I don’t read parenting books. And, at the risk of offending many readers, I don’t recommend reading parenting books. I’m fully aware of the irony of me – a mom writing about raising kids – telling people not to read about parenting. Hopefully by now, though, you’ve figured out that I’m the antithesis of an expert on anything. In fact, my blog is likely a how-not-to-parent treatise.
Here’s how I came to my Screw-the-Experts Theory of Parenting.
Six years ago, my international teaching career was going strong, and I was used to being extremely competent at what I did. If I didn’t know it, I googled it, I read professional journals, I eavesdropped on teaching forums, I quizzed colleagues.
When I became pregnant, I applied the same need-to-be-an-expert-and-research-the-hell-out-of-it strategy to pregnancy. I cross-referenced the prego-bible, What To Expect When You’re Expecting, with the more light-hearted, Australian Up the Duff. I read three books on raising twins, two on breastfeeding, and one on parenting, and I also lurked on babycenter.com’s forums. In retrospect, this was probably an attempt to feel less out-of-control of my body, in that Ripley/Sigourney/Alien type of way.
When my twins were born, I kept What To Expect in the First Year handy; I used it often as a reference, thumbing through it for info on fevers, green goo-poo, and to see how far behind my kids were on learning to smile.
By the time Vivian and William turned one, though, I threw out the books.
I was worn out by competitive parenting. Maybe because I couldn’t win, I ceased to care about whose baby walked or signed first, whose baby was breastfed, whose sleep strategy was best. Middle-class-me was part of a generation of professional women who were used to a high level of expertise, information at their fingertips, and living far from their families.
What happened to relying on our foremothers to share their hints?
I started to recall events that had taught me the most; all of these involved witnessing or by listening to real live people.
- My mom, as I’ve mentioned before, can anticipate and divert a crisis long before it happens. Whenever she visits, she seems to instinctively know when Vivian is premeditating, plotting to steal William’s toy-of-the-moment. My mom, between sips from her cup of tea bottle of beer, manages to offer Vivian a seemingly better toy, before I can shift my butt off the couch.
- My sister, whose oldest child was a teen by the time my twins were born, advised me to breastfeed for marathon sessions to get my newborns to sleep better. “He’s not done,” she’d say, taking a sleepy, eight-day-old William from me. She’d strip him, mercilessly run a cold cloth over him till he’d cry, then give him back. “Keep going,” she said, “the more he eats, the longer he sleeps.” Although I desperately wanted to get the babies away from me and sleep, she was right. They slept longer and so did I.
- A few years before I had kids, I asked my cousin the question, “How do you have the energy to teach middle school full time when you have two toddlers?” She said she lowered her standards on things that don’t really matter at school – like colour-cordinated, ever-changing bulletin boards – and just tried to show one student each day that she cared. She said, “Showing one student I care doesn’t take extra time. And, anyways, it’s what they’ll remember.” It’s also advice that’s easily applied to children. I might not do crafts with my kids or take them skating every weekend or make homemade valentines, but I can – most of the time – show them I care.
So to my own team of experts and role models, three of whom are listed above, I say thank you.
And to all moms, I say, put down the parenting books: trust yourself and ask the women around you.
Photo used under a Creative Commons ShareAlike License, (cc) Mike Haw