The past few years have seen a tremendous uprising of parenting experts, including baby nurses, parenting coaches, and, of course, mommy bloggers. Everyone has a different opinion, and there are endless outlets through which to voice that opinion. All day long, mothers engage in heated online debates over everything from whether or not to breastfeed to how to handle a fussy baby to what it means if the child is not talking by age two (and what could have, and should have, been done about it earlier). Later, parents call for input on how to get kids to be more active, how to get kids to calm down, how to get them to eat more, or less, or better. The need (real or perceived) for experts is greater than ever before, which is why the numbers of experts are, too. These days, everyone's an pro on parenting -- except, that is, for parents.
Parenting experts are not new, of course, and I'm not only talking about the overzealous aunts or hyper-opinionated neighbors who have existed since the dawn of time. The more information the better, right? Maybe, maybe not. With the ever-growing profusion of information, much of it contradictory, people are confused. Theories go in and out of style like fashion trends. While traditional wisdom that says children should be put to sleep on their stomachs, later research revealed that stomach sleeping is a possible factor in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Exactly opposite pieces of advice, separated by as little as a decade.
Which may be one reason why parents have trouble doing anything without first getting expert input. There is an element of fear, and a lack of trust in one's own instincts. There's always a latest way of looking at something. Also coming into play is the particularly American desire to seek out the absolute "best" wisdom -- though who defines "best" is unclear.
There's nothing wrong with seeking out help. Help is great, and for many parents, necessary. But at what point does all this help compromise one's innate ability to parent? When does outside help cause us to question our own instincts? When does it matter that most child-rearing experts don't account for different personalities, growth patterns, and situations? You can find a recipe in a cookbook and expect that if you use the right ingredients and follow the instructions, most likely you'll wind up with a decent dish. It's different with kids.
"Expert advice" given to parents can be wrong -- and though a parent may know it from the start, often they decide to ignore their own instincts. And then instead of realizing that one needs to trust oneself more, they end up trusting themselves even less. "After all, some say, "my instincts couldn't be that great, or else wouldn't I have ignored all the bad advice? Wouldn't I have gotten a second opinion sooner?"
Confidence can be a rare commodity most particularly for mothers, especially when there's always someone out there critiquing parenting performance. Thankfully, confidence, like parenting, can be learned.
My suggestions to parents:
1. Stop reading online and book advice.
2. Stop taking advice from other parents and especially mothers (other mothers are the ones usually giving advice), even your own.
3. Realize parenting isn't an exact science, and in many cases, there is no single answer to any predicament.
4. When it comes to caring for your own child, there is no one more qualified than you are.