Who’s the expert, anyway? | The struggle between parenting books and trusting yourself
Do parenting books inspire and empower us? Or leave us feeling more confused, insecure, and disheartened?
There’s nothing more thrilling and terrifying than being a first-time parent to a newborn. Even as your heart is exploding with newfound love and affection, you’re desperately trying to tick all the boxes and do everything “right”.
After all, we tremble at the thought of our children being in therapy one day because we’ve screwed up their childhood with our (well-intended) parenting blunders.
Starting things off right
I remember clearly the first (and only) time I let Levi “cry it out”. He was about ten days old.
I sat nervously in the living room hearing his tiny scream from the back of the house for nine minutes before he fell asleep.
It worked, I thought. He’s asleep.
Although I wouldn’t admit it at the time—because I was being “strong”—I had mixed feelings about what I’d just done.
Part of me felt pleased – nine minutes of tears isn’t that bad, right? Right? I must have done something right. (Yay, me.) Plus, I’m the mom – it’s my job to teach him stuff, like how to go to sleep without my help.
And then there was the other part of me that felt anxious. Wasn’t my baby crying for a reason for nine minutes? Didn’t he need me? Even as an adult I want to be comforted when I cry, so why on earth wouldn’t my own baby, who knows so little about life apart from me want—no, need—to be comforted too?
My thoughts were incredibly conflicted.
Like all new moms, I was trying desperately to take to heart what experienced moms everywhere advised – trust your own instincts, remember that you’re the mom and you know what’s best – while also trying to “get it right” according to what the “experts” advised.
I so desperately wanted to start things off perfectly right.
Learning from the experts
Even before I was pregnant someone I love and respect dearly gave me a copy of a popular infant care book.
As soon as I became pregnant I devoured it.
It seemed like the perfect scenario:
I could have my baby on a flawlessly predictable schedule, have no doubts that he always had plenty to eat, ensure he would take good, long naps (which would be restorative to both him and to me), and there would be minimal fuss about making it all happen.
Like I said, perfect.
But there was one small problem with the whole thing: it didn’t work for us.
To be fair, maybe it wasn’t working because letting Levi “cry it out” just didn’t sit right with me, so I never could bring myself to follow the book’s instructions to the letter.
But for everything that didn’t happen “by the book” I felt more and more that I was somehow failing my baby. I was “doing it wrong”.
I was missing something.
It certainly wasn’t helping me to gain confidence like I had anticipated it would. Rather, I found myself feeling more and more inadequate and insecure.
It didn’t take me long to ditch the book and seek for “help” elsewhere.
Reading parenting books with a (large) grain of salt
Fast-forward to now, just over two years later.
I’ve read a thousand books on parenting in my short few years as a mom. I can’t help it – I love this topic and I have since long before I had an “excuse” to read them (kids of my own).
As I’ve read I’ve discovered something – you can learn from everywhere and from anyone if you’re willing. I’ve taken something good away from every single book I’ve read, including the one I first read. (Don’t worry, I haven’t literally read a thousand.)
In saying that, there is a catch: I’ve got to be careful when reading these books that I don’t internalize them too much.
A recent study actually showed that parenting books are leaving moms feeling confused and inadequate instead of empowering them.
Does that sound familiar? It does to me.
Finding your own parenting groove
Since those early days I’ve read Ezzo and Sears and everything in-between. There’s not a book that I’ve read that I haven’t learned something from or found something to disagree with. (Some more so than others.)
And as those more experienced moms encouraged me toward, I have learned to trust my own instincts a whole lot more. I still struggle at times. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes wish for the magic formula to solve whatever parenting dilemma I’m currently facing.
But ultimately I know that raising kids requires having faith. You decide on your non-negotiables according to your family values and convictions, and then for the rest you step out into the unknown with the acute awareness that you will have some wild successes and some crushing failures.
You learn from those successes and failures. You humble yourself when you are wrong. You try something else. You reinforce what you know to be true and helpful for your own family. You offer (not push) your perspective to others when it’s invited. And most importantly, you watch and listen to your children, your spouse, and your heart.
Trusting yourself to parent well
Parenting is not rocket science, but it is outrageously complex in its variations.
It’s as personalized as we are individual.
All that to say, if you’re a reader like I am, then by all means read. But as you do so don’t let the books or the “experts” be your plumb line. If you’re not careful you may end up feeling like you fall short, like you don’t measure up… just like the women in the study.
As you wrestle with all of the conflicting opinions, let your gut be your guide.
As cliché as it might sound, you already have what it takes to be the best mom to your littles… if only you give yourself the chance.
On sleep training and cry-it-out and stirring up controversy
As I wrap up I want to emphasize this important message: Every family is different. Although I am not a fan of cry-it-out at all, I’m also not a fan of judging other families and parenting styles. That’s just not okay. I know several families who have wonderful relationships with their children, but take a very different approach in their homes than we do. And guess what? Their families are thriving, too. Some of them are close friends who I deeply respect and admire even though we have very different opinions on some parenting issues. Yes, I have strong opinions (and will probably write more about why another time), but like I said earlier, there is something to learn from every vantage point (if you’re willing). Let me try to make that as clear as I possibly can.
The purpose of this post is not to incite debate on sensitive parenting topics, or to single out any one parenting philosophy to criticize. My own personalized Adriel parenting philosophy is still very much growing and morphing as I learn and mature as a mom (along with my husband). I know this sort of thing can get parents very impassioned, so please keep kindness and respect toward other parents (and me) in your comments. xx
Dear friends, have parenting books (or well-meaning friends) helped you in your parenting? Or injured you? Or both?
P.S. I wrote this post ages ago, and have hummed and hawed about publishing it, but reading about the newly released Spirit Led Parenting has given me courage and some assurance that others have journeyed a similar path to mine. If you are a Christian mom, I think you’ll find the book’s message very refreshing.