Why you should never read a parenting book

They'll probably do you more harm than good

When I first started telling people I was pregnant with my first child, I was immediately inundated with reading recommendations. Some loved ones even sent me copies of their favorites: What to Expect When You're Expecting, The Girlfriends Guide to Pregnancy, and The Happiest Baby on the Block, to name a few. I knew these gestures were rooted in good intentions, but after reading a few paragraphs describing all the ways in which I could damage my child, and subsequently dissolving into a sobbing mess in the middle of my kitchen, I made a pact with myself: From that day forward, I would not read any more parenting books.

That, my friends, was one of the best decisions I've ever made.

Walk into the parenting section of any bookstore, and you're sure to find at least one book covering any and every subject that pertains to raising children. Got a picky eater? Your child's a perfectionist? Or maybe tantrums are your trouble spot? Whatever the bane of your parenting existence, there are at least a dozen books on the subject, each one offering a different solution to your parenting problems. Throw sleep issues into the mix, and a parent could go broke purchasing a veritable library of advice.

Not surprisingly, there are a plethora of childhood development experts who profess to know what's best for kids, and parents are desperate, sleep-deprived individuals willing to try anything. Heck, if someone told me that having my son sleep upside down in a cocoon would result in a wake-up time after 6 a.m., I would 100 percent give it a shot. But the reality is that kids are kids are kids. They're going to refuse to eat green vegetables, they're most likely going to bite their peers once or twice, and they will only sleep past 7 a.m. when hell freezes over. No amount of in-depth reading is going to change the fact that children are small, high-energy monsters designed to suck the will to live from their parents unique beings learning to navigate the world in ways that parents find endlessly frustrating.

Assuming that a parent has some basic common sense — meaning they understand that shaking a kid is bad, and disciplining gently, but firmly, is good — then I fail to see the point of reading all these different books that preach completely opposite solutions to the same problems. I am already overwhelmed just trying to keep my children fed, clothed, and passably clean. Raising kids is paralyzing enough without reading material detailing the multiple ways that my parenting is going to scar them for life. I'm doing the best I can with the skills I have, and I endeavor every day to parent with intuition, and that's something that no parenting book can teach.

Every human being has some kind of baggage, and we sure as heck bring it with us into parenting. Some of us didn't get enough attention, others have abandonment issues, still others were suffocated by overprotective parents, and all of those things are going to rear their ugly heads once you bring a child into the world. You may find yourself overcompensating for not having enough attention by constantly asking your child about every little detail of his life, and he's eventually going to complain to his future therapist that his parents never left him alone. Perhaps you were raised by a helicopter mom and your kid will claim she never had enough boundaries. We're all going to mess up our kids in one way or another, no matter how many books we read, and there's a high probability that everybody's offspring will clock in plenty of hours in a psychiatrist's office telling sob stories about horrible parenting.

I'm not trying to scare you into thinking you're doomed to have some sort of psycho offspring, but rather to point out that there's no one-size-fits-all approach to parenting. No matter how many books and articles you read, you're never going to find just one that addresses all of your specific parenting "issues." The odds are in your favor that your child is going to be just fine, especially if you strive to parent with kindness, firmness, and unconditional love.

Once in a rare while I'll pick up a dreaded parenting book on a recommendation from a friend (I really liked Permission to Parent), but for the most part the only books on my bedside table these days are escapist novels that take me out of the day-to-day grind of raising children. The last thing I want to do, after spending 12 hours with my kids, is read about how I'm messing them up. I'll skip the lectures, spare myself the angst, and just make sure to save a little extra money for therapy so some shrink can use my children as case studies in her parenting book someday.


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