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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?

 

first time mom of a baby

brand new mom with my brand new baby - levi only a few hours old.

 

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.

(Obviously there are exceptions, and I do believe there are great parenting books that are well worth reading like this one and this one and this one just to name a few.)

 

second time mom to a toddler and a newborn

welcoming our second child, judah (about 10 hours old here)

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.

 

 

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About Adriel

Adriel Booker is a writer, speaker, and difference-maker living Down Under with her Aussie love and littles where they serve in full-time ministry (and full-time parenting) together. She writes about celebrating motherhood, building families, strengthening faith, enjoying life, empowering women, changing the world, and telling the story.

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23 Responses to Who’s the expert, anyway? | The struggle between parenting books and trusting yourself

  1. Jessica May 4, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

    I think a bit of both. The important thing is that you must trust your instincts. The important thing that I didn’t get as a new mom trying to trust my instincts is that you must be okay with trusting your instincts. You must believe that you know your child best and that even with knowing everything about every other child out there, you still must parent to your child, their needs.
    Jessica recently posted..Spring Cleaning| Teething BabyMy Profile

  2. Laura May 4, 2012 at 10:32 pm #

    I read so many books when I was pregnant with my first. Since then, I’ve barely read any.I realized that I already had everything I needed to be a good mother – I was loving, nurturing, and had instincts and a supportive husband to lean on.

    I did read a sleep-training book when it was necessary for our family – but like you, just took some points and then heavily modified it to work for us.
    Laura recently posted..Mama HomeMy Profile

    • Adriel @ The Memos May 5, 2012 at 1:45 am #

      yes, i think that’s so important laura. i personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with reading sleep-training books, as long as we are respecting our children when trying to implement things. and yes, i totally agree – every family needs to modify according to what you believe is right AND what’s working for your child!!
      Adriel @ The Memos recently posted..bloggers for birth kits approaches 1000 kits donatedMy Profile

  3. Lori May 5, 2012 at 1:38 am #

    Totally with you on the parenting book thing, especially on the issue of sleep training. One book makes you feel like an inept parent if don’t let your baby cry it out, and the next book makes you feel like a horrid monster if you DO let them cry it out. And each book is written from the standpoint that it’s the best and only way to go. Then if your baby doesn’t conform to the bahaviors in the book, you wonder what’s wrong with them. I actually had to not finish a particular book because it was stressing me out too much. Being a new parent is just challenging all the way around – I found it easier to ask advice from friends than read books, but even there you get different opinions from different people and wonder which one is right for you. I often wished all babies were the same and they really could write just one book on infant behavior that would work for ALL of them :-)

  4. Raia May 5, 2012 at 3:01 am #

    I read many parenting books and talked to lots of other new moms when my daughter was born (she is 18 months old now). I found some of it very helpful and affirming. I also had nights when things weren’t going well and the thoughts in my head told me I must be “doing it wrong.” I would remember someone telling me that their child (of similar age) was sleeping through the night with no problems. And at 2am, trying to get my daughter to sleep, again, I couldn’t help but feel like I was missing something (my bedtime routine must not be right, her naps aren’t good enough, etc). For me it helps to remember that, with other moms’ advice, I am getting the short version, I don’t see the whole picture and we all struggle from time to time. And we all have different babies to parent. Learning to trust myself, my intuition and to quiet those voices in my head insisting I was doing it all wrong has been a process and I can’t say I am totally there yet.

    • Adriel @ The Memos May 5, 2012 at 10:25 am #

      I can relate to that exactly. It’s always at 2am (or in the midst of a “failed” nap day) that I’d think “what am I doing wrong? Surely this is all my fault.” When in reality, it was probably just my baby being… a baby.

      Thanks for sharing. I’m still learning too! Very much.
      Adriel @ The Memos recently posted..parenting to build relationships, not robotsMy Profile

  5. Mandy@ asortafairytale May 5, 2012 at 3:02 am #

    I absolutely adore this post!! I completely agree that sometimes reading parenting books can be more confusing than helpful. I have decided that from here on out, I will just follow my gut and do what I feel is best. It hasn’t steered me wrong thus far. And as for the cry-it-out method… I was so totally against that with Bennett. But my hubby was convinced it was the right thing to do, so we tried it when Bennett was 5 months old. I couldn’t handle it and gave up. Then 2 months later, we decided to try again and it worked like a charm. Ever since then, Bennett has been the most AMAZING sleeper ever. Granted, he gets up early… but since doing CIO, he’s been able to put himself to sleep peacefully and sleeps all night and for 3+ hour naps. It’s been wonderful for our family. But I have to be honest, I am not looking forward to sleep training again (with Easton), because it is a hard thing to get through. But I do believe it’s worth it. Totally my opinion, though. I respect everyone’s choices as parents, even if they disagree with me.
    Mandy@ asortafairytale recently posted..the one that made me a motherMy Profile

  6. Rachel J. May 5, 2012 at 2:43 pm #

    I TOTALLY agree that every family is different, and most importantly, every baby is different. What worked for my daughter doesn’t always work for my son. And just when you think you have them all figured out, they go and do something completely unexpected!

