When I was expecting my first baby, I devoured baby care books. I used my library card to borrow almost every book that had been written about newborn babies and, from there, chose the best ones to actually purchase. I packed the chosen few along with my birth plan in my hospital suitcase. I was going to do this parenting thing right from the very beginning.
Well, the birth plan proved to be irrelevant and the books were too. But I didn’t realise this about the books until they’d already put my baby and myself through the wringer. My baby did not behave in the ways the books told me he would and very little the well-loved experts had written helped to make parenting him any easier. I became very stressed – angry at myself and my baby for not “doing it properly”.
Some of you may be asking why did I cling to these books so tightly if they were stressing me out? Others of you may already know the answer – because you relate.
WHY WE READ SO MANY PARENTING BOOKS
I read the books because I didn’t think I could do it. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to keep this baby alive, let alone ensure he thrived in every way. My insides were a tangle of self-doubt and, with a sense of the importance of the task before me, my confidence was at an all-time low.
These days, our society has us believing that there’s not much we can do without expert guidance. It wants almost everything we do to be “research-based”, validated as “best practice” by someone with letters after their name. It jams everyone and everything into important-sounding theories, including babies and their parents, measuring our actions against scientifically-proven ideals.
Well, I didn’t have a PhD in parenting so I put my trust in the experts who did. I was a good student, too. I read their books thoroughly, marking them with post-it notes and diligently following their guidelines. The books had me doing all sorts of crazy things and making myself (and probably my poor baby) crazy in the process. But I didn’t question them because they were written by the experts. They couldn’t be wrong – I was doing something wrong. My sense of failure was tangible.
WHY WE DON’T NEED ALL THOSE PARENTING BOOKS
It took me a long time to come to the realisation that, as a parent, I was the expert. It was my job to be the expert – not in baby care and parenting in general, but an expert in my own child in particular.
To become the expert, I had to carry out the research myself, observing my child and using what I learned to inform myself going forward. Of course, I didn’t have the pure objectivity that a scientific researcher does because I was connected to my child biologically, emotionally and spiritually. But I did have the ability to be present.
Getting present when we’re tired, stressed and anxious takes discipline but it helps us to connect with our children so that we really see them. And, when we open ourselves to really seeing them, our intuition kicks in. It shows us what’s going on beneath their behaviour and how to respond with what our child really needs. (I have written more about how to use our intuition in our parenting in this essay).
Our power as parents is in the quality of our relationship with our children, not in our ability to implement a plan laid out for us by an expert. In fact, our children can feel us applying strategies to them and it doesn’t feel good, often undermining that connection that tells us so much of what we need to know.
HOW TO READ A PARENTING BOOK
Of course, there are lots of great parenting books out there and I have a number of them on my own bookshelf. But I have sifted through them and kept only the ones that offer wise perspective, leaving room for my own judgement and the messiness that is childhood, parenting and family life. So keep your favourites on the shelf, but here is the rule: As you read, look for what resonates.
If you read with an open heart, rather than with the fear of “doing it wrong” or desperation to find a “solution” to whatever parenting challenge you are facing, you will get a feeling for how well the ideas fit with your child and the circumstances before you. Take what feels true and leave the rest. (That’s true for my essays also.)
IN SUMMARY: FOLLOW THE REAL EXPERTS
Those of us who are inclined to over-research parenting do so because we don’t trust ourselves. But, if we’re willing to put aside our fear and its desire to control, we will find that we have access to intuitive wisdom we can trust. The ideas in the books that we read offer us suggestions from which to choose the most suitable actions, they are not to be treated as the instruction manuals we often find ourselves looking for in the midst of challenge and self-doubt. My experience is that, once we trust ourselves more, we will also begin to trust our children. We will realise that they are the experts on themselves and we simply have to follow their lead.
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