I am a lover of books. Several walls of my house are lined with full book shelves. I always have at least one, if not more, books on the go. I’ll read fiction and non-fiction. I’ll read paper books and e-books. I’m on a first-name basis with my local librarians. If I want to learn about something new, I go to a book (a bit old-fashioned, I know). But there are some things you can’t get from a book, and in my view one of them is parenting answers.
I have read a lot of parenting books. I read them not only for myself, but also because for several years I was on a committee that reviewed parenting books for an international charity. Some of my best parenting ideas have been found in books. I love the How to Talk books by Faber and Mazlish. I got a lot out of Playful Parenting and also Hold on to Your Kids. I have taken ideas from these books and made them part of my parenting tool kit. But one thing they haven’t given me are answers. For me, ideas are critically different from answers. Ideas are something you use to complement your own instincts; answers are something someone else gives you. The best parenting books recognise this and point parents towards the answers that come from within.
Consider the wisdom of Mother nature (if you believe in God, you might want to insert that here). Our culture tells us that adults need a full night’s sleep and many of us look to books to find out how to get our babies to sleep through the night. We believe the book will have the answer, and if we just do what the book says, voila! the baby sleeps. But Mother nature has different ideas. Mother nature makes sure that our species survives by planning that our babies wake frequently in the night to be protected by their parents, to receive nutrition from their mothers, to cement the bond of love and responsibility between infant and parents. If we expect our babies to sleep through the night, we are expecting them to behave like adults. But why do we expect adult behaviour from a baby? We certainly wouldn’t expect an infant to read the newspaper!
Our culture tells us that babies should be easy to be put down. We may look to a book to find out how to have a settled baby, imaging that if we just follow a particular technique, voila! the baby is calm, quiet and ready to sit in the bouncy chair/cot/basket for hours. Mother nature has different ideas. Mother nature makes sure that our babies are well cared for, frequently fed, and protected from harm by giving them the ability to ask to be held, and giving mothers the in-built instinct to pick them up when they cry. Culture tries to change this by planting fears in parents… and living a busy life in a fast-paced world makes Mother nature’s planning feel like a hassle rather than the wisdom that it is.
Our culture tells us that children should be obedient. Many of us (myself included!) read books to find the answer: how can I get my child to comply? Say the right things, introduce the right punishments and voila! compliant child. But again, Mother nature has different ideas. Children are in the beta stage of becoming autonomous people. They need time and space to experiment with living in this world and opportunities to find out who they are. They are themselves, not our possessions; fully human, and deserving of the same freedom we expect for ourselves. Mother nature knows all this, and has gifted parents with love for their children so that we can support them and accompany them on the journey of growing up. As we observe the bildungsroman of their lives unfold it becomes clear that focussing on compliance and results doesn’t work and reduces the varied tapestry of life to an input/output exchange whereby we try out techniques and await guaranteed results.
Mother nature hasn’t read any books. Books are written by imperfect humans, many of whom take little heed of the wisdom of Mother nature. Taking the advice of a book, which is just the opinion of another human being, and expecting this advice to deliver parenting nirvana is akin to forfeiting our own independence as parents. Why let someone else tell you what to do? As it turns out Mother nature knows a lot more about this than we do: why not listen to her?
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.