Friday, January 3, 2014

Parenthood: Week 31.5 - Parenting By The Book Vs. Parenting With Your Instincts

The first time that I watched this sketch, I thought it was funny but I didn't really get it.  After seeing the  piles of parenting books and the significant pile of books that just were about getting your kids to sleep this sketch no longer seemed funny.  Suddenly, it all started to feel way too real.

Diana read a quite a few parenting books.  Bear in mind that Diana is a very fast reader and has an amazing ability to synthesize and analyze knowledge she acquires from the written word.  So for her reading a lot of books about parenting wasn't a huge chore and this was a significant help for myself being a much slower reader.  We've always read books about children and their development for fun as we are both fascinated with children and issues related to them.  It seemed natural that we would read books about parenting.

The amount of parenting books on the market is intimidating and some people react by simply ignoring all of these books and going with their instincts.  The other extreme is only going with what you read in a book and ignoring your instincts.  The reality is that you need some of the knowledge that comes from these books and without using your instincts you will not know how to temper this knowledge to best serve your child's needs.

There is an enormous amount of knowledge that is out there about parenting.  I don't use the term "wealth of knowledge" because a lot of this knowledge is useless and unfortunately some of it can be detrimental.  You can't let the overwhelming amount of books deter you from familiarizing yourself with material written by doctors and health professionals that is backed up by sound research.  When Dr. Weissbluth suggest that you put your child to sleep earlier in the evening, it's because it reflects his own research and practice as a doctor.

Ignoring this kind of advice puts parents in situations where they are reinventing the wheel.  While discovering how to be a parent is a great part of parenting, building upon the experience of previous generations, which parents have done throughout human history is vital to your sanity as a parent.  Even with reading a lot of books, there will be new things that you will discover, trust me.

You can't go simply with what you read in a book even if it is well-researched.  Being a parent is a combination of finding the parenting approach that fits your child's needs and your own personality as a parent.  It's less about being the type of parent that you want to be, but rather being the parent that your child needs you to be.  This is where instincts come into play.

No book can tell you how to read a child's mood or to tell you exactly when he or she are satiated after a meal.  Every kid has different sleep signals and learn how to interact with the world in different ways.  When you spend as much time with your child as parents do, you learn how to distinguish between dirty diaper cries and I'm hungry cries.  Your instincts as a parent are a product of millennia of evolutionary biology that should not be ignored.

Most of the time.

When your child gets a vaccination (which I wrote about in this previous post), your instincts as a parent will be to punch the nurse that makes your kids scream but the knowledge you learn will tell your instincts to chill out so that your baby doesn't die a horrible death from rotavirus.

This balancing act isn't easy, but it's necessary.  Sifting through all of the information in books and online is difficult.  Especially online, there is a lot of crazy out there.  Just because something works for one child doesn't mean it will work for yours, no matter how much you may want it to.  Focus of researched material and books that give clear explanations.  Read books that other parents you respect recommend and when there's serious issue don't look on message boards, call your pediatrician.

Embrace the tension between what your instincts as a parent tell you and what your are told to do by society and by books.  Like in most parts of your life, a little tension is a good thing.  Tension product of being conscientious, intelligent, well-read and in touch with your feelings.  This tension will drive you crazy sometimes but leaning into this struggle may be the best thing for your child.    

Here are the parenting books we found most helpful:
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth M.D.
The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems: Sleeping, Feeding, and Behavior by Tracy Hogg
The Girlfriends' Guide to Surviving 1st year Mother by Vicki Iovine

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