Forget the Parenting Experts: Go with Your Gut

A few months before their second birthday, my twins went into this phase that I called the “early terrible 2s.” There were lots of loud nos and screaming tantrums and hysterical tears. Everything felt like a battle, and all I kept thinking was, “I thought I had more time until all of this started.” At some point, I realized that the meltdowns often happened when I took over, whether I was changing their diaper, putting on their shoes, or getting them in their highchairs. I knew that my boys were intent on doing everything themselves, but there were still so many things that they really couldn’t do.

One day, as I was trying to buckle my wailing child into his carseat, I shouted in frustration, “Fine, do it yourself!” Suddenly, he quieted, and his little hands started trying to fasten his chest strap. No, he couldn’t do it, but after he’d given it a fair shot, he allowed me to finally buckle him in. No more screaming, no more tears–was this the secret to curbing the tantrums?

For my kids, it was. At the very least, they lost it a whole lot less. It seemed that giving my boys some control and giving them choices, made them happier. There weren’t as many battles. They got on board with diaper changes when I asked if they could hold the wipes for me. It was no problem leaving the house if they got to pick their own clothes and put their own shoes on. I could get them in their high chairs just by asking if they wanted to buckle themselves in. A year later, and I’m still letting my kids do many things all by themselves, and these days they can do a lot more. I think it gives them confidence, it makes them feel respected, and they fight me less. Don’t get me wrong, they still freak out plenty, but my hands-off, hands-up approach definitely helps.

So, the other day, watching my boys put their shoes on, someone asked if I had practiced the RIE parenting method with my kids. I am vaguely familiar with it, as I’m vaguely familiar with a few different parenting philosophies. From what I understand, it has to do with respecting a baby’s experience, narrating what’s happening, and letting your child be, without forcing him to conform to your timeline or schedule. Did I actually practice RIE though? I’m not sure, maybe a little, but it definitely wasn’t deliberate. And I know for sure that I’ve done a lot of things with my kids that are definitely anti-RIE, like propping them up to sit when they were babies, spoon-feeding them, and asking them to say, “please” and “thank you,” even though they have no clue or care what good manners are.

Honestly, I think that’s the problem with following one parenting philosophy to the letter. Every kid is different, and every kid changes so much over time. One piece of advice from a parenting book might be a miracle solution for dealing with your child, while another, from the same book, might totally fail. You may have a parenting Bible that’s been your go-to since your baby left the hospital, but suddenly you’re dealing with an ornery, emotional three-year-old and those same tricks just aren’t working.

A lot of parenting is just trial and error, but at the end of the day, you have to do what feels right to you. If you love and care for your kids, no, you’re not going to totally screw them up. Your son won’t wind up in therapy because you give him time-outs. Your daughter won’t fail in school because you sometimes help her finish a puzzle. Your kids won’t turn into candy-aholics because you offer food rewards for good behavior. You know your kids better than anyone. Doesn’t that make you the best expert on how to raise them?

Obviously, these books and philosophies exist for a reason–they all have solid, tried-and-true advice that absolutely works on plenty of kids. Honestly, some of the suggestions may be more effective than what you or I are currently doing. Personally though, I don’t want to have to study up on how to be a parent. I don’t want to have to think that hard about what I am or am not doing right. I have enough trouble as it is figuring out what to eat for breakfast. And I definitely don’t want to sit there worrying about what I’m doing wrong. I beat myself up enough as it is. 

So instead, I’m just going to keep doing what my maternal instincts tell me to do, and listen to other moms when they have suggestions. It might mean that my kids get M&M’s if they stay by my side at the mall. It might mean that I ask one twin to say, “I’m sorry,” for hitting his brother, even if he doesn’t really know what remorse is. It means we’re not going to potty train until I can tell that they’re actually ready. It means they’re going to watch TV when they need some downtime. I’m sure that I’m doing plenty of things “wrong,” whatever that means, but I also trust that I’m getting most of it right. When it comes to my own kids–and when it comes to your own kids–mommy really does know best.