Why I Stopped Reading Parenting Books

Why I Stopped Reading Parenting Books

Good Parenting and Practices of Being in a Family

By Debbie Urbanski

When I found out I was pregnant, I made some promises to myself. I was going to be a great mother. Being a great mother meant never raising my voice. It meant creating a house of quiet and calm. It meant playgrounds and crafts and my children having play dates all the time. I wanted to give my kids a different childhood than the one I had. As for how to become this kind of mother, I had no idea, so I decided to read some parenting books.

Thankfully there are a lot of parenting books.

I started with The Baby Book by Dr. Sears, which advocates in 769 pages for babywearing and lots of cuddling. This sounded nice. I bought several slings and a baby carrier before my son was born. When my son was born, he cried all the time, whether he was in the sling or not. His cries were neither small nor cute. He was really loud in fact. When he wasn’t crying, he wanted to be nursing. He began nursing all through the night and I wasn’t able to sleep while he was nursing so I became non-functional. A neighbor told me about Dr. Ferber of the rather notorious “cry it out” method. “Do babywearing mothers use Ferber?” I asked this neighbor. “Sure,” she said. We used Dr. Ferber’s book Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems as a guide to ferberize our child, meaning we set our infant in his nursery, in his crib, and we shut the door. Periodically we checked on him but we were not to pick him up until the morning. Dr. Ferber promised the child would only cry in his crib for a few nights. My son’s crying at night went on for weeks or longer. I don’t remember the exact length of time as I’ve blacked out that part of my life.

This was my first clue that the advice in parenting books was not always accurate for my particular child.

I ignored the clue.

My son grew into a strong-willed child who protested transitions and change. Positive Discipline led to Raising Your Spirited Child after which came The Explosive Child, which recommends collaborative problem solving and negotiation. Instead of problem solving collaboratively, my son screamed at me. Still, I was convinced that some book out there contained the secret to parenting my son. It was only a matter of finding the correct book.

After my son was diagnosed with mild autism, I became buried in an avalanche of books: Asperger Syndrome and Difficult Moments; The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism; anything by Temple Grandin; 1001 Great Ideas for Teaching and Raising Children with Autism or Asperger’s. Mothers at social skills classes recommended more books and even some DVD’s: The Calm Parenting University and Stop Defiance Now! and The Nurtured Heart Approach.

Soon every moment of the day became a moment to improve my child using book-approved methods. My nightstand, and in fact my life, had become a mess of notes and parenting books. I felt like I was standing on a cliff beside my son, about to jump, and here I was tying pages of books to our arms like they could be wings.

It was unsustainable, of course.

One morning I woke up one morning and gave all those books away.

The moment the books left my life, I felt like a weight had been taken off of my back.

In some ways, I still miss these books. They were my addiction, my habit. They gave me an easy hope. If I only read enough, and read the right books, and managed to remember the advice such books were telling me, my son might turn into a different child, an easier-to-manage child, and I would end up being that parent, the warm playground-loving parent I hoped I would be

“No,” my child’s therapist corrected me. She said my particular child doesn’t need that parent I imagined, the one who did crafts and gave lot of hugs. “Your son doesn’t even like hugs,” she reminded me. True. My son needed a firmer parent who can teach him how to follow instructions and use silverware. A parent who implements incentive plans and sticks to them and is able to ignore the insults while keeping her temper in check, while using physical guidance if required.

That’s the parent I need to figure out how to be.

Unlike those parenting books, my child’s therapist has never promised me a miracle. Sometimes she asks me what I think I should do. No parenting book ever asked me this question.

Recently, my mom wrote me an email containing some ideas for raising my son. I wrote back and explained I was taking a break from outside parenting advice, that I was just working with my son’s therapist right now and trying one new thing at a time. Progress was slower this way, nobody was expecting a cure, though at least there was progress. My mom and I did not talk for months after I sent that message. She thought I didn’t need her in my life. What I needed, I later told her once I finally called her, is for someone not to tell me what to do, but to tell me I will know what I’m doing someday. To tell me I can figure this out. This is the message I wish more parenting books contained: that being a nurturing mother does not mean mimicking other mothers. It means being the mother your child needs, and what your child needs may not resemble anything that can be contained in a book.


