“Trust your instincts” is an excellent parenting strategy … but it’s not for me.
I choose not to raise my children the way I was raised. I have a deep-seated worry that if I go with instinct, I’ll fall back on the parenting style I lived with in my own childhood, replete with yelling, threats, and inconsistency. I want better for my children.
Before we started trying to conceive, I spent over a year in therapy. Ironically enough, I originally went in because my husband didn’t understand my reluctance to become a mother. At my first appointment, I told the therapist, “I’m here so you can tell my husband that I’m just too crazy to make a good mother. We just can’t have kids.” A year of talk therapy later, I’d come to terms with my childhood and come to believe that my depression was manageable condition rather than a tragic curse. I felt that I’d slain my dragons and could be the parent I believe that children deserve to have. I read parenting book after parenting book, taking notes on the things that made sense and even larger notes on the things that didn’t. I came up with my parenting credo, making sure that my husband was on board: Our goal is to raise a happy, wholesome, healthy, productive adult.
There’s a reason I overthink.
My research didn’t end when I became pregnant. I peppered first my ob-gyn, then the girls’ pediatrician, with questions. I selected doctors who would partner with me to give my kids the best possible start they could have. I selected a daycare program that would partner with me to raise J and M, not just provide us with a daytime babysitting service. Their infant class teacher knew them so well that I bought my house based on her recommendation. I wanted to situate my daughters to go to the school that their former teacher’s daughter attends. She assured me that it would be a good fit for them, and she was right.
I continue to read. The book that’s had the biggest impact on my parenting is Nurtureshock, published in 2011. I’m currently reading Stepmonster to get some insights into what I can do to encourage the healthiest and most positive relationship I can between my daughters and their new stepmother and stepsisters. There are pieces of Raising Your Spirited Child that I find helpful, but I hate the author’s tone and her suggestion that we need to shape a child’s world to her intensity. Instead, I choose to teach my girls to direct and control their intense reponses, channeling their spiritedness into creativity and community service instead of explosions and hysteria.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting in the dance studio lobby while M and J were in their ballet/tap lesson, reading The Foster Parenting Toolbox. Another mom asked me whether I was taking classes. I told her that I wasn’t. I was just beefing up on my parenting. This mom and I have been casual friends for several years, but aren’t particularly close.
“You don’t need to read that stuff!” she said. “All a child needs is love and discipline, and you’ll be fine. You’re a good mom!”
I flailed around for a response. I tried to explain that I feared that being a good mom didn’t come naturally. I needed to read the research and hear other parents’ thoughts to inform my own parenting. I’ve honed my instincts over the years until I’m pretty sure they’re trustworthy, but I still think through every act of parenting. It’s exhausting, but the last place I’m going to let myself get lazy is when it comes to guiding my children, within the strengths and weaknesses that come naturally to them, to becoming happy, healthy, wholesome productive adults.
A lot of people don’t get it. That’s okay. If your instincts work for your kids, good for you. But please, let me overthink with mine.
What’s your parenting approach? Do you run on instinct? Do you research? Do you balance the two?
Sadia overthinks the raising of her identical twin almost-7-year-old daughters in the Austin, TX area. She is divorced and works full-time in higher education information technology. Her overthinking approach works quite well, although she’s now attempting to end the weekly Saturday morning meltdown. First stop, sugar elimination from weekend breakfast.