I want to write a book about parenting called, “You don’t need this book.”
As a developmental psychologist who studies parent-child relationships, mother of two, and friend to many mothers, I am saddened by how much advice is sought by parents like me, from experts in my field, and from books that claim to have a cry-free, worry-free, fatigue-free solution to the challenges of raising a child. Why do my girlfriends – educated, loving, and dedicated mothers, think that their parenting anxieties can be solved by a book? And why are they so anxious and self-doubting in the first place?
I became a so-called expert in parenting, by grace of the letters P, H, and D, before I became a parent. I felt like a fraud, uncomfortable with the authority bestowed upon me. “How is my child doing?” “How am I doing?” I remember in graduate school a woman breaking into grateful tears when I answered simply, “I think you’re a really good Mom.”
Since becoming a Mom, I haven’t been cured of my fraudulence – I just understand it. Parenting experts are not the keepers of a secret formula. A reliance on their advice for everyday challenges teaches us that when the going gets difficult, it means there must be a problem to be solved. From talk show guests who claim they have decoded 2-month-olds’ sounds to videos on how to cure defiance – name any parenting challenge, and I’ll show you a woman who has looked outside herself for an answer – not as a last resort, but as the first one.
My Ph.D. didn’t provide me with a tear-free and laundry-free solution to potty training, and I still don’t know what to say when my three-year-old calls me “rude” for disciplining her. But I know enough not to be ashamed that my 8-month-old doesn’t sleep through the night, and I know enough not to feel like a failure.
Of course, some children are more challenging than others, and some parents have had their good instincts quieted. I too have been passively judgmental at the grocery store among mothers’ raised voices and fathers’ sugared cereal bribes. Parenting doesn’t always come naturally, so it’s silly to think that all parents at all times would “just know” what to do if they listened to their inner parent. But all in all, I believe that parents mostly know how to be good parents, and that children are not the mystifying, un-decodable creatures we make them out to be. And I believe most people who would think about buying a parenting book actually just need a good old-fashioned dose of self-confidence. But when self-confidence is obtained superficially, it inevitably poops out, until the quest for the next secret formula begins again.
So, my non-advice advice? When I’ve gotten to the point I really feel I need some external support, I ask my friends and my parents. I use what rings true, and ignore the rest.
In the meantime, I’m still trying to figure out how to follow my husband’s encouragements to write a book on parenting that I don’t want parents to buy.
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