Dr Laura Hutchison
Trusting Our Parental Instincts
One of the hardest parts of being a parent is the constant onslaught of commentary from relatives, friends, total strangers, and the media on how WE should be a parent. As if we didn’t second-guess ourself almost every step of the way … because we know that we literally hold in our hands the precious job of raising these little lives.
For most women this commentary starts when we announce we are pregnant. We get get told how much we should eat, what we should eat, statements on the sex of the baby, judgements on how our body is carrying the baby, etc.
And, the commentary just continues … judgements on what type of birth we are having, whether we are going to breastfeed, how much and how long we are going to breastfeed, what will the sleeping arrangements be … then, how long are they going to use that paci/binky/bottle/blankie, when will the be potty trained, what activities are they in, how many words to they know, can they read, what school are they going to go to, how many hours of “screen-time” do they get … you get the point. It doesn’t stop.
In my work as a child psychologist, I get many parents coming in with concerns over some of these very issues. “People” have told them that in one way or another they are doing their job wrong. That somehow “this outsider” knows better than the parent what is best for their child. I ask them, after they are done voicing their concerns, “Is this causing a problem for 1) your child, 2) you &/or your partner, 3) other children in the family, 4) the family in general, 5) your relationship with your child, and 6) your relationship with your partner?” If they can honestly reflect and answer these questions, it helps sort out what are so-called problems and what we actually need to try and change.
Most of the time parents, and children themselves, really do know when their child is ready for a transition. Like I knew there was no way I was weaning my 2 year old off her bottle until after we had settled down in our new house.
Parents should TRUST their instincts. They know their child. They know their family. Sure it is DEFINITELY ok to seek opinions and knowledge from others, but don’t let other’s undermine what you know to be true.
All of this was inspired by reading this article … Dangers of “Crying It Out” | Psychology Today. I strongly encourage you to follow the link. It discusses the past trend instituted by male behaviorists (without scientific research backing them) that is was better for parents not to be inconvenienced by catering to every scream of an infant.
I remember, almost 6 years ago now, being a first time mom and hearing that I should sometimes just let my infant son cry. That he would become too dependent if I ran to him every time he whimpered. But my heart told me differently. My heart told my to hold him. My heart told me that I should hold him tight throughout those long nights … because, in the big picture, they wouldn’t be around for long. My heart (and my understanding of the first stages of development) told me that the most important thing was that my baby trust me … his mother to take care of him.
As parents we hear what another child is doing at a similar age and, many times, immediately judge our child’s behavior and question our own. WE ALL NEED TO REMEMBER THAT EVERY CHILD IS DIFFERENT, EVERY PARENT IS DIFFERENT, EVERY FAMILY IS DIFFERENT. What works for, or what is true for, one child/parent/family in any given moment is not necessarily what will work, or is true, for another.
So, let’s together, as parents being kinder to ourselves and each other. It’s a tough enough job … we don’t need to make it any harder.
This post was originally posted on my blog, PlayDrMom in January 2012.