Debbie Urbanski’s writing has appeared in Orion, The Sun, the Kenyon Review, Nature: the International Weekly Journal of Science, and Terraform. She holds an MFA from Syracuse University. Read more of her work at: debbieurbanski.com or find her on Twitter @debbieurbanski.




thWhat Is the One Thing You Would Have Done Differently as a New Mom?

Each month we ask our readers a question… these are their answers…

Forgiven myself for making mistakes and not having all the answers. If I could go back to my daughter’s first few years, I would stop trying to do it all and just enjoy the moments more. I miss the moments.- A. Macedo

Asked for help and accepted help. Now I have three kids and people aren’t knocking on my door to help like they did with a newborn! – A. Connors

Given myself a break and allowed more time for self care. Being a mom does not mean you have to be a martyr. I think teaching realistic balance is the best thing we can model for our kids, but also the hardest. – C. Krist

Slept with my babies and not listened to anyone but my gut for parenting advice. – T. Scott

As a stay-at-home mom, I would have introduced a babysitter into the routine earlier on, so that my kid would naturally have gotten used to being looked after—not to mention being put to bed—by somebody other than me!  – Lauren Apfel, Brain, Child’s Debate Editor

Bought only one type of socks. – M. Darlene

Stay home longer, jobs can wait a year. – P. Medrano

Written a little something about myself or my baby every day. – S. Preston

I tried to do EVERYTHING myself. It was hard to ask for help. As a result, I was sleep-deprived and had shot nerves (with a bit of anxiety/short temper thrown in). I miss those first six months like crazy, and often feel as though I could have done things differently. – S. Farmer

Put my kids in the crib earlier than I did. – D. Balan

I should have napped every single time my husband told me to nap. – Hilary Levey Friedman, Brain, Child‘s Book Review Editor

I don’t know how I would do it but I would do bedtime differently (my children, currently six and nine, still do not go to bed, instead they creep into the bedroom at  night to kick me in the head.) – H. Fletcher

Chilled out a little more. – T. Driscoll

Stayed home more. – M. Hope

Not attempted to go back to work – D. Fine

Researched vaccines on my own before administration. – E. Bowdin

Relaxed. Not taken myself too seriously. – A. Strazza

I would have slept when my baby slept and been awake with the baby and hired someone to clean house for the first three weeks and told all visitors to go away and make an appointment – A. Ling

Worry less. – E. Tompkins

I would have had even more parties, to this day my now teenage children remember all their themed birthday parties — rainbow, flowers, pirates — and I loved every minute of the planning and playing. – Marcelle Soviero, Brain, Child’s Editor-in-Chief.

I would never have registered for – let alone tried to consistently use – the shopping cart insert. Too much effort, plus some germs are good! – Hilary Levey Friedman, Brain, Child‘s Book Review Editor

Spent more time reading to and singing to my babies. Held them longer, played with them more. Not worried about messes and dirty clothes. Let their friends come over more (I’m an introvert and only child, and didn’t feel comfortable with people in the house). – D. Page

Insisted people take lots of photos of me and my child. – T. Guerra

Skip the parenting books for the first two years. – S. Pilman

If I could do it all over, I wouldn’t have fussed so much about our kids wanting to sleep in our bed. – R. Johnson

Gave up on breastfeeding. It was never going to happen and I wasted so much time and emotional energy stressing about it. – K. Morgan

Learned to let others (spouse/mom) hold my babies more. – L. Jury

Trusted my instincts and ignored a lot of “advice.” – C. Vechio

Hold, hold, hold, and talk and sing and dance. — M. Holden

Nothing. I did the best I could with what I knew and what I had. – L. McBride

Take better care of myself. – A. Miley

Said “no visitors” in the hospital – B. Ardel

Delivered anywhere but where I did.- L. Mercantile

Napped when they napped. – K. Oates

Return to the October 2015 Issue


Top 10 Tips for Parents of College Students

Top 10 Tips for Parents of College Students

By Katie Santa-Maria


1. Put Down The Phone: It’s hard to adjust to being apart from your child, but trying to communicate with them at all hours of the day will only push them away. They are busy. Setting aside a specific time each week to talk is a good idea and won’t overwhelm them.

