Meet the Experts ... And Then Tell Them to Hit the Road

The first thing my mother sent me after I told her we were pregnant was a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I started reading books on getting babies to sleep before my little bundle of joy was even born, and when she started solid foods, I maxed out my library card with an armload of advice and cookbooks for toddlers.

I’m a book person, so it was natural to consult the experts when I was confronted with any issue for the first time—they’re called experts for a reason, right? But a study from the University of Warwick that looked at manuals for motherhood written over the last 50 years concluded that they all set the bar unattainably high.

The study’s author noted that the advice itself had changed over the past half-century—from espousing rigid schedules for baby to recommending a more “go with the flow” approach, right back to the idea of strict scheduling. Regardless of the actual advice, however, the standards these books set for behavior from mothers and children is ridiculously high and the tone almost universally condemning.

I can absolutely agree with that assertion; I threw more than one book into the trash bin after a little too much preaching and not enough teaching. But even the ones that made me feel bad came with a comforting sort of message, that if I could just follow those instructions to a tee, everything would be better.

I have to believe that parenting books (and even magazines like this one) have only the best intentions when it comes to doling out advice. And I’m certainly not suggesting that we go cold turkey and give up on the experts alltogether. In fact, I hope that some of the articles in this issue will offer up tidbits that will help you on this crazy parenting journey. But the most important advice for any mother or father to remember is to trust yourself.

My little bundle of joy has just turned a year old, and while I was certainly grateful to have those decades of experts to turn to when I was at my wit’s end, no one book or article’s advice ended up solving my problems. There wasn’t one single sleep strategy that worked for us, but rather a combination of several. I got rid of most of the feeding books right away, deciding instead to follow my own instincts.

And, well, after the third or fourth time What to Expect made me break down in tears, I decided to put it away. My grandfather didn’t live to meet his great-granddaughter, but I have held on to a piece of advice he gave my mother when I came along: read all the books, and then put them away. If you only take one bit of advice, I think that’s a good one. Because only you know what is best for your child, and no “expert” can change that.

 

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