I used to be one of those parents who had an impressive collection of parenting books on my bookshelf. Parenting books which offered advice on babies, on sleep, on toddlers, on discipline, on tantrums, on emotional regulation, on breastfeeding, on attachment, on connection … the list goes on. I’m pretty sure they took up an entire shelf.
I’m a reformed parenting book addict
When I say, “used to be” – that’s because I’m not anymore. About six months ago I decided to donate all my parenting books because I decided they no longer served me. And actually – did they ever, really? I hadn’t really looked at them for a few years at least but I had been too nervous to get rid of them in case someday they offered me a gold nugget of advice during another trial I couldn’t seem to overcome myself.
It only took me until my fourth child to realise that the person who knows my kids the best is actually me – not some expert and their ideals that I can read about in a book.
There have been so many times throughout my parenting journey over the last 11 years that I have felt completely stumped and lost. You would think that after birthing and mothering four children I would have this whole gig sorted out, but that could not be further from the truth.
Searching for answers in the wrong places
I have memories engrained in my mind of desperately rifling through books that were meant to give me answers about a parenting quandary I had, something to make me feel a little less adrift in the chaos that is raising small children. I’d try a few things out but ultimately I’d be left feeling even more lost and a little defeated and somehow … not enough. Because my own children don’t actually care about anyone’s ideals or timelines – whether they were a professional or not. And I’d somehow end up beating myself up because I felt like once again, I was doing it all wrong. I’d glance at the book and make the recommendations but my children still wouldn’t do as they were ‘supposed’ to.
And then I realised …
I felt like I was failing the parenting book stakes. My child wasn’t doing what the book said she should do – what now?!
But then it occurred to me: parenting really evolves over time – and so do our children. Not only are they all unique in themselves but we as mothers change over time, too, and with it our expectations, perceptions and coping mechanisms.
What works now might not work later, and what works for one child may not work for the next. So that makes reading a book which tells you how to parent your child a certain way a really difficult task.
I’ve evolved as a mother
Now that I have done the whole newborn thing four times over and am onto raising my fourth toddler, you would think I’d know what I’m doing, right? But my youngest daughter is still throwing me curveballs that I haven’t encountered before. I know I am definitely not the same mother now that I was when I had my first baby.
So what has been the answer, if the parenting books don’t have them?
The answer has been to stop second-guessing myself as a mother, slow down and tune in to my own instincts and into my individual children, rather than expecting them to do things my way – or the way a book says.
Now I trust, talk to my village and feel my way through
There has been a great sense of peace since I threw out the parenting books and all the ‘shoulds’ that went along with them.
If something feels right, I keep doing it. If something isn’t working, then I try something else. Being around other parents with the same values as me has helped, too. Friendships like these have given me a sounding board to bounce ideas off, and a space to navigate situations that we all have in common and are grappling with. Instead of feeling isolated and alone in my journey, I feel connected, in-touch and reaffirmed on my journey.
But the ultimate liberation has been in the knowing that I am a capable, intelligent and loving mother who can dance the whole parenting dance to mine and my child’s own unique rhythm – and that’s not something that can come from a book.