    Now that it’s the second time around, I have been so much more relaxed. Instead of worrying so much about doing things the “right” way (I obsessed over it the first time), now I realize that it’s not about being a perfect parent. It’s about being a loving parent. It’s about making the best choices I can for my child, and while parenting books and other advice can be valuable tools for making informed decisions, those people are not in my house parenting my baby at 2 a.m.
    Rachel J. recently posted..What I Love About My FirstbornMy Profile

  7. Tasha May 6, 2012 at 5:34 am #

    This is so insightful! I, too, read the mainstream ‘sleep-training’ ‘scheduled feeding’ books while pregnant with my son and thought (in my people-pleasing, rule-following mind) that to be a ‘good’ mom, I needed to follow protocol and be what I felt the books advertised as ‘strong’ for my child’s well-being. When I had that baby in my arms and at my breast, everything changed! I knew in my heart that this approach wasn’t right for us, it didn’t square with the instincts and values that were rooted deep down in my core. So I followed my instincts. I found a God given stength inside me that I didn’t know I had to respectfully stand up to others who questioned me, believing I was spoiling my baby.
    You have really got me interested in the Spirit Lead Parenting book! Having read the synopsis, it makes my heart smile because the Christian community NEEDS books like that! I have been struggling so much lately some of the ‘traditional’ Christian parenting curricula that friend’s have given to me. Some of these books insist that if you don’t follow their protocol for corporal punishment with your child, you are saying you ‘don’t love them enough’ (direct quote from one such book) and that they will remain outside of God’s circle of blessing. I love hearing a book that advocates a change of heart, an approach rather than an ultimatum. I’ve got to read this book!! :) Thank you for sharing!

  8. Megan @ boho mama May 10, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

    We’ve tried a few things that just didn’t feel right, and I am fortunate in that my husband and family are incredibly supportive of my intuition and what I feel is “right”. I truly believe it’s all about being in tune to your kids and getting to know THEM, instead of trying to create perfect babies who are “good” – like your robots post! It’s hard for me because I’m very much a rules-be appropriate-behave person, and this has been a huge growing experience for me, I’ve been breaking out of that box. To the benefit (I hope!) of my kiddos.
    Megan @ boho mama recently posted..how to [successfully] visit your family with young babies.My Profile

  9. Leslie May 12, 2012 at 5:47 am #

    Oh goodness, Adriel, I had the EXACT same experience as you in 2003 with my first son. Excellent post. I am so glad you had the courage to share this. It IS hard to write about these topics. I’m so glad that Spirit Led Parenting encouraged you to share this. Isn’t that such a great book? It’s a voice we need in our Christian communities. Keep on sharing, because you are writing some great stuff. Much love from Costa Rica, Leslie
    Leslie recently posted..Breastfeeding ~ To Cover or Not to Cover?My Profile

    • Adriel Booker May 12, 2012 at 10:07 pm #

      Thanks Leslie. You too!! I think we have some very similar experiences and thoughts on parenting. And you are a few years down the track from me in terms of experience. Yay for me. :)

  10. Alessandra Ferguson November 15, 2013 at 7:16 am #

    Hey there! I found you via Sarah’s Blog (Mommy Notes). I may or may not have just spent half my son’s nap time reading through a bunch of your posts. Time well spent! ;) I love your blog girl, and am definitely going to be following along girl. I love LOVE loved this post! This was the FIRST lesson I had to learn in parenting. Everyone around me was using these expert advice books, and I felt so pressured to do the same. Just like you though, it didn’t settle. I couldn’t let my baby boy CIO because I felt like he needed me, he didn’t understand. I was stressed that I was going to have a difficult child if I didn’t do it by the books. My husband was so good to me though, he told me to follow whatever mom instincts I had and forget the books. He took them away because I was so stressed out. Good man. Definitely a great post!
    Alessandra Ferguson recently posted..It’s Only A Season – Real MotherhoodMy Profile

    • Adriel November 15, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

      oh, awesome alessandra. so glad you’ve been encouraged!! sounds like some great mama-time… i call that “reclaiming naptime”! ;)

      yeah, that first year of parenting is so hard. especially if you are a person with naturally high expectations who puts a lot of pressure on yourself to perform well, be right, etc. how wonderful that your husband could see what it was all doing to you and “helped” you find some freedom from the undue stress. good man!! and i’m sure you’re a great mom or else you wouldn’t have cared so much. blessings, mama. xo

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