There is No Such Thing as “Parenting”
Let’s face it. We made the whole thing up.
Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do. -Dr. Benjamin Spock
The revolutionary book by Dr. Spock was published in 1946. It was a very big deal for parents. Finally, a doctor told them to follow their intuition. At the time, your pediatrician was likely to give you the advice that picking your kids up when they cried leads to spoiled children and defective adults. And don’t ever show them any love. Hugging or kissing them would scar them for life. They might actually expect some level of affection in this world.
Just think, anyone currently over the age of 73 grew up in a world where your parents were literally told not to hug you by your pediatrician. That little fact put some things into perspective for me. Dr. Spock’s non-judgemental approach released parents from a one-size-fits-all method and allowed them room to raise their kids according to that child’s needs. He became the definitive source for advice on how to actually relate to your children.
The problem is, his book sold more than 50 million copies and over the course of its first 50 plus years of publication, it was outsold only by the Bible. The result was the birth of an industry called “parenting”.
It is strange to assign this role a title as if you are now assuming a new job. Is “wifing” a thing? Is “daughtering”? I do both of those but there aren’t nearly as many books on how to do it. And we never refer to it as a job, though maybe we should. Both can be equally as challenging as raising a child.
In today’s world, if you are looking for a parenting book, good luck. There are countless opinions and shelves and shelves of options. You have to have a philosophy on what you are doing before you ever even enter the book store. Helicopter parenting, attachment parenting, free-range parenting (um, excuse me are they chickens or children?) are all current theories on what we should or shouldn’t be doing.
I had the opportunity to read quite a few parenting books. My son never slept. I mean never. Ever. He never fell asleep accidentally in a car seat or stroller. He never took a nap. He slept about 45 minutes at a clip, even at night. Upside: it gave me lots of time to read in between bouts of crying (mine).
I had at least 12 parenting books on my night stand at all times. I was going to do this job right! I would be the perfect mother if it killed me. So I read and I studied and I worked.
And guess what? I made plenty of mistakes anyway.
There is only one real conclusion to come to after a masters degree’s worth of reading. This is all nonsense. I read a great quote in a parenting magazine: parenting books are written so moms have something to do while they aren’t sleeping. Yeah, pretty much.
Beyond some basic advice, like how to swaddle a newborn or what normal poop looks like when you are breastfeeding, you don’t need too much advice. Your relationship to your child is unique. You are an individual. He or she is an individual. There is no one-size-fits-all advice that will ever help you. So you read and you try to get your perfect little child to fit into the mold the author is describing. And they don’t fit. Something must be wrong…
…but it isn’t. The advice is wrong.
But if you want to follow a theory, then do it. Pick one. There are surely 30 books on that one topic. But whatever you think you are sure of when you start out on this journey, you will completely question in no time flat.
Nothing is more sobering than actually becoming a parent. And if you really want an adventure, don’t stop at one, have a few more kids. Whatever you think you knew with the first one will never work with the next one.
Parenting advice has become an industry and like any industry, they have to sell. So it has become an ever evolving set of rules. Sleep on their stomach, no their back. Sleep with your child, no don’t it is too dangerous. Let them cry themselves to sleep, no don’t it will cause them anxiety and stress later in life. Conflicting information, competing theories and the increasing complexities of managing our daily lives leaves parents confused at best.
We all need to stop talking about parenting as if it is a job or a calling. You are a parent. You are relating to a child you love the best direction and advice you can to help navigate the world successfully. Just do that. Theories and advice on the correct course of action don’t help when you are managing a tantrum in the grocery line. You need to find what works for your child. Right and wrong go out the window. You manage in the moment.
My kids are adorable and sweet little people. We have had our issues and we have learned how best to deal with one another. It is an ever evolving relationship. They grow, I grow and we all get better with age.
Like every other path in life, you have to find your own way. You are a parent. “Parenting” is not a job. It is a relationship with all of the unique and wonderful difficulties of all of your other relationships. My advice? Enjoy the ride. It’s wild. You will be ok. After all, you know more than you think you do.