Go to Amazon, do a search for "parenting" books, and you'll get about 118,039 results. Desperate moms and dads can find advice on raising healthy, happy, successful kids with a well-timed spank... or an avalanche of hugs. There are books on Grace-based Parenting, and something called Duct-tape Parenting, apparently an alternative to helicopter parenting. Caregivers, it seems, can never agree on how to do the job, and 2012 proved it. Here, a list of eight parenting controversies that heated up dinner-table conversations over the past year:
1. The dad who used pics of his scantily clad daughter to sell a car
In November, an Oregon man named Kim Ridley was hoping to sell a 1977 Datsun 280Z on eBay. Tapping into his inner sleazy used-car salesman, he procured a young woman to partially disrobe and help make his old vehicle look hot. The problem? That scantily clad woman is his 20-year-old daughter, Lexxa. Ridley says he doesn't feel bad about the shots, which showed off his tattooed daughter's cleavage and posterior. The car sold, for $7,500. This sales pitch "puts a strange and newly unwholesome spin on the already questionable 'Sex sells' motif," says David Gianatasio at AdWeek. This is wrong in so many ways, says Lindsay Cross at Mommyish. The bottom line: It's "a crotch shot on the internet to make dad a little money."
2. The viral e-mail that made a hero of the most disappointed father on Earth
Parents have been expressing disappointment in their children since the dawn of civilization, but Nick Crews, a retired officer of the British Royal Navy, may be the most embittered father ever. In a scathing email that went viral in November, Crews berated his three adult children for their failed marriages, pathetic careers, and general fecklessness and incompetence. "It is obvious," he wrote, "that none of you has the faintest notion of the bitter disappointment each of you has in your own way dished out to us." Harsh? Maybe, but the message went viral and made "Crews a hugely popular folk hero," says David Brooks at The New York Times. Parents all over the world, it seems, were "delighted that someone finally had the gumption to give at least one set of overprivileged slackers a well-deserved kick in the pants."
3. The man who sued his wife for birthing an ugly baby
Jian Feng, a resident of northern China, is pretty convinced of his own good looks. His wife is beautiful, too. But when the couple had a baby girl, Feng found the child so homely it "horrified me." He refused to believe that a co-mingling of his genes and his wife's could have produced such an ugly baby, and concluded that his wife must have cheated and gotten pregnant by another man. A DNA test proved that the child was indeed Feng's, and his wife came clean with her real secret: Before she met Feng, she got $100,000 worth of cosmetic surgery in South Korea. Feng sued, accusing his wife of marrying him under false pretenses. And he won! A judge ordered the wife to fork over $120,000. Ugh, says Madeline Holler at Babble. The wife "should probably file her own lawsuit for even more damages," accusing Feng of having married her "under the false pretense that he wasn't a shitty husband and father."
4. Marissa Mayer: The Yahoo CEO crowdsources her baby's name
Tech world hotshot Marissa Mayer got parents' attention by abbreviating her two-week maternity leave shortly after she took over as Yahoo's CEO. The former Google wunderkind really got moms and dads talking, though, when she decided to trendily reach out to her online community to crowdsource a name for her baby boy, born on Sept. 30. Journalist and Mayer buddy Jeff Jarvis tweeted on Oct. 1: "Just got a large-group email from @marissamayer. She's crowdsourcing suggestions for [her baby]'s name! How digital can you get?" In this case, Mayer got too digital, says Bonnie Rochman at TIME. Polling the webby masses will lead to horrible suggestions like "Homepage" and "Cloud." If crowdsourcing doesn't work out, cracks Meredith Lepore at The Grindstone, the Yahoo CEO "could always just Google some names." (Update: The proud parents eventually chose the name Macallister from a preexisting list.)
5. Does giving tots sips of alcohol turn them into boozy teens?
Parents generally try to steer their kids away from drug and alcohol abuse, but they disagree on the best way to do it. Researchers in North Carolina released a study in September that found that an unexpectedly high number of moms — 40 percent — thought forbidding alcohol consumption would only make their kids more rebellious, and 20 percent reckoned that giving them a taste of beer or wine occasionally when they were little would help them grow up to be responsible drinkers. The truth, the authors say, is that "early-onset" drinking is a "known primary risk factor for problem drinking during adolescence." Not exactly, says Tim Stockwell, director of Canada's Center for Addictions Research in British Columbia. "The age at which kids first get drunk," he says, is more predictive than the age at which they had their first taste.
6. Free condoms... for 12-year-olds?
In March, school officials in Springfield, Mass., tried a new approach to tackle their district's high pregnancy rate: Handing out free condoms to students age 12 and up. Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno calls it a "smart move." But dissenting Springfield School Committee member Peter Murphy calls it "inappropriate" and "illegal," since 12 is below the age of consent in the state. Legal or not, this is crazy, says Deborah Cruz at The Stir. Giving kids condoms only encourages them to "experiment sexually." Not only that, it denies parents the right to make critical decisions for their kids. "What's next? Free abortion clinics operating out of the gymnasium?" Actually, the school's approach makes perfect sense, says Danielle Sullivan at Babble. The kids get counseling first, and parents can always tell the school to withhold condoms from their kids. Besides, kids need to know that, if they're going to have sex, "using condoms is the right thing to do."
7. Babycinnos: Do kids really need espresso?
Espresso bars in trendy New York City neighborhoods are going after a new market: Tiny tots as young as 2. The Brooklyn Papers noted two varieties of "babycinno" in February (although the trend appears to have started in Australia a decade ago). First, there's the simple mug of frothy steamed milk, perhaps with a sprinkle of cocoa. Then there's the real deal, a shot of decaf espresso with the milk on top. This is a "horrible idea," says Jen Chung at Gothamist. Decaf coffee still contains some caffeine, which is linked to childhood obesity. Plus, babyccinos are sure to prove a gateway vice, says Paula Forbes at Eater. "First it's decaf espresso, then it's the real stuff, next thing you know your kid's chain-smoking Gauloises. Parents, you've been warned."
8. Should you be able to trademark your baby's name?
In January, music super couple Jay-Z and Beyonce took the "cutthroat" competition to coin the most original baby name to a new level when they trademarked their newborn's moniker, "Blue Ivy." The couple were likely contemplating "a future line of baby clothing or kiddie items with the label Blue Ivy Carter on it, says tax lawyer and mom Jacoba Urist at MSNBC. So if you're hoping to "capitalize on their kid's fame and open up your own Blue Ivy boutique," you're out of luck. But if you're not trying to profit off the name, experts say, you can still christen your kid Blue Ivy, trademark or not.