When my first child was a small baby I collected parenting books, convinced that one of them contained the secret to a full night’s sleep and a miracle cure for colic. They mostly lay unread as I was too tired to read them, but occasionally my husband or I would pick one up and pick and choose the bits that we could live with out of one and half-apply them in our exhausted states.
We muddled through. I weaned to solids with the help of a book and bought a couple about sleep and another on potty training. The “parenting” shelf was getting crowded. (There is no parenting shelf, there are books thrown around the house in places that they may have been read at one stage, or places that they have been re-homed/thrown by the children.)
When our second child came along we thought we’d mastered it all, our eldest had been hard to manage and was in a good space as a happy two-year-old. It turns out colic runs in families. But we got through that too, acquiring some books about taming toddlers on the way. There was no time to read those either we were too busy chasing the said toddler.
By the time our youngest was born we’d abandoned all hope of normality or routine. We were in pure, raw, survival mode. The only books read were bedtime stories to get the older two to sleep. Whatever served to give as many of us as possible as much sleep as possible was the chosen way. On the run parenting, by the hoof parenting, whatever works parenting, call it what you like, that’s how we did it.
Parenting books have become increasingly popular in the last decade. They’re accompanied by TV shows that show shocking behaviour and star saviours who arrive in and, well, fix the children and the family. It all looks possible, just buy the book.
You can see how people feel the need for the books (like first timer me). We’re used to getting instruction booklets when we buy things. The kettle came with one and so did all the baby bits, the buggy, the car seat. Small goods in comparison to a baby, but with the baby there’s no booklet. You get a chat in the hospital before you leave and a visit from a nurse at home a few days later. And you’re left, sleep deprived, possibly in pain, definitely emotional, and with no troubleshooting guide to help you out.
Sure, information is handed down through the generations, but parenting methods change, health recommendations change and what’s socially acceptable changes. When desperate you ask anyone who can help.You turn to the Internet. You buy the books. All the books. You devour the information with coffee and digestive biscuits while you’re awake and alert, that one afternoon. Then the baby cries, or the toddler tantrums and survival mode kicks in. Fight or flight.
The biggest regret I have of my early years of parenting is that I expected so much from my children so young. The books on the imaginary parenting shelf added to the high expectations for my firstborn. I thought he should be able to settle himself to sleep from a ridiculously early age, to sleep all night and nap regularly, to well, “behave”. My younger kids had the benefit of reality-adjusted lower expectations, I think it reduced stress for all of us.
Looking back I realise that I may just have wanted or expected the wrong things, or bought the wrong books. I’ve learned now. And like Dr Spock wrote in his book way back in 1946:
“Trust yourself, you know more than you think you do”
Trust Dr Spock. Step away from the books, they don’t know your baby, you do.
Honest, you do.
This article originally appeared on The Blog on Huffington Post.