Why I Threw Out the Parenting “Rule Book”

In: Baby, Family, Motherhood
why I threw out the parenting "rule book"

With Baby Girl turning 18 months last week, I’ve been reflecting on the past year and a half of motherhood. Becoming a parent has been wonderful, crazy, incredibly rewarding, and at times very challenging, and as first time parents we’ve learned many lessons (and are still learning) along the way.

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Before becoming a mom, I must have read at least a dozen books on pregnancy and parenting advice for the first year,  most of which were on the topic of infant sleep/sleep training.  I could give you a short synopsis of every sleep training method out there… the Ferber method, the Baby Whisperer’s “Pick Up, Put Down”, and the Pantley “No Cry Sleep Solution” just to name a few.  As a result we had a plan and we felt prepared, we just needed Baby Girl to get on board with “our plan”.

Right about now, those of you who have had children are collectively smirking and shaking your head.  You know better, and now we do too.

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Guess what?  Your baby doesn’t give a hoot about “your plan”.   A baby has a plan of their own, namely… cry when I’m hungry, cry when I’m tired, cry when I need physical contact and to be held, cry when I’m bored, cry when I’m overstimulated, cry when I’m scared, cry when I’m hot, cry when I’m cold, and last but not least, cry just because I’m new to this world and I need help adjusting to this strange and foreign place.

Just last week MJ and I were talking with friends about parenthood and how before we became parents we swore we would never do X, Y, and Z.  As the saying goes “never say never” because we broke many of our self-imposed rules, and truth be told I’m not sorry we broke them.

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You see, what we didn’t realize is each child and each situation is different and you can’t have a “one size fits all” plan.  The biggest lesson we have learned this past 18 months is sometimes you need to throw out the “rule book” for the sake of your child and for the good of your family.

You know, the “rule book”… the one that says your child should be sleeping through the night without any assistance from you at the ripe old age of four months, they should be napping and eating on a consistent parent-imposed schedule every day, they shouldn’t have separation anxiety when their parents leave them in the care of a baby sitter, and heaven forbid a baby have a pacifier past the age of one.

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If you’re lucky enough to have a baby who follows these rules, awesome!  However, if your baby (like most babies I’ve seen) doesn’t go along with the so-called rules that is just fine too, and contrary to what many people would have you believe, it’s perfectly normal.

I’ve made mistakes along the way, and there plenty of things I wish I would’ve done differently, but throwing away the “rule book” wasn’t one of them.  The mistake I made, was not throwing away the “rule book” sooner.  It was trying to follow the “rule book” too closely (I’m generally a rule follower) which left me feeling stressed and at times like a failure as a mother when I couldn’t get Baby Girl to behave like she was “supposed to”.

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While a lot of the parenting advice I read really did help (particularly Dr. Harvey Karp’s five S’s and the Baby Whisperer’s E.A.S.Y.), there’s a big problem with following the “rule book” too closely, it simply doesn’t allow for differences of temperament and situation.

The “rule book” is not tailored to your child and it doesn’t take into consideration unanticipated events, which as I’m sure we all can attest to, tend to happen from time to time in life.

For instance… we didn’t anticipate Baby Girl having food allergies, which at times caused her so much pain she would only sleep in our arms.

We didn’t anticipate her negative reaction to her two month vaccinations which gave us quite a scare, caused her to change her eating and sleeping habits, and made us re-evaluate our plans going forward.

We underestimated the seemingly never ending teething process and its ability to uproot your best laid plans.

We didn’t foresee our decision to pack up our family and move to a foreign country when Baby Girl was 10 months old, which is, as you can imagine, a huge adjustment for a baby.  And on and on it goes.

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Our society places a lot of unnecessary pressure on new parents (especially moms) to get our babies to conform to the “rule book” and I believe it is this which allows others to more easily pass judgement on new parents and feel justified in doing so.  I know at times I didn’t open up about the parenting struggles we were having for fear of others judging our decisions and parenting skills.

I’ve read several articles floating around the internet on the topic of mommy wars and I’m sure competitive parenting exists, but I’ve yet to experience judgement from fellow moms.  In fact, thankfully I’ve experienced mostly comradery from other mothers.

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Instead, I’ve found more often it is people without children who dole out the most judgement.  They assume the child rearing decisions we’ve made and the ways in which we’ve changed our lifestyle is a result of us making Baby Girl our entire world.

However, the decisions we’ve made are not because she’s our entire world… it is because we are her’s.

I may be stating the obvious, but when a baby makes their entrance into the world, they are utterly helpless and their parents are their only lifeline… their entire world.  A baby instinctively knows to call out (aka cry) to their parents for every need… nourishment, protection, comfort, love, and care.  It is all they know.  As far as a baby is concerned, the sun rises and sets on you… their parent.

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Therefore, it is our responsibility (and privilege) to respond as best as we can to our child’s individual needs, even if this means making sacrifices and throwing out the “rule book”.

So here it is… my best advice to new or expectant parents is to have a plan, but hold onto that plan loosely, because you need to have the freedom to listen to your instincts and bend and even let go of the plan at times.

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Know that it’s okay when your baby is four months old and instead of sleeping through the night in their own crib, they are co-sleeping with you and nursing to sleep because this is the way your family gets the best night of sleep.  It’s okay when you delay weaning because you feel your baby just isn’t ready.  And conversely, it’s okay if you plan to breastfeed and for whatever reason it isn’t working and you switch to formula.

It’s okay if you plan to go back to work but change your mind after the baby is born and become a stay at home mom, and the reverse is true as well.  It’s okay to say no to event invitations that would be taxing for your child, even if you feel obligated to attend.  It’s okay if you want to make organic baby food from scratch, and it is okay if you’d rather buy the pre-made packets at Target.

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Bottom line is this… no one knows your child better than you and as long as you’re acting with your child’s best interests at heart, it’s okay to choose the whatever path is best for your baby and your family… even if it flies in the face of your best laid plans, the “rule book”, or other’s expectations of you.

So new parents… give yourselves some slack.  Instead of worrying (and feeling guilty) about what you “should be” doing as a parent, trust your instincts and enjoy this incredible ride with your sweet little one who looks to you for their whole world.  And most importantly, know that whatever parenting path you choose… it’s okay.

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