I remember reading my first book on parenthood 25 ago. It was a book about the benefits of natural childbirth, which inspired me to inform my doctor that I wanted to give birth without medication. He explained the wonders of modern painkillers and tried to spare me the torture of a primitive birth. I thought about what I had read, considered the doctor's advice, and found another doctor who would listen to my needs.
Since then, I too, have become an "expert." I conduct parenting workshops, prepare couples for childbirth and counsel breastfeeding mothers. My expertise is based on three things: The unfolding of my own personal philosophy as I raised my family of six children, gaining professional status through studying and becoming certified and perhaps most important, separating my personal philosophy from the information and counseling I offer parents, and learning from the parents themselves how different alternatives can be tailored to fit their needs.
Learning communication skills for building better relationships can greatly contribute to creating a loving, positive home environment.
Let's relate separately to experts who come in the form of literature and experts who come in the form of professional people.
Do We Really Need Books to Tell us how to Raise our Kids?
There has been so much research published in recent years that it is impossible to access and read everything that is available. Bookstores boast a large variety of books and magazines on parenting. On the one hand, this access to the latest information is very empowering to parents. It gives tools we can use on our own instead of running to professionals with every question. On the other hand, so much information can be overwhelming for the consumer, and can even create conflict when one source contradicts another. We may feel compelled to read as much as we can, so we can discover what we are doing wrong and how to fix it! We may sigh and think "ignorance is bliss." If our grandparents could raise children without all these books, why can't we?! We may get inspired to try out some of the ideas and techniques we read about, and then wonder why it doesn't work for us. "My children are different" or I'm not a capable parent" are thoughts that may plague us.
Parents need accurate information, skills and support throughout the parenting experience, in order to gain confidence and trust in their own parenting instincts. Each parent ultimately knows what is best for his own child.
Beware of Tabasco Sauce!
Some parents find this information and support through attending a course or parenting group that teaches child development and child care. Others prefer books or video programs. Learning communication skills for building better relationships can greatly contribute to creating a loving, positive home environment. We tend to think that parenting should be something that comes naturally. It doesn't! Parents need tools just as every other profession does. Parents don't have to read every available book on the market. A few basic books are sufficient. Some parents agree with the attitudes of one or two experts, and follow those, in order to remain consistent.
If our grandparents could raise children without all these books, why can't we?!
The second source of expertise - doctors, psychologists, family counselors, etc. - is more daunting for parents. Each professional develops his own style and outlook, and it takes time to find the appropriate person . Our society gives great authority to people whose names are followed by a string of initials. Sometimes parents ignore their own common sense in favor of advice given by experts. One mother was advised by a doctor to train her baby to sleep through the night by giving him a teaspoon of Tabasco sauce when he awakened at 2 a.m. She was told, "That'll teach him not to cry for you!" The mother felt she could either ignore the advice or switch doctors. Caring parents need to challenge these ideas in favor of a more understanding and loving approach both to the child and to the parent!
An expert will first listen to the parent's thoughts and feelings, ask questions which clarify the issues, give accurate information, explore different alternatives and support the process the parent goes through in implementing the chosen solution. The expert may not necessarily agree with the solution, but if it is not harmful, it is better for both parent and child if the parent's judgment is respected and supported. After all, it is the parent who has to go home and live with the situation. Working through a difficult situation is a process that takes time and patience. Sometimes a solution may not work and the parent, with additional guidance and support, might try something else. This does not indicate "failure." It simply means that the child did not respond to this approach and needs something else instead.
A typical situation that illustrates this point is the breastfeeding mother who needs to return to work when her baby is three months old and the baby refuses the bottle. Working out the right program for this mother and baby is very individual and involves exploring different alternatives until the mother finds the right solutions. It is essential that the mother feel satisfied with the situation, and confident in her ability as a mother.
Parents need and deserve to be empowered. The expert's job is simply to offer accurate information, alternatives, support and encouragement so that the parent him/herself knows that she is the best expert on parenting her own child!