When to Trust Your Parenting Instincts

When my first child was born, well-meaning friends convinced me that all disciplined, responsible mothers follow one particular book’s theory on helping babies learn to sleep. My little guy didn’t like it at all, and I spent months torn between what my instincts told me (rock the kid to sleep, for Pete’s sake!), and what the “experts” said. It made every single bedtime a stress bomb for both of us.

If I had a do-over, I’d throw out the book and follow my gut. And really, learning to trust your inner parenting compass is a process that continues throughout your life as a mom. Today it’s how to get them to sleep, tomorrow it’s whether the movie she wants to see is too mature, or when it’s OK to let her date. There aren’t absolute answers to these questions, so you’re forced to go with your gut.

Young parents are often bombarded with advice on everything child-related. From the right way to bathe to when it’s safe to let them ride their bikes down the street—everyone has an opinion. But no one knows your child quite like you do.  There are some times when you need to trust your parenting instincts, even if your mother or your best friend doesn’t agree.

Follow your own parenting instincts when:

  • The advice is all over the board. When everyone you know gives you a different set of instructions on the “right” way to get your baby to sleep, there’s probably no absolute must-do. File it all away under “Things I Might Try” and go with what seems most intuitive to you or yields the best results.
  • Your child defies the conventional wisdom. It doesn’t matter if all the children in your family have traditionally started preschool at age four. If you notice that your child loves the structure of a group learning environment at age three—go for it. Similarly, if you were spanked as a child (and it was effective), but you find that this type of correction makes things worse, rather than better, for your child—try something else. Every child has unique strengths and weaknesses, and good parents are flexible enough to address them in a way that works.
  • You have major concerns about the “right” way. Even if your peers’ children are all dating at age 15, and it’s the accepted appropriate age for such social activity in your circles, you know if your kid can’t handle it. Heck, you may even feel strongly that his friends shouldn’t be doing it either. While you can’t make those decisions for other families, wisdom demands that you honor your own assessment of your child’s maturity to protect him accordingly.

When to carefully consider others’ advice:

  • When professionals feel strongly. There are certain rules of childcare upon which pediatricians are in full agreement. One example would be the necessity of putting your baby to bed on his back to lessen the risk of SIDS. We’re not saying that the medical community never gets it wrong, but their advice is based upon a great deal of data and experience. Before you ignore their warnings and go your own way, think long and hard.
  • When your way is not working. Even if a particular method of training or discipline makes perfect sense in your head and you feel sure that it will work if you just try harder—take a deep breath. Sometimes common sense must prevail, and you have to admit that your way isn’t getting the job done.
  • When you see a mom enjoying great outcomes. Occasionally, we meet a family that just impresses us—the parents seem happy and the kids are well-behaved and joyful. You’d be crazy not to tap into what these parents know and try to catch a glimpse of their parenting philosophy and methods. Of course, their way of doing things won’t fit your family’s unique needs in every way, but you’ll likely learn something that helps you to find that sweet spot with your own kids.

Dana Hall McCain writes about marriage, parenting, faith and wellness. She is a mom of two, and has been married to a wonderful guy for over 18 years.

In The Comments

Is there any one area of parenting where you’ve had to trust your own instincts rather than following others’ advice? Tell us about it!