I have recently been researching for an article examining current parenting books, and have frequently found myself wondering "why do parenting books even exist?" Most people who became parents previous to my generation would have laughed, nay scoffed, at the idea of an instruction manual for raising children. In fact, I get the impression that prior to the new millennium, the so-called instructions may have been similar to those pertaining to livestock: your child will need a) food, b) drink, c) shelter, d) diversion and e) exercise; thus, as a parent you should a) feed the child, b) water the child, c) warm the child, and d/e) put the child outside.
What I can't figure out is how this formula has become so complicated. For all intents and purposes, the above method still works, albeit with a few tweaks with regard to, say, demonstrating actual affection for your child. Maybe somebody tried to publish a book entitled Loving Your Child: Where to Start, and the editor felt that the ideas needed some "fleshing out"? Perhaps this poor writer wracked her brain and finally just started rambling on about the importance of, among other things, freezing portions of mashed peas, helping your child build a skill set using LEGO, preventing infant brain atrophy using a strobe light, and how to get your child to sleep in twenty-two easy steps.
My only other theory is that parenting books provide us with another much-needed ingredient in the secret recipe: humour. Chances are, if the experience of feeding, dressing, and entertaining your child hasn't left you in stitches (literally), then having a parenting book explain how to do these things properly will certainly cue the hilarity.
That being said, I cannot seem to resist reading these life manuals, if for no other reason than for the comic relief. Also, the first aid tips are somewhat useful. Basically, though, the sheer number of books available on this topic reveals the most important parenting tip of all: "None of us knows exactly what we're doing, but we're trying stuff, and hopefully, it will be okay. We hope."