2. Don’t Drop By Unannounced: The last thing you want is to surprise your child at school only to have it be the busiest weekend of the semester, and to walk into a room full of garbage and empty alcohol bottles. Instead, simply give them a heads up so they can clean up, and plan ahead to ensure they get some quality time with you.

3. Send Care Packages: What college student doesn’t love receiving free food and goodies in the mail? Aim to send care packages once a semester and for every holiday. Get creative!

4. Meet Their College Friends: Getting to know the people your child is spending time with at school is a great way to help parents feel more at ease about them being on their own. These new friends will quickly become your child’s second family. Meet them when you visit. Take them to dinner.

5. Trust Them With Their Academics: This isn’t high school anymore — the days of phone calls from teachers reporting on grades are long gone. You need to accept this. Trust that your child can manage on their own without their parents constantly checking up on their schoolwork.

6. Discuss Finances Before You Drop Them Off: College students will find a way to spend every penny in their bank account. Come up with an allowance beforehand and stick to it.

7. Plan Trips Home In Advance: Especially if your child is a plane ride away. Most colleges have similar breaks, so book tickets early to avoid being forced to spend $600 in order to get them home for Thanksgiving.

8. Subscribe Them To Your Town’s Newspaper: Leaving your child with a connection to their hometown is a great way to ease the transition to a new and unfamiliar setting.

9. Book Hotels For Visiting Weekends EARLY: You would be shocked at how early the hotels near the campus book up. Don’t be the parents that have to stay over an hour away from the school on parents weekend — be on top of this.

10. Take a Deep Breath: Try your best not to worry yourself to death — you have given your child everything they need to have a successful college experience. Trust that you have raised them right.

Katie Santa-Maria is a Junior at Elon University and a summer intern at Brain, Child.

Photo: gettyimages.com

Finding Joy in Activities We Dislike

Finding Joy in Activities We Dislike

dandelions ThumbnailI’m constantly encouraging (okay, forcing) my kids to find ways to make a situation they dislike more enjoyable. I’m sure it’s extremely annoying and something they’ll spoof one day in a skit during my 60th birthday dinner, but I’m willing to take that risk.

“Yes, you have to sit out here for eighteen hours in the heat during your brother’s opening day of the soccer season. But think of all the dandelions you’ll collect!”

Let them mock me. Making the mundane tasks of life more amusing is perhaps one of the most underrated abilities I can help them develop. To clarify, I’m not talking about finding the upside of a serious problem or putting a spin on legitimate tragedies like fatal diseases and life-altering accidents. The power I hope to impart is the subtle change of perspective that can cure simple ailments like boredom, or even constant annoyances like having to spend so much time in the car. (More on that particular example later.)

As far as passing on skills to my kids goes, my attempt at training them to bend their mindset this way is probably the best I can do. I’m not the one who teaches them how to play a team sport or individual sports like skating and skiing. I’m not the one who takes them camping, boating, or hiking. I don’t garden and my swimming skills are less than mediocre. I’m an indoor bird, but I’m terrible at anything craft related. My best skills are writing, reading, and cooking. However, I am also good at taking it upon myself, rather than others, to improve an otherwise bothersome situation. It’s a happiness tool far more useful over the long run than say, how to execute the perfect tennis serve.

A quick example: My son, 9, used to complain about how “unfair” it was that he had to sit through his sisters’ gymnastics class every Monday after school. After I pointed out how many of his summer soccer and baseball games the girls attend every year, I said it was his responsibility to either think of a way to make the hour fun, or to at least use the time to his advantage.

He asked me if I would let him use the iTouch if he completed all of his homework and then some. I said yes, which challenged him to get his assignments completed with a focus and determination that he does not demonstrate any other hour of the week. He turned the hour limit into a challenge to himself to get in as much (normally very restricted) iTouch time as possible. To that end, he sits down immediately and starts his homework before his sisters have even changed into their leotards. Even better, he stopped whining about being there, an improvement to my hour in the gymnastics waiting area as well.

Aside from directly coaching a kid through this powerful mind change, the best method is to lead the way. The latest example I’ve shared with the kids is how my newfound discovery of audiobooks (decades after everyone else) has cured my daily driving woes. I stumