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In Westchester, N.Y., Shira Adler’s 10-year-old son Yonah screams, “I f**king hate you!” She responds calmly by spritzing his “aura” with one of her specialty aromatherapy sprays, and then begins to perform crystal healing, both of which are part of Adler’s daily routine with her son. Her boyfriend, Andy, suggests Yonah might need medication, which she brushes off. “He’s an Indigo Child,” she explains to the cameras. “He’s here to change the world.”
Thus begins Bravo’s Extreme Guide to Parenting, a weekly hourlong program that examines the lives of parents who prefer to practice and explore alternative child-raising methods. Some, like Adler, describe their approach as “eco-kosher, shamanistic, aromatherapy,” while others, like extremely controlling Los Angeles gay dads the Masterson-Horns, refer to it as “all baby, all the time.” Viewers may see it as all crazy, all the time.
The desire of these families — and of the many others featured on the program (and most parents everywhere) — is to produce successful, confident, free-thinking adults. But what most seem to be producing, actually, are children child who will not be able to run fast and far enough to escape their overbearing, obsessive, helicopter parents. (And judging them is, of course, one of the main draws of the program).
As with many Bravo series, there’s an implied level of wealth associated with the families: These are people who can afford to be eccentric, with both parents quitting their jobs or changing their lives to suit the baby’s (perceived) needs. But there are more interesting and universal threads that run through some of the stories, like how Adler’s daughter is blatantly ignored in favor of her “special” brother — something that causes her a lot of pain and frustration. In an episode devoted solely to the Axnesses of Sarasota, Fla., there’s a long debate about vaccinations, as well as “elimination communication,” in which parents attempt to let their baby go diaper-free by anticipating his or her elimination needs.
In fact, the episode revolving around the Axnesses is (of the two episodes screened) the one that presents a more complete picture of the thinking behind these families’ choices, a rare example of the series stumbling upon something beyond spectacle. In several seemingly sincere scenes, mother Christian Axness is confronted by her aunt about the decision not to vaccinate. Her best friend also breaks down in tears over the fact that she can’t afford to make the same lifestyle decisions as Christian, and both she and her husband question Christian’s very open embrace of public breastfeeding. “I feel like, at the end of the day, this isn’t about the baby. This is just about getting your boobs out,” she says.
Mostly though, Extreme Guide to Parenting is not interested in challenging the parenting choices of the families it features. This is pure exhibition, and there’s no denying that its appeal is just as strong as that of any other series detailing the strangeness of nontraditional lifestyles. Though the editing and accompanying music often encourage a feeling of sideshow theatrics, given the confidence and single-mindedness most of these parents have about the way they raise their children, there aren’t likely to be any wounded feelings. In a preview for an upcoming episode, one parent declares: “I don’t want a normal family.” Placenta keepsake for one, please.
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