What’s Wrong With Us Part II

2. We have entirely too much information available.

I never gave any thought to parenting while I was pregnant. I spent a significant amount of time endlessly obsessing about the stages of pregnancy and delivery, but I never wasted a second thinking about what would happen once the baby was born. As far as I was concerned, that would be the easy part. I didn’t know what to expect from labor and delivery, but once my baby boy was in my hands, I was sure I’d be fine.  I laughed smugly at my pregnant counterparts as they continuously devoured every parenting book they could get their hands on. Little did I know that within days of Gus being born, I would be trying to get my hands on every parenting book I could find.

My mom came to stay with us a few weeks after Gus was born and I didn’t mistake her amused smiling at the stack of parenting books next to my breastfeeding chair. We had just over nighted the video, The Happiest Baby on the Block, and we made her sit through the entire thing. Lots of people love this video, but we all thought it was ridiculous. It amounted to rolling your baby up into a tightly rolled burrito and saying, “shush…” I’m sure we could have figured that out without the 19.95 plus shipping and handling.

Our bookshelves are overflowing with parenting books. There’s one on every topic. You could probably read one every day for the next ten years and still not be halfway through. Not to mention the inexhaustible amount of information that we have at our fingertips with the click of a mouse. There’s an entire spectrum of material available. There’s the prescriptive how-to books filled with textbook accounts of of childrearing that puts child care into mathematical formulas. A + B = C.  The other side of the spectrum holds narratives about parenting written mostly by celebrities or rich white women.

Now, all of this information would be wonderful if all of the sources agreed. But, it’s not that simple. Nobody in the parenting world agrees. On any topic, there is a split as divisive as the Republican vs. Democratic divide. You can read through one piece and find yourself thinking, okay, okay…this makes sense. This is how I should do it. Then you click on a different link that tells you everything you just read was wrong! It’s absolutely maddening. The result is that you have to pick which side you want to take on the issue. Your selection is based on your own decision making process which is exactly what you were doubting in the first place!

I’m fairly certain my mom never read a parenting book in her life. She may have had the ancient Dr. Spock book to serve as a medical reference, but other than that she did what every other woman had been doing who came before her. That is, she figured it out as she went along. She trusted her instinct and for those moments when she didn’t have a clue, she just did the best she could. She still makes fun of me for all of the reading and studying I did on parenting.

See, parenting is not a science no matter how much we might wish that it were. No matter how much the experts may tell us it is. If it was, all of the sources would agree.  For example, if you Google the Law of Gravity, you will get a bazillion hits, but they will all define the Law of Gravity exactly the same.  This is not even remotely close to what happens in regard to parenting.

I threw my parenting books away along time ago. It felt good.

Photo credit: David Castillo Dominic

http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=3062

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10 Responses to What’s Wrong With Us Part II

  1. Tianana says:

    YES! That is exactly what I have done. I was sure the next book would be the “right” one. How do I trust my instincts? That is where I freeze up. So glad to have this blog, thank you!

  2. Mommy Psychologist says:

    Ugh…Trusting your instincts is so hard. I can’t tell you how many times I have researched an issue endlessly and then ultimately ended up doing exactly what I thought initially. Sometimes I think I am driven to find some type of external validation for my decision making.

  3. Rach says:

    I’m laughing so hard at this. With the first one I was desperate to do everything “right”. With the next two I realized that any parenting book out there could tell you whatever you wanted to hear, you just had to find it.

    I have a friend who just had her first baby a week ago. I told her that with parenting books, take what works for you and toss the rest. Every child is different and they are ALL going to respond differently to the exact same parenting. Believe me, I know. Oy!

    This is, without a doubt, the hardest job I’ve ever had…and I’ve taught in the inner-city. ;o)

    Welcome to the world of blogging. I LOVE your honesty!

    Rach

  4. Cathy B. says:

    I thought I was doing okay with no books. Then, my mother-in-law came to visit. The next week she sent me five(!) books from Amazon with titles like “Raising the Difficult Child” and “1-2-3 Parenting”. When asked for an explanation, she said that it seemed like we could use a little help. How’s that for a subtle hint? I read the first two, realized that they contradicted each other, and threw the rest away.

  5. Ockeghem says:

    So true! I gave up on parenting books early on, but mostly what I read obsessively were all the sleep books…and then gave up, as my infant didn’t fit any of them. All of them seemed to have some sort of celebrity endorsement (why do I care what Cindy Crawford thinks about Marc Weissbluth?), all of them had tons of call-outs on families who were desperate until their babies were magically cured by the doctor’s practices, and few of them relied on any sort of real research. They all contradicted each other. And none of them told you what to do when your kid didn’t conform to their prescriptions. My daughter didn’t take naps in 90-minute increments — what do you do if she only naps 20 minutes at a time? Hmm, well, the 90-Minute Baby Sleep Program doesn’t have an answer. And she puked every time we tried crying it out, from age 6 months to age 2 (and no, she didn’t seem to do it in a calculated fashion as the books said she was; her crying escalated to the point where she was hysterical, which always triggers her sensitive gag reflex). And we weren’t the overly sensitive parent type that the crying-it-out books all assume you are — that you’re so sensitive that you can’t handle the sound of your kid crying for even three minutes. (I just can’t ignore the sound of my kid puking after slowly escalating over 30 minutes to hysteria.)

    Seriously, I gave up and just did what seemed right. Same with parenting overall. I can’t take the celebrity endorsements, self-aggrandizing and conflicting advice. Is she a dream sleeper, or a dream kid? No, but you know what, she’ll be fine.

  6. Tali says:

    While I agree that we are consumed with getting it right which feeds our consumption of parenting books, I think there are some other ideas to consider as part of this conversation. One is that we don’t have a community to help us raise our children the way past generations did. We are much more isolated and more likely to live far from parents/grandparents, etc. and I think that drives us to books for answers that used to be provided in a much more informal, communal way.
    Also, while it’s easy to say that parenting books contradict each other and toss them all out the window, this is somewhat flawed logic. If you are feeling unsure and looking for validation and come across a book that provides it, this can boost your confidence as a parent which can be positive. If you didn’t know that newborns need to sleep every 3 hours or so (as I didn’t and my mother and mother-in-law’s experiences were too long ago to remember how to encourage a healthy sleep routine), then reading a sleep book can be helpful. I have found it empowering to pick up sleep or parenting books because I’m looking for some communal information and possibilities on how to address a complex issue (i.e. sleep, challenging behavior, etc.) and I am reinforcing my sense of confidence that I can figure it out by seeking out information and contemplating it. Having said all this, it is important to trust our instinct as mothers and books won’t have all the answers — it’s just that they can be handy tools along the way.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks for your comments, Tali. I admit I learned as I say many “tricks of the trade” about parenting from books. Like of the practical stuff like how to bathe them and like you said, how often they are supposed to sleep. You also brought up a really valid point about the lack of community that exists for most of us on this parenting journey. I know my mom always went to her family for answers while she was raising us. Many of us no longer have that luxury.

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