What Are We Willing to Sacrifice for Certainty? — Millennial Money with Katie

It was about a woman named Dr. Becky Kennedy and her 2.4 million followers on Instagram (a number that’s now 200,000 higher since the story was published, me among them). Kennedy is a child psychologist-turned-parenting icon, and like Huberman, she possesses the charisma and institutional credentials that make her easy to trust. She’s known chiefly for her theory (method?) of, among other things, “sturdy parenting.” Her business, Good Inside, provides parents with resources and community—with answers—in one of the most uncertain aspects of human life.

From what I could discern during a close read of the story, sturdy parenting is different from traditional parenting in the sense that it doesn’t emphasize discipline and consequences, and yet it’s different still from the new-age “gentle parenting” because it emphasizes enforcement of boundaries. Her business model is enormously profitable: She has 48,000 subscribers who each pay $276 per year, which I—you already know—calculated to mean $13M in recurring annual subscription revenue.

Despite my child-free status, I consumed an unspeakable number of her videos with great enthusiasm. She’d set up a scenario (“Your kid won’t get off the shed!”) and play-act the wrong response (mostly yelling). And? I’d think, anxiously awaiting the big reveal, What should I say instead?, ready to take mental notes of her response. (“I’ve asked you to get off the shed. I’m going to come over there now. If by the time I am there, you are not off the shed, I’m going to physically remove you.”) Noted. Her straightforward, highly specific advice was revelatory. Does she do adult interactions, too?

I perused her comments section where the volume and caliber of discourse stunned me—followers largely guiding one another, adding their own insights—and observed the way Dr. Becky always seemed to have a directive to share. The experience left me feeling as though I had been sturdy-parented.

But there was a passage in the piece that struck me as eerily similar as I basked in the afterglow of the Huberman piece: “[Kennedy’s parenting methodology as a] trend has grown in tandem with the increasing precariousness of everyday life…that nagging, unanswerable question of what constitutes enough is what has given rise to the Dr. Becky phenomenon. Among many of today’s parents, there is a twin desire: for reassurance that they’re doing their best and for guidance on how to do better.”

My comparison of these two is not to imply there’s anything sinister going on with Dr. Becky, of course, just that both Huberman and Kennedy educate acolytes numbering in the millions about specific ways to engage with some of the most “I don’t know, it depends” areas of our lives: health and parenting. 

Even before the Huberman Harem was revealed, the (very little) public scrutiny he did face mostly pertained to the conclusiveness with which he presented information. His scientific claims were sometimes backed only by “limited animal studies,” and his critics pointed out that he had a habit of “posit[ing] certainty where there is ambiguity.”

My husband was at work when he read the Huberman piece, and we were texting about the claims. I asked him how he felt about religiously following directions that may or may not be truly scientifically proven.