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Parenting and perfectionism don’t mix. Parenting and the desire to have control over – well – anything – don’t mix. However, when I was newly pregnant, I didn’t yet realize all this. I was a blank slate. I was ready to have any and all thoughts and opinions on parenting etched onto me. I was going to learn from the masters, the researchers, the Bump boards. Whatever it took to make my child an Adonis, a pinnacle of love and learning, a baby for the baby books. I would gladly bear this weight on my back in exact counterpressure to my burgeoning belly. Load it on. I could take it.
When I found out I was pregnant, one of my first purchases was What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Actually, backtrack. When I first decided I would like to get pregnant, one of my first purchases was Taking Charge of Your Fertility. Then What to Expect, which I read in monthly increments. (Except for skipping ahead, like, all the time, because you can never be too prepared.) I knew the exact size fruit my baby was at all times. I knew when to expect morning sickness to stop. I learned when it was about time to get the furniture set up. I also knew exactly what to buy thanks to Baby Bargains. I learned what to pack in my overnight bag. I was on it.
Anything that a book couldn’t answer, the thousands of women on The Bump could. Tiny twinge in my abdomen? Better post and see what’s going on. (“It’s nothing.” “Call the OB NOW. Like stop typing and CALL.”)
Advice, advice, advice. It was great! Anything I could ever think about, there was advice for it. It was comforting to know that people had blazed the path for me.
When my son was born, I didn’t stop seeking out advice. If anything it increased. We’d better make sure he’s a good sleeper. Enter: Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. What do I do if he’s fussy? Hello, The Happiest Baby on the Block. Wait, what am I supposed to be doing with a boy? There’s a book (or twenty) for that: The Wonder of Boys. Shouldn’t he be walking by now? Ask Your Baby’s First Year.
Advice, advice, advice. It was great, but…. It wasn’t. There was so much. How do I process all this? What do I do when the books are saying opposite things? Dr. Sears says don’t cry it out; but Healthy Sleep Habits says do, and Healthy Sleep Habits says if my kid’s not sleeping he is going to grow up to be an alcoholic sociopath. And worse, what to do when I’m following the advice but it just doesn’t seem to be working? Agh, what to do?
Then I got pregnant with my daughter. I had some spotting once and got onto The Bump and got a load of alarmist responses and – ENOUGH! Enough, enough, enough. Just… enough.
I realized I had been using all this advice as a crutch. And to some extent, it was really, really helpful. We learned a lot of techniques that helped us out over those first few years. I got some comfort from knowing others had been where I had been. But the benefits were increasingly outweighed. I was feeling like a failure for not being able to follow all the advice I was being given. I was getting overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it. And I was realizing – I don’t have a textbook baby. And I am not a textbook mother. My son is his own unique self, and I am his flawed but well-intentioned mother.
I cut myself off then and there. I did make a few exceptions – one of which I’ve mentioned before, Siblings Without Rivalry, which is really excellent. And I’ve been on the fence for months now about breaking down to buy How to Unspoil Your Child Fast. (Advice sought on whether that’s one to buy.) But for the most part, I’ve left the parenting advice behind.
And I’m happier for it. For one thing, I have time to read books that don’t make me feel bad about myself – or if they do, it’s by virtue of them being totally trashy beach reads. (Bad Heir Day anybody?) But it’s also allowed me to become more confident in my parenting style. I know that there are thousands of people who disagree with me. I know that there are thousands who agree. And when it comes down to it, I don’t really care. If it works for my kids and me, then it’s working fine. Even if experts agree that it will turn my kids into zombies with a nicotine problem in a few years.
Where do you stand on parenting books? Have your thoughts changed as your kids have grown?
This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, written a few days early, inspired by the theme “I didn’t listen to anyone’s advice when….” If you’re interested in joining, check out the Facebook page. I’m not sure who’s hosting yet but I will update once that information comes out.