strong voice, but it didn’t go far enough in completing many of the viable arguments. For the full review: https://paulspicks.blog/2018/08/01/sm... For all my reviews: https://paulspicks.blog

  13. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn

    This book spoke to me. As a mother, this book spoke to me. As a millennial, this book spoke to me. As a member of society, this book spoke to me. I want to hand this book out to all of the parents I know and tell them to read it now - and then some! . True Story. Nonfiction: Author Kim Brooks’ story starts the day she consciously left her son in her car for 5 minutes while she ran in to Target to grab something and finds out later that day that she is being criminally charged with endangering her This book spoke to me. As a mother, this book spoke to me. As a millennial, this book spoke to me. As a member of society, this book spoke to me. I want to hand this book out to all of the parents I know and tell them to read it now - and then some! . True Story. Nonfiction: Author Kim Brooks’ story starts the day she consciously left her son in her car for 5 minutes while she ran in to Target to grab something and finds out later that day that she is being criminally charged with endangering her child for doing so. I’ve read about her personal story before in various articles and it always piqued my interest, so I was happy to preview this one even though #nonfiction isn’t normally my thing. Kim Brooks doesn’t just tell her story through, she pokes it and questions it and researches it and find others who have similar stories to share. Kim shines a light on what parenting is like now and how the expectations of parents have changed within a generation. With subtopics including competitive parenting, consumerism, perinatal anxiety and how parenthood varies geographically (just to name a few). Brooks exposes what parenting is now, in what she calls the Age of Fear and questions what we are actually (and should actually be) afraid of. . I’m lucky because not only did I get to preview this book, but thanks to Macmillan Audio I got to preview the audio version as well. Nonfiction audiobooks narrated by the author are definitely my favorite way to experience this genre and Kim Brooks’ narration is no exception; her passion and the work she has put in to this truly comes across on the page and through her voice. So, if you can enter with an open mind and if you are a parent, or someone considering parenthood soon, or a person who better wants to understand your friends who are currently parents, or someone who has already raised your children but better wants to understand how your son or daughter is experiencing parenthood - Read (or listen to) This Book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    This is possibly the best book I've read all year. Brooks captures perfectly what it is like to be a parent in modern-day America, how the majority of your decisions are spurred by fear — fear of what will happen to your child if you don't do everything correctly and/or fear of what others parents will say or do if they believe you aren't parenting correctly. Through the framework of her own personal experience getting charged with "contributing to the delinquency of a minor" for leaving her 4-y This is possibly the best book I've read all year. Brooks captures perfectly what it is like to be a parent in modern-day America, how the majority of your decisions are spurred by fear — fear of what will happen to your child if you don't do everything correctly and/or fear of what others parents will say or do if they believe you aren't parenting correctly. Through the framework of her own personal experience getting charged with "contributing to the delinquency of a minor" for leaving her 4-year-old alone in the car for five minutes (on a cool day, safely strapped in watching a video), she explores why our kids can't have the same independence we or our parents did even though the world is actually safer, and what it's doing to us and to our kids. Brooks delves into all different facets of this dilemma, including the ways in which privilege of class and race differentiate who can measure up to the "standard" of perfect parenting and who receives the most severe consequences for trusting their children to exist independently in public spaces the way children of previous generations did. She talks about the historical trends that led us to this bizarre point where any amount of unsupervised time is seen as equivalent to negligence. She explores the ways that the modern-day culture of parental judgment impacts fathers and mothers differently, and also shares fascinating research about how moral assessment and risk assessment provide a vicious feedback loop where children are seen as being more at risk if the subject thinks the parent's reason for being away from them is unjustified, and the greater assessment of risk makes the parent's decision even more immoral. Brooks doesn't exactly leave the reader with hope (you can't really say, "Forget what other people think!" when you may face criminal charges or even lose your children for giving them more independence than someone else thinks you should) but she does offer commiseration and reassurance that yes, this really is as bananas as it seems. The people she interviews provide some small bits of advice, from what to do if the police are called on you to how to convince the parents around you that not giving your kids more freedom is actually more detrimental than tightly controlling them. That said, I still think it will be a very, very long time before I leave my child alone in a car for more than the few seconds it takes to return a shopping cart to the corral — not because I think he's in any danger whatsoever (I don't) but because I don't ever want to face what Brooks went through and jeopardize the possibility that I can adopt another child in the future. I can only hope that if this book gains enough traction, maybe we can have a national conversation that makes "free range parenting" seem like less of a fringe movement and more of the gold standard for our children. Until then, I guess I'll just be grateful that whatever judgment I might face for my parenting decisions, at least no one's called the cops on me. Yet.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Cari

