Elia S. Parsons, co-author of the parenting guide “The Mother’s Almanac”, dies at 74


Elia S. Parsons was not a doctor, professor, or at first glance, an expert of any kind. She was a Capitol Hill mother – the kind of woman to help write “The Mother’s Almanac,” a family guide to parenting that changed the genre of child rearing books after its release in 1975.

Ms. Parsons, 74, died on December 26 at the Maple Ridge assisted living facility in Rockville. She had complications from Alzheimer’s disease, her daughter Amalia Jones said.

Four decades ago, Ms Parsons was busy raising her three children when her neighbor Marguerite Kelly came to her with a proposal: to co-write a simple and heartfelt manual for young mothers like them.

The problem wasn’t that there were too few advice books on the shelves. By the turn of the 20th century, motherhood had become a “professional business,” said Ann Hulbert, author of “Raising America,” which analyzes the history of parenting councils in the country. Scientific research had led to dogmas, she said, as psychologists came up with definitive approaches to “healthier, smarter and better children.”

The sweetest of all professionals was Benjamin Spock, the pediatrician who wrote the historic tome “Baby and Child Care,” first published in 1946. Unlike many other experts, he wrote to mothers in a way intimate and friendly and told them not to worry. . But even he was a doctor – and a man, not a mother.

Ms. Parsons and Kelly wanted to write a book that “would defuse the idea that it takes an expert to raise a child,” Ms. Parsons once said.

The guide would start with pregnancy and end around the child’s sixth birthday. It would be filled with solace on the day-to-day issues of motherhood, from temper tantrums to fevers, and insightful advice on the bigger difficulties, such as divorce and death.

Katharine E. Zadravec, author of the Washington Post’s longtime column, Anne’s Reader Exchange, wrote of “The Mother’s Almanac” when it first appeared: “If motherhood is an art that can be mastered, Marguerite Kelly and Elia Parsons have produced a good ‘how, when and why’ guide to this art. You provide the patience and the talent, and you are set.

The two women could never have expected their almanac to sell over 800,000 copies or signal a fundamental change in the publishing industry. “What to Expect When You Expect” – one of the most popular of all Moms books for moms that followed “The Mother’s Almanac” – sold for $ 17 million exemplary since its release in 1984. Kelly writes a parenting column for the Washington Post and is the author of sequels to the almanac.

In the early 1970s, even publishers apparently failed to seize the market for a book like “The Mother’s Almanac”. When Kelly sent Doubleday a first preview, an editor told her that she and Ms Parsons were not qualified to write a childcare guide.

“You have to be a doctor in some field or some sort of expert to do this,” the editor said, according to an account published in The Post in 1975. “You can’t just be a mother.”

Through tears, Kelly explained that she and Ms. Parsons hadn’t envisioned a major hardcover book, just a paperback book ordered by the “Whole Earth Catalog”. Softened, the publisher agreed to go ahead. The project – including the production, which the women organized themselves – lasted about five years.

They did most of their work while their kids were in school, Kelly doing the writing and Ms. Parsons doing the research. She told the New York Times that she spent a year at the Library of Congress “bolstering” their ideas with medical textbooks.

But most of the book has come from the experience of women as mothers. In its opening pages, they described the bliss of parenthood that “propels your mind higher than the stars” and the sadness that can “tear your soul”.

“One of us experienced the lonely agony of waiting weeks for a stillborn son and learned to cherish the fullness of life in the midst of its emptiness,” they wrote. They were referring to Ms Parsons, who in her fourth pregnancy brought a dead baby to term in the womb.

When the women wrote about children playing with matches, they thought of Mrs. Parsons’ son, Ramon.

“Fire arouses such primitive emotions that you can expect your child to be fascinated by it and the more it is forbidden, the more fascinated they will be,” they wrote. The passage chronicles a trip the Parsons made to the fire station, where Ramon had a conversation with a firefighter.

” Then, we . . . said he could strike matches in our presence if the itch ever got too bad. It never happened again.

Many passages, like the one on teaching children how to be reconciled after an argument, were wholeheartedly. The women suggested a visit at bedtime, when a child might be willing to “mend the bonds”.

“We discovered that the darkness shed a special light on lovers and little children, revealing words too tender to speak during the day. ”

Elia Esther Sanchez Garcia was born on November 8, 1937 in Alvaro Obregon, in the Tabasco region of Mexico. She came to the United States with her family at the age of 8, later becoming a naturalized American citizen, and grew up in Evansville, Indiana. There, her father was an accountant in a company that sold infant formula.

She received a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and French in 1959 from what is now the Dominican University of River Forest, Illinois.

One of her first jobs was at the Holt, Rinehart and Winston publishing house in New York City, where she wrote definitions for a children’s dictionary.

Her husband, Richard K. Parsons, died in 1990 after 29 years of marriage. Survivors include three children, Ramon Parsons of Manhasset, NY, Nadia Richman of Boston and Amalia Jones of the District; a brother; and nine grandchildren.

One of the few flaws that critics found in “The Mother’s Almanac” was the book’s recommended punishment for foul language: washing the child’s mouth with soap.

The authors then recanted, writing in an updated edition that they were no longer acting “in the manner of [their] grandmothers. But by that time, Ms. Parsons had already used the technique on her children.

They survived unharmed, Amalia said.

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