Today my oldest child turns 18. So here I am, a mother of 10. I have managed to take one child to the age of 18 and she has been launched from the home (first time around anyway) to go to college. I’ve been in the parenting game for 18 years. As I reflect a bit on my parenting journey, one regret stands out. It’s something that caused me a lot of heartache, and I would love for some of you younger parents out there to maybe learn from my mistakes.
So, here it is…
Don’t read parenting books.
Ok, I guess I can clarify that a bit. I would say there are two types of parenting books. Books that seek to educate you on what it means to be a parent, perhaps explain some of how children’s minds and development work, perhaps offer some encouragement. Those kind are helpful, informative and useful. My aversion to parenting books falls on the other kind. These are the books that set out an exact plan and method for how you should parent. Your child should sleep this much at this age, here’s how to make that happen. Your child should display this level of respect to you at all times, here’s how to make that happen. Your child should be disciplined whenever they do A, B or C, here’s how you should discipline them.. These parenting books prey on the poor parents that are at their wit’s end, they don’t feel like they are doing a good enough job, they are failing on some level, and so they start desperately looking around for help. Or, these books focus on people who are about to have a child appear in their life: birthed, adopted, fostered… and they have no idea what to do, and so they start turning to books for the answers.
In my grand career as a parent I have read 4 different parenting books of this type. I regret reading every single one of them. Each book set up a system, a pattern of thought, a path to follow that would somehow get me from point A to point B with good kids and a happy home. They all failed. In fact, all of them lead me to go against my conscience at some point in time and had me doing things that my inner-self was thinking, “Surely this can’t be right?” but I doubted myself, I was not an authority, and the book said I was supposed to do it this way. My husband finally convinced me that we needed to throw out the books and just rely on our common sense, our own consciences, and our own relationship with God, trusting that he would give us whatever wisdom we needed to raise the kids. I can’t say life got easier after that, but it wasn’t as stressful and I felt a lot more true to myself and my kids than when I was trying to imitate somebody else’s ideas.
Here’s the thing. We are all unique. We’ve each got our own set of DNA, we’ve each got our own histories, our own set of life-circumstances…how on earth can a book be written that will properly address every single family? It can’t be done. (Ok, there is the Bible, which is good for all things, but you will notice that the Bible doesn’t try to specify exactly what to do when your child has a meltdown while getting ready for bed. It teaches you the general concepts and then lets you apply it to your unique life.)(Meltdowns at bedtime: love is patient and kind, long-suffering.)
I am not against seeking advice. Talk to other parents that you know, whom you’ve observed and you like what you see. Talk to trusted counselors. Talk to people who know you and your particular set of circumstances. I have talked to other moms, I have talked to my pastors, I’ve talked to psychologists and pediatricians when we were struggling with some really big issues. It’s good to seek counsel. I’m also not against reading books about people I admire, hearing stories of how they parented. It gives me a lot of good ideas, but in the end I have to sift through all the advice, all the examples that I’ve seen and I have to figure out what’s going to work for me and my kids. Believe it or not, if you ask, God will give you all the wisdom that you need to raise them.