The trouble with parenting manuals

The trouble with parenting manuals is that the idea of a set of instructions for a human being is just preposterous; no human beings fit neatly into a predictable description formulated by someone who has never met them. Our children are individuals, and we want them to be so; yet if there is a book telling us how best to manage some aspect of their behaviour, we will desperately want them to conform.

Another issue I have with them is that from the rigid Gina Ford to the gentle Caroline Deacon, they all make you feel responsible for the fact that whatever you are trying to achieve is not happening. And if it is working, then the author gets the credit, rather than your effective parenting, or indeed your child’s own development.

Whether it’s potty training or sleep or weaning or tantrums, the chances are your child will naturally move on when he or she is ready; hence the Attachment Parenting mantra, ‘this too shall pass.’ Sometimes time and tolerance are the best tools at your disposal. Allowing your child to develop according to their own timetable helps them to do so with confidence in themselves and trust in you.

Whichever parenting manual you pick up, you are likely to feel that you are somehow doing it wrong. Tracey Hogg made me feel I was over-attentive to my son; Dr Sears made me feel I wasn’t attentive enough. There is a safe middle ground for all of us, and what we need as parents is the confidence to follow our instincts, to respect and respond to our children’s needs, and permission to get it wrong sometimes.

Perhaps in order to gain confidence and understanding, it’s worth picking up a book about babies’ normal development, rather than a how-to manual that might turn things into a battle. Whatever you are reading, it’s worth considering whether the author is stating fact or opinion. If advice is supported by evidence, you should see a reference section showing the sources of the information.

Here are a few of the books I’ve referred to or thought about when writing this article:

‘About’ Books
What Every Parent Needs to Know: Margot Sunderland
Why Love Matters: Sue Gerhardt
Babywatching: Desmond Morris
The Social Baby: Lynne Murray & Liz Andrews
The Baby Book: William & Martha Sears
The Fussy Baby Book: William & Martha Sears

‘How To’ Books
The Contented Little Baby – Gina Ford
The Secrets of the Baby Whisperer – Tracey Hogg
The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Elizabeth Pantley
Babycalming: Caroline Deacon
When Your Baby Cries: Deborah Jackson

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2 Responses to The trouble with parenting manuals

  1. Emily says:

    I agree with you. I read some books when I had my first child, but there are SO many books and they say vastly different things. For us, we just found a good routine (our kids love a predictable routine and are usually great sleepers), give them a balanced diet (as much as we can with a veggie-hater) teach them safety, and parent in a way that will result in the values we want to instill in these kids as we guide them through childhood and toward maturity. What works with one kid does not always work with another. We do seek out help when we hit bumps in the road. With behavior, usually we ask advice from people who have successfully navigated through similar situations. With things like my daredevil toddler’s major tooth injury we found this

    “>Mom’s Guide to be helpful, we sought a second dentist’s opinion and I got even more input via email from a dentist dad I was fortunate enough to get connected with. Thanks for this post. You have such a good point. And it was a good reminder to me (especially today with a very willful 3 year old) to approach this with patience. You are right, this will pass. Thanks!! :)

    • Emily says:

      Oh and here’s the link again, in case I did it wrong: It really helped us to avoid our son’s tooth infection getting out of control- we had no idea that bump on his gums meant an infection. And it wouldn’t have gone away on it’s own, we discovered. So it’s something I feel strongly about passing along to other parents who might need it. (And you can delete this if the original post included the correct link. Thanks!!)