    I think this book should be required reading for this day and age (along with Julie Lythcott-Haims' How to Raise an Adult). Kim Brooks went through a hell no parent should have to experience. One person was so judgmental about her parenting choice - to leave her 4-year-old child alone in a car for about five minutes - that the person went so far as to call the police and report the situation. Brooks shares her story in this book, along with the aftermath. She wrote an article about her experienc I think this book should be required reading for this day and age (along with Julie Lythcott-Haims' How to Raise an Adult). Kim Brooks went through a hell no parent should have to experience. One person was so judgmental about her parenting choice - to leave her 4-year-old child alone in a car for about five minutes - that the person went so far as to call the police and report the situation. Brooks shares her story in this book, along with the aftermath. She wrote an article about her experience, where she was lambasted for her choice and called horrible names. Brooks is an eloquent and competent writer, as well as a strong journalist. She includes data and interviews from all sorts of sources, and she probes the circumstances that have led to this problem in our society - namely, that people have become so scared about the independence of children that they feel it's necessary to interfere in situations like these. It's a complicated situation, and there are no overarching answers, but we all need to be aware of this climate and its implications for our future.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Estelle Erasmus

    This book, like Kim Brooks's deft writing (she's also an essayist and novelist) grabs you by the throat and doesn't let you go till the final page. Much more than a memoir (although Brooks shares her personal story that led to the book), this book is a treatise on what happens when we tighten the reigns of protection around our children to the point where it affects their upbringing, and their parents' state of mind. She has a special skill that allows her to tell a story, while digging deep int This book, like Kim Brooks's deft writing (she's also an essayist and novelist) grabs you by the throat and doesn't let you go till the final page. Much more than a memoir (although Brooks shares her personal story that led to the book), this book is a treatise on what happens when we tighten the reigns of protection around our children to the point where it affects their upbringing, and their parents' state of mind. She has a special skill that allows her to tell a story, while digging deep into supporting facts, statistics, interviews and research that illuminate instead of bog down the book. The happy result is a book that provokes, unveils, and breaks down the messages that we receive and the prices we pay, and maybe even a way to get through it. I've read a lot of parenting books, and while many are just a bunch of talking heads, I feel like this author gets inside your head for maximum impact.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Leah P

    I agree with the author in that we’re becoming too much of a helicopter parent generation. Her story was very interesting and from the few people I’ve discussed it with, everyone has very polarizing views on whether they would have done the same thing, in her position. I am finding these so-called “Good Samaritans” to be quite over-zealous, especially the main one in her story which literally turned into a legal nightmare. I’m sure parents everywhere would just appreciate a bit of help, not judg I agree with the author in that we’re becoming too much of a helicopter parent generation. Her story was very interesting and from the few people I’ve discussed it with, everyone has very polarizing views on whether they would have done the same thing, in her position. I am finding these so-called “Good Samaritans” to be quite over-zealous, especially the main one in her story which literally turned into a legal nightmare. I’m sure parents everywhere would just appreciate a bit of help, not judgement.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Beatrice

