Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Parenting on Instinct (or Not)

I get a lot of parenting advice that goes something like this: "Just trust your instincts."

Ironically, my "instincts" tells me not to blindly trust my instincts. Maybe it's because I'm an INTJ on the Myer's-Briggs personality test. I like to do research. I like to read multiple perspectives. I like exposing myself to different paradigms and new ideas.

Of course, at the end of the day, Matt and I will have to trust ourselves to select from the various informed perspectives and piece together a parenting philosophy that resonates with us.

That's kind of like "trusting your instincts," but not exactly. I happen to believe that a lot of our impulses (or instincts) stem from potentially unhealthy places. Sometimes, they are connected to the way our parents raised us (for better or worse) or they are in reaction to the way our parents raised us. Sometimes they are connected to unresolved needs we have in our own lives. Sometimes they come from patterns we've internalized from mass culture via TV, movies, magazines, etc.

Anyway, I often think it's worth putting our "instincts" under a microscope and analyzing them before we act upon them. That's why I so appreciate this nine-month period to prepare for parenthood as much as possible (with full understanding that they amount of preparation you can do is pretty limited, relative to the actual experience!).

In this vein, I picked up a few parenting books from the library, such as Nurture Shock. I very much appreciated the introduction, entitled, "Why our instincts about children can be so off the mark." The authors explain that our "instincts" can be "so off-base because they are not actually instincts." Instead, they are "reactions" that are "polluted by a hodgepodge of wishful thinking, moralistic biases, contagious fads, personal history, and old (disproven) psychology."

Fortunately, many of the book's conclusions do align with practices and philosophies that I've been implementing in my classroom for years. For example, in the chapter about "Why Kids Lie," the authors conclude that it's really important to make a big deal about honesty and telling the truth from a very young age. Some parents think that telling lies is "just a phase" and don't emphasize it enough.

However, I've had new realizations, like the fact that it's important to talk about differences in race, rather than just try to treat everyone equally without explicitly talking about it (from the chapter called, "Why White Parents Don't Talk About Race").

Although I'm enjoying the book, I do wish it were a bit more prescriptive. At the end of each chapter, for example, I would like a bulleted list of "So here's a list of specific strategies to implement with your child, based on the research we just shared." Actually, I wish I were reading this book in a book club, so I could brainstorm those ideas with others...too bad I'm almost finished!

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Kelsey said...

That was my same critique of this book! It seems to tell you why many times what most parents are doing might not be the best thing but then it doesn't tell you the right/best way to go about it! I was wondering if they would do a follow up book b/c it seemed like a big gap to me. I agree, this would be a good book to read in a group and brainstorm better reactions to these issues.

The book Einstein Never Used Flashcards is also very good and actually includes parenting suggestions so I found it more helpful.

Anonymous said...

Skip the book and watch Super Nanny. ESPECIALLY THE BEDTIME stuff. Although the naughty spot technique is just as important.

Anonymous said...

I feel like this and many of your other posts, assume that there is a "right" perspective. I agree that research and reading is good. However, there is always the potential of over-intellectualizing the entire process. No one knows the "best" way to raise a child, and raising kids is an experiment in attempted controlled chaos. I enjoy your blog very much but worry that although you state that you are ready for surprises and adapting, it seems like your actions indicate otherwise. I respect your planning character, I am the same way. But overplanning puts too much pressure on your child raising and your child, to be honest. Kids are not programmable robots. Sure, there are tips here and there, and as a science teacher, I put much faith in research. However, this culture has really tried to make us believe that our instincts and beliefs are not good enough. We need "experts" to help us. That just makes me sad, and helps to create the dependent society we are today (in America at least), and a culture who looks to be told what to do and how to behave. You are a smart and thoughtful woman. Take time away from the "prescriptions" and perfect baby room setups and take time to be YOU. Sure you will be insecure, as we all are, but you need to think what values are important to YOU and how YOU want to raise your child. If you look to the experts for every step, you will miss out on the best and most authentic parts of parenting. You won't be perfect. Let go for once and learn how to gain confidence in yourself without the need for approval from us or the experts. Until you learn how to be self reliant in that way, you will never be happy. My opinion. Be brave enough to rely on yourself rather than the hundreds of books, blogs, and experts. They are great as a side tool, but not a prescription. Even in this book--you digest the book but then are dissatisfied because the author did not provide you with a "bullet list"??? You know as well as I do that there is no bullet prescription for how to raise your perfect child. Sorry for the long posts, just wanted to give you a friendly nudge of confidence and opinion. Best of luck!

