3 Reasons to Ditch the Parenting Theories

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I read my fair share of pregnancy books when I was pregnant with my daughter. I read the funny books, the informational books, and even a book or two on preparing for the arrival of baby. But once she arrived? I didn't read a single parenting book.

In fairness, I've worked with parents for many years and I stay on top of current research and read a lot of books to better help my clients, but when it came down to parenting my own newborn, I decided to go with my gut.

It seemed as though the moment she was born people bombarded me with questions about parenting theories and strategies for sleep training. Which sleep book would I use? Had I read about attachment parenting? What parenting framework would work for me?

In hindsight, I think the constant input about parenting theories steered me away from the books. That's a shame, really, because there are some truly amazing and helpful parenting books on the shelves and many of them don't even hint about theories. When I finally did open a Harvey Karp book that sat untouched on my bookshelf for many months, I realized that parenting books and parenting theories are two very different things. And those books contain some super helpful information to get you through the long nights (and even longer days).

As for those theories? I still think it's best to stay away from those. Here's why:

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All babies are different:

My son was a super sleeper almost from the minute he was born. He needs his sleep. My daughter was always a great sleeper, but getting her from awake to asleep required more time and oodles of patience. She always preferred extra rocking, cuddles, and togetherness. He liked his routine and preferred to be swaddled up wide awake — he could take it from there.

All babies have different personalities and different needs, and you can't possibly predict how this parenting thing will go until you meet your little one and get to know her unique personality. Bottom line: You have to be flexible when it comes to parenting.

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Theories can be limiting:

There is no one perfect way to parent a child. Co-sleeping, for example, might work brilliantly for one child but not as well for another. My son slept in a co-sleeper attached to my bed for quiet some time, but he had no interest in being in my bed. He seemed to need his own space from the beginning. To this day, he craves downtime alone in his bed – it's his space to decompress and relax.

I often have parents reach out to me when they're completely exhausted. “I've tried all of the usual things and nothing is working,” is a common complaint in these instances. It makes sense. Your toddler is easily frustrated so you reach into your memory to figure what worked with your first to help ease the frustration. The only problem is that pesky personality issue again.

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If we only ever approach a problem from one standpoint because that's what we think should work, we limit ourselves. Parenting is similar. Little kids have big emotions. They also encounter new and sometimes confusing information all day every day. It's only natural for them to feel frustrated at times. It's up to us to meet them where they are and help them learn to cope with their feelings along the way, even if that means parenting two different kids in two different ways.

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Trust your gut parenting works.

I've worked with countless parents over the years, and I have yet to encounter a parent who didn't have any parenting instincts. It's natural to worry that you'll make a mistake (you will; we all do) along the way or that you won't know how to handle some situations as they arise (croup threw me for a loop early on), but it's really important to learn to trust your gut.

When you slow down and listen to your inner voice, you'll find that you do know what your children need. Will a book or some articles help you figure out how to help your kids along the way? Absolutely. Learning a few strategies can be a huge help to parents. But you don't need a theory to tell you what you already feel in your heart.

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Get to know your child. Slow down and pay attention to the nuances of each child's personality. Listen to your heart. When we are mindful of the individual needs of our children, we don't need theories to guide our choices. We simply need to listen.

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3 Reasons to Ditch the Parenting Theories

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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