    One day when Kim Brooks decided to leave her four-year-old son in the car for a couple of minutes while she went into the store to grab something, a passerby filmed what was happening and reported her to the police. What followed was a year-long process of being condemned for her actions, even while her son had been the one to ask if he could stay in the car—and even while he was 100% fine upon her return. … For a while, Brooks experienced feelings of guilt and shame around what happened. But it a One day when Kim Brooks decided to leave her four-year-old son in the car for a couple of minutes while she went into the store to grab something, a passerby filmed what was happening and reported her to the police. What followed was a year-long process of being condemned for her actions, even while her son had been the one to ask if he could stay in the car—and even while he was 100% fine upon her return. … For a while, Brooks experienced feelings of guilt and shame around what happened. But it also got her thinking. Why had there been such an uproar around a mere error of judgment, a slip that, had it gone unseen, would have borne no consequences? … Brooks embarks on a journey that has her entering engaging conversations with sociologists, cognitive psychologists, social workers, and historians, tracing the trajectory of fear in parenthood as it has developed over the decades. She balances personal history with cultural commentary, her own experiences with those of others, creating a web of carefully investigated perspectives and new scientific research. Her writing is accessible and organized, relatable and relevant even as it also pertains to her. … My favorite section of the book was definitely the last third, in which Brooks delves into detail about her inner experience and feelings as she gave birth to Felix. The amount of anxiety and fear she immediately faced upon Felix’s arrival was surprising and refreshing to see—especially because, as she notes, post-partum depression is hardly ever spoken about. … I also found her investigations on the impact that helicopter parenting can have on children and teens to be very insightful. I recognized some of the effects on a child who has been closely monitored all her life within my own family. In my opinion, the cautionary tale that Brooks puts together here is a necessary and important one. This is a compelling book not only for parents, but for anyone interested in child and family psychology, as well as American society on the whole.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Devorah Heitner

    Essential reading in our panic-filled historical moment. Filled with great research and a compelling voice, this book explores how crazy things have gotten, how we got here and offers some thoughts on how we might make things better. Any parent or anyone who was a kid and remembers other times, will find provocative questions and thoughtful reflection here. Highly recommended!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    This is an excellent book for parents of children of any age. It's part memoir as the idea for the book starts with the author's personal story of getting arrested for leaving her son in the car alone for a few minutes. It then explores the history of parenting in America, and the psychology of parenting and how parenting effects the psychology of our children. It is well researched, interesting, and an easy, at times funny read. I highly recommend it for all parents. I received an ARC from NetGa This is an excellent book for parents of children of any age. It's part memoir as the idea for the book starts with the author's personal story of getting arrested for leaving her son in the car alone for a few minutes. It then explores the history of parenting in America, and the psychology of parenting and how parenting effects the psychology of our children. It is well researched, interesting, and an easy, at times funny read. I highly recommend it for all parents. I received an ARC from NetGalley. The book will be released on August 1, 2018.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Monika

    This book didn't live up to its blurb. It seems to speak more to parents who lack confidence in their parenting, who really worry about keeping up with (and how they appear to) others. Although the author acknowledges her own privilege, there's still an icky layer of ableism and classism throughout. Her points felt scattered and unfocused. When a significant point/angle did come up, it wasn't fleshed out before moving on. Overall, not a satisfying read.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    I read this whole thing going, "YES." And, "I've been there!" And "get out of my brain, Kim. Get out!" Well researched but still very personal and engaging.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Susan Banner

    Well researched and riveting. I would recommend this book to parents and grandparents both, providing insight into shaming and success.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Peter Knox

    "...statistically speaking, it would likely take 750,000 years for a child left alone in a public space to be snatched by a stranger. So there is some risk to leaving your kid in a car. It might not be statistically meaningful, but it's not nonexistent. The problem is, there's some risk to every choice you make. There is always some risk." Kim Brooks is a fiction writer. Then a mom. And then a mom who left her 4 year old son play on a iPad in a locked car with cracked windows on a cool day in a n "...statistically speaking, it would likely take 750,000 years for a child left alone in a public space to be snatched by a stranger. So there is some risk to leaving your kid in a car. It might not be statistically meaningful, but it's not nonexistent. The problem is, there's some risk to every choice you make. There is always some risk." Kim Brooks is a fiction writer. Then a mom. And then a mom who left her 4 year old son play on a iPad in a locked car with cracked windows on a cool day in a near empty parking lot while she ran in to buy headphones for his airplane ride ahead, but someone called the cops on her. This book is her legal and personal journey, interspersed with experts she talked to and further research. Consider it the backlash to the backlash that brought us from the hands-off parenting of the mid twentieth century, swinging too far into the extreme attachment/helicopter parenting of today, complete with mommy-shaming online and in real life that comes with it. But Brooks weaves in the cultural and sociological history of where and why we got to how things are now. It's an incredibly enlightening and reassuring combination in Brook's self-aware intimate writing, that is entertaining, horrifying, and concerning all together in this fast-paced book. Before the legal battle gets too overbearing, Brooks jumps over to conversation with a mother who is also a lawyer, for her story of how this all happened to her and what it means for everyone else. Basically, fearful parenting gave us this culture of narcing on other parents and shaming them into the protective parenting everyone's too scared to break ranks from, despite the harm it's doing to us and our children. If having control of your time is happiness, we're making each other miserable. I really enjoyed getting to know Brooks, her anxieties and inner dialogue (which is often humorous), through this book and appreciated the balanced research she sprinkles in throughout, as she takes steps to better understand all of the sides (gender, race, class, country) involved while still checking her own privileged in the process. Our children are safer than ever, but we're more scared as a culture - parents and nonparents alike. Read this book to understand why. Brooks isn't preachy or didactic as a writer - she just lays out her experience and the facts she gathered along the way, and lets you draw your own conclusions as to how you might want to parent your own children and be mindful of allowing others to do as they wish. If only our government and legal system could do the same...

