I didn't read any parenting books when I was expecting my daughter, and I refuse to read any parenting books as I await my second child now. I'm the first to admit that I don't really know what I'm doing when it comes to raising my daughter. A good day is when I manage to get her to nap without first crying for an hour, eat without coating the dining room in sticky goop, and bathe without drenching the entire bathroom in water. Even so, I know that I'm raising a happy baby. Luna is loving and affectionate; smily and energetic. We are figuring it out as we go.
Luna pooped through three layers of clothes in a public place with no changing table? We've got this. Luna won't sleep through the night even though she's over a year old and all the other babies we know are doing it? We'll just have to take it one day a time. Luna is violently grabbing people's noses? Time for a harsher tones and stern repetition of "no."
I know there are books out there that are supposed to help with this kind of stuff: Books with titles like Totally Zen Parenting and The Secret To Loving Children The Exact Right Way and Why Some Families Are Just Naturally Awesome. I know that the people who write parenting books have spent time studying childhood behavior and parenting techniques, and subsequently believe that they've found the answers. I just don't believe that they have — at least not the answers that will work for every child and every family. When it comes to my second pregnancy, the main person I want to be listening to is ultimately myself.
Clearly, I don't have all the answers, either. I often wonder whether my husband and I have made a mistake in co-sleeping for as long as we have. I question whether my daughter is "normal clingy" or "too clingy." I spend hours reading up on the eating habits of kids her age, worrying that she's not getting the adequate nutrients. In fact, I read a lot of articles about parenting (both personal and reported) on the web, because these are often hyper-focused on one specific topic. They don't usually feel as definitive and set in stone as the lessons taught in parenting books. When you have a baby and another on the way, articles are also accessible both in tone and length.
If, as individuals, we're self-aware enough to know what behaviors and actions our own parents exhibited that harmed us in some way, then chances are we won't make those same mistakes.
Despite not having all the answers, there are a few things I think I have a pretty good handle on. They're rooted in one gut feeling, which is that I don't believe parenting can come with a handbook. I don't believe there's a universal recipe that can work for all the children, and all the parents. I don't believe we should be striving to be a random author or scholar's idea of a "good parent." Instead, we should be striving to be our own idea of a "good parent."
I'm also certain that I'll make mistakes along the way. I've probably already made more than a few. If, as individuals, we're self-aware enough to know what behaviors and actions our own parents exhibited that harmed us in some way, then chances are we won't make those same mistakes. For instance, I cannot imagine any scenario in which I'd body-shame my daughters. I cannot imagine wanting to cultivate a relationship that's rooted in their fear of me, rather than in mutual respect and friendship. I'll still screw up, though. So will my partner. This is precisely because there is no formula for parenting, and I reject any body of work that tries to tell me otherwise.
I reject it because parenting is already hard enough without adding an additional critical voice into the mix. While I'm sure there are plenty of parenting books that aren't written with the intent to criticize or point out flaws, the few that I've briefly browsed here and there have reeked of the know-it-all attitudes that make me cringe IRL. I'm sure some of these attitudes are born of an attempt at self-reassurance. The fact that parenting is not a one-size-fits-all kind of deal means most of us are left unsure as to whether we're doing right or wrong by our little ones. Some of us need to tell ourselves that we've found a suitable recipe so that we can make it through another day. I get it.
Reading a whole book that's rooted in the idea that someone has it all figured out just isn't my cup of tea, though. I'm glad these books exist, of course. I'm glad that some parents find comfort and strength in their words. I'd just rather get advice from the parents I admire in the real world. I'd rather trust the ones I feel have done an amazing job. I'd rather take my cues from the moms and dads who've somehow managed to raise kind, empathetic, well-rounded kids and adults in a world that is so often anything but.
My second pregnancy has been entirely different to the first. For starters, I found out about it at seven weeks, rather than 20. I've been far more tired than I was the first time around, likely as a result of already having a 15-month-old in the house. I've had debilitating back pain. Still, I've felt more confident as of late. I didn't when I first found out we were expecting again. Hell, I was petrified. At the halfway point, however, I find myself certain that I've got this. I look at the little girl in my life already — at the way she lights up when I enter a room — and I trust that I am a good mom. I trust that this will still be true when I'm lugging around a double stroller. For now, I don't need a parenting book to tell me any different.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.