The other day, my daughter asked why people read parenting books.
I told her that there are many different reasons, but sometimes I read them to understand her better.
She quickly replied that my answer didn't make sense.
She continued, "That book isn't about me, it's about somebody else. If you don't understand me, ask me."
I smiled at her insightful response; mostly because I agree with her.
It could be parenting, dieting, or traveling -- regardless of the topic, people are writing from their own perspective, they are writing and interpreting their experiences and often selling them as absolutes.
Parenting has no absolutes. There is not one way for a kid to be or behave, there is not one way to respond to a parenting issue. There are only moment to moment decisions based on the person and information in front of us.
This understanding is a reminder that parenting work begins with our own self-awareness and history. My past experiences are valid and real, but they are not necessarily true for my child. Maybe I demonstrated shy behaviors and faced some challenges because of it, but that doesn't mean I need to "protect" my child from being shy.
There is nothing wrong with shyness; it's not something that needs to be fixed. I refuse to take my past pain and hand it to over to my child as fact. Instead, I can respect and appreciate who she is in the moment. I can allow her to write her own story instead of giving her my narrative.
I also have to aware of my future concerns. All parents worry about what might happen to their child, but living in this state of fear doesn't help our decision-making. It actually causes us to be reactive and irrational.
The best parenting decisions are made with a clear head and a respect for our children. For example, if our kids are ready to try something new or take on a new responsibility, we need to be open to this growth. Instead of sharing everything that could go wrong, we can offer a sense of trust in their ability to take big steps, we can offer support instead of discouragement.
We don't teach our children to grow and learn; they do that all by themselves. We create boundaries and limits to facilitate their sense of safety, we offer our love and support and then we stand back so they can thrive.
I've written a few parenting books and I enjoy picking up the latest book for a new perspective, but I know the big answers are not found on these pages.
The big answers are found in present-moment decision making, when we are clear about the role we play in our children's lives. The answers are not found in controlling, but in allowing our children to take the lead and then offering guidance so they can take the next steps with a sense of stability.
Instead of assuming that we know it all, or that the books have the right answers, we need to be present and attuned with the person who holds the answer.
And then as my daughter suggested, we just ask.
Cathy is the author of Living What You Want Your Kids to Learn: The Power of Self-Aware Parenting and co-host of Zen Parenting Radio.