  25. 5 out of 5

    Joy Matteson

    Well, this was an incredibly difficult book to review. I'm extremely grateful that Ms. Brooks shared her story of what happened after she left her 4 year old in a Target parking lot for a few minutes to grab a pair of headphones to prevent a toddler meltdown, provoking a stranger to record the leave-taking and call the police to report her. Her story, and apparently more and more moms (less dads, apparently) are finally sharing these stories instead of hiding behind the cultural shame of this. T Well, this was an incredibly difficult book to review. I'm extremely grateful that Ms. Brooks shared her story of what happened after she left her 4 year old in a Target parking lot for a few minutes to grab a pair of headphones to prevent a toddler meltdown, provoking a stranger to record the leave-taking and call the police to report her. Her story, and apparently more and more moms (less dads, apparently) are finally sharing these stories instead of hiding behind the cultural shame of this. That being said, perhaps a pro/con list will benefit my review, and I can externally process the implications of what I just read. The good: 1) Kim Brooks is a talented writer. She digs deep into the cultural norms of the idolatry of motherhood, and exposes it for the sham it really is. The judging parents on the playground, the moms who raise an eyebrow at formula feeders, and the best sleep method. She questions, "Have we hit peak parenthood?" In the Information Age, we are inundated with parenting information overload like no generation has been before. Our parents relied more on instinct and only probably read a few parenting books here and there. Now, Information overload can easily create a fear based society of terrified parents (and grandparents). Are we now just going to go downhill from here? She raises some important questions as she struggles to understand her place as a mother in a world where she feels constantly scrutinized by every move she makes in public with her children. Which leads me to...the not so good: 2) DAMN. This woman is Anxious with a capital A. She mentions she is a product of anxious parents, and details her extreme anxiety BEFORE the police incident. Like, probably THE most anxious writer I've read in a very long time, and probably the most anxiety-inducing parenting books I've read, as a result. It's true she raises important points, but it's like every page is another instance of her reiterating the DANGER of raising kids today. I couldn't help but feel my own anxiety rise to meet hers, and that is not the effect that I think she's intending for her audience. Let's not all collectivize our parental anxiety. Let's kick it to the curb, man. It doesn't help us be better parents. 3) She details a conversation on page 171 where she's blissfully child-free for a few days in New York, and a journalist friend asks her, "Would you say having children changes your quality of life?" And the author of this book responds "I guess I would say that when you have small children, you have no quality of life." WTF? I can accurately respond not just as a full time working mom of a toddler, but many of my parent friends with tinies, this doesn't have to be true. YOU are in charge of your quality of life. Do toddlers make it harder to find time to yourself? YES! Does it mean you gotta fight like hell to get quality of life? YES! This is my main issue with the book. She is incredibly detailed oriented talented writer, and raises some vital questions about what kind of generation are we raising if we schedule the hell out of their lives and avoid all risks. But she's so constantly self-sabotaging, constantly looking for people to judge her parenting even before the police incident, which only reinforced that people are out to GET HER as a neglectful mom. It colors her perspective. Anyway. Thanks for reading! I do recommend the read for parents AND people with tinies in your life. Let's not be a helicopter society. Let's let our kids fail, take risks, and let them trust in their own confidence.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Alan Kercinik