#2 due in Feb '11 said...

Totally agree with previous post; none of the one million and one parenting books I read really prepared me for parenting, because you cannot really prepare. Its something you learn by doing. There is value in learning about different perspectives, but parenting is a fluid process, one that is going to involve you, Matt, and a very important person that you have not yet met, who will have very definite personality traits of his or her own. Ultimately, none of the authors who you are reading know jack about your kiddo, you will end up being the expert on him or her, and what will work for him or her; which will make you the expert. Hence, despite any nagging insecurity you feel; trust YOUR instincts when it comes to YOUR baby and family, because no one will know as much about that particular dynamic as you.

C├ęcy said...

I've heard about this book from an other blogger. She's actually starting a non-fiction online book club and Nuture Shock is on the list. I want to read it too. If it gets picked there will be a dicussion about it so if you are interested go there http://thatwifeblog.com/2010/09/that-wife-book-club/

Kate said...

I'm also an INTJ, and even if I know that lots of reading won't get me to the "right" answer, it'll at least give me some guide posts to navigate within. I'm really glad for your review of this book, it's been on my reading list for a long while.

Randa said...

I, like you, find it important to look instinct under the microscope - as Henry David Thoreau once said, "No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof." Like you, I am constantly looking for the factual information to back up what I think/feel.

However, I feel as if you're looking a little too much into this. Maybe this is just a difference of opinion but I always thought that research is there to bring a broader understanding of a topic and then we're supposed to take that information and decide for ourself what to do. You say that many of the book's conclusions align with what you already do with your classroom - that's your bulleted list! That's the proof that your "instinct" is on the path that will help you guide your child to what you believe he or she should be. The book has just served the purpose of backing up what you already believe and do.

Sara, I think it's time that you build your confidence up and realize that you're going to be a good mother and a billion, gazillion books are not going to alter that. You have a hand up on many women who are in your position - you work with kids everyday! You've already had a semi-mommy in training before you were even ready to conceive.

Sorry to be such a long, some-what ranty post but I absolutely adore your blog and come to it everyday and I've just noticed in your posts that you don't seem as confident or assured about this as I think you have the ability to be. You're going to be a great mom, an excellent teacher for your child, so let some of those proven "instincts" take over.


Therese T. said...


I don't remember what I am on the Myers-Briggs, but I l like research and rely on it. This book looks really interesting. I may pick it up and ask you what you think!

Anonymous said...

"It is best to do what brings peace and joy to you and your family." ~ Rita Brhel
(from http://attachmentparenting.org/blog/)

Anonymous said...

I agree with readers above about your insecurity. It seems you preach being yourself so much and not needing the approval of others on both your blogs. And at the same time most of your posts reference making choices based so much on what others think or find. It is more than just checking with experts or using resources to inform your thoughts. It is more like an obsession to be perfect and live up to others' expectations. I can see why you are so tired--it is exhausting trying to please everyone and always make the "best" choices. You seem like a truly good and thoughtful person, but sometimes your blog posts read as yet another "how to" on the internet; more a recollection of a bunch of self help books and prescriptions from others, rather than the true self exploration you claim your blogs to be. I don't mean for this to come off too harsh, but I have really wanted to share my thoughts on this for a long time. I LOVE your honest posts that help me get to know you as a person. It's the prescriptions I can do without. Especially when your posts just seem to be regurgitating someone else's opinions or ideas. Like the other reader said--it's time for you to rely on yourself. Take a rest from all the "resources" and just be you. I bet that is a great person in waiting! (: Stop being paranoid that you are missing something and just DO. You don't need a fancy concept for capturing your growing belly--just start taking pictures on a whim and seize life now. Sometimes planning is not a help but actually hinders, and keeps you from exploring and really experiencing life to its fullest. I think it takes a lot of guts to be as honest as you are and I admire that. It is the posts that express your original thoughts that I enjoy the most.

Aamba said...

There's an online book group going on that will be doing this book. It is at: http://thatwifeblog.com/2010/09/book-club-results-for-october-november-december/

Oh wait, another commenter already mentioned this! Oops.

Anyway, I'm enjoying reading about your journey and your thoughtful choices :)

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