Parenting by the Book – or Not

By Tara Lindis

Within a few days of arriving back in my hometown of Portland, Oregon after spending the last year abroad, I take my twenty-three month old son over to my sister’s house to meet my six-month old nephew. The joke that gets tossed around in the family is almost a cliché, that no one cares about seeing my husband or me, and we don’t care about seeing my siblings or their spouses, it’s about seeing the children. Except, I am excited about seeing my sister.

In her son’s room, we sit on a quilt with our boys. We catch up and talk about how beautiful and amazing our boys and each others’ boys are, and before long our conversation turns to our favorite books or how one of us read a book that beautifully illustrates exactly what we are talking about.

This book exchange conversation is not new to our relationship; it is not a thing that came out of both of us becoming mothers. When I leave her house with the books I am borrowing in my purse, it is not the first time I have left her house having taken books off the floor to ceiling bookshelf in her family room. It is also not the first time that I tried to reserve a book at the library, found it was not available and then discovered it wasn’t available because my sister had checked it out ahead of me. I find it on her coffee table upon walking in to her house. Her bookmark is in the middle.

I do read and research a lot about parenting, but I read and research a lot in general. Reading and researching has always been one of my better coping mechanisms. My husband jokes that I have my maternal instincts, then I read everything I can get my hands on until I find the authorities who agree with me. I have since learned that I’m not the only one who does this. My sister does it too. For me, the researching habit is part of my process of gaining confidence. Even if I don’t follow all of what I read. In fact, most of it goes out the window, and I can’t think of one book where at some point I didn’t disagree with the author. Parenting, I’ve learned, is not like buying a bedroom set en masse, but more like helping myself to a buffet, where I only have to take what I like.

As my sister and I walk to the park to ease my son’s boredom, we also talk about our parenting instincts, those times we don’t read what to do and instead follow our gut feelings and our child’s lead. Some things can’t be learned from a book, and some things have to be learned from experience. We talk about those painful moments when we didn’t listen to our instincts and ended up sorry and kicking ourselves. I start to realize how fortunate we are that overall, as mothers, we trust ourselves and we trust our children. I’ve overheard other mothers in bookstores talking – how glad they were for that one book so they knew how long to let their baby cry before picking her up or how they wanted to pick their baby up but the book said not to. It’s heartbreaking – not that the baby ended up crying, but that the mother trusted an “authority” -but nonetheless a stranger who had never met her or her baby – over herself.

Plenty of people talk about how important the job of parenting is and far more talk about how hard it is, but after my afternoon with my sister and nephew, I realize that not very many people talk about the opportunity of parenting – to find trust, confidence, and grace in ourselves as we define the kind of parents we want to be. I’m always grateful for how many resources there are for parents, but I’m just as grateful that I’ve learned to trust myself, my son, and my parenting along the way.