    Kim Brooks once left her young son in the car while she ran into a Target for five minutes to buy a pair of headphones. A generation ago, this would have gone unnoticed. That's not what happened. Her son was recorded in the car. The police were called. There was a warrant put out for her arrest. She spent two years convincing others -- and herself -- that she was not a terrible mother. There is a feeling that rises, at the idea of thanking Kim Brooks for this book. Because to thank her would sugg Kim Brooks once left her young son in the car while she ran into a Target for five minutes to buy a pair of headphones. A generation ago, this would have gone unnoticed. That's not what happened. Her son was recorded in the car. The police were called. There was a warrant put out for her arrest. She spent two years convincing others -- and herself -- that she was not a terrible mother. There is a feeling that rises, at the idea of thanking Kim Brooks for this book. Because to thank her would suggest that, on some level, I'm glad what happened happened and allowed her to write this book. I don't want to make that suggestion at all. But it is hard not to marvel at the bravery in her writing, because what she says about her own situation -- as well as the similar scenarios that have played out all over the country for all kinds of parents -- is squarely against the norm. That takes guts. But it also takes considerable craft and Brooks laces this exploration of today's fear-based culture with biting observation, considerable humor and incredulity and a clear-eyed look at her own challenges. It's an easy and short-handed reference to surrealism, to suggest that parenting has been turned into a Kafka novel. Parenting just got it's version of The Stranger and I hope -- for all of us, but especially kids like my boys, who we're trying to instill with some sense of independence and exploration and self-reliance within a culture that seems morally opposed to such things in children -- that we can notice our insanity and shake it off. Very highly recommended.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Garen Glazier

    A thought-provoking meditation on the state of parenthood today. What happens when we let fear take the wheel as parents and when do we draw the line between keeping children safe and giving them freedom to be in the world. While at times I felt her view on parenting and the state of childhood was rather too fraught and excessively negative, this was more than outweighed by some of her incisive commentary. Many times I found myself nodding along as she put to the page exactly the thoughts I’ve h A thought-provoking meditation on the state of parenthood today. What happens when we let fear take the wheel as parents and when do we draw the line between keeping children safe and giving them freedom to be in the world. While at times I felt her view on parenting and the state of childhood was rather too fraught and excessively negative, this was more than outweighed by some of her incisive commentary. Many times I found myself nodding along as she put to the page exactly the thoughts I’ve had as a parent but have been unable to express so eloquently.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rhea

    I liked that this book really quelled some of my anxieties about parenting, and showed me that those collective fears are more about punishing women than protecting children. But this could have been (and pretty much is) a series of articles instead of a book. Also, as a psychotherapist I found some holes in the Free Range parenting movement- mainly, the issue of bullying. But this week I let my kid go to her dance classes a half hour early and read alone in the studios, and that feels like appr I liked that this book really quelled some of my anxieties about parenting, and showed me that those collective fears are more about punishing women than protecting children. But this could have been (and pretty much is) a series of articles instead of a book. Also, as a psychotherapist I found some holes in the Free Range parenting movement- mainly, the issue of bullying. But this week I let my kid go to her dance classes a half hour early and read alone in the studios, and that feels like appropriate freedom to me.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kayo

    This book is superb! I'd give it more stars of i could. My youngest is now 29, so I 'm not raising a little one anymore. I'm so glad that he lived in an era to go out and play with friends or ride his bike. I can see the decline in real parenting. It's more hovering than actual parenting. This book gives good examples of what is happening to parents today. Well done! So sorry that that happened to author! Thanks to author,publisher and NetGalley for the chance to read this book. While I got the This book is superb! I'd give it more stars of i could. My youngest is now 29, so I 'm not raising a little one anymore. I'm so glad that he lived in an era to go out and play with friends or ride his bike. I can see the decline in real parenting. It's more hovering than actual parenting. This book gives good examples of what is happening to parents today. Well done! So sorry that that happened to author! Thanks to author,publisher and NetGalley for the chance to read this book. While I got the book for free,it had no bearing on the rating i gave it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Suellen

    Heard on Fully Booked Podcast https://www.podcastone.com/episode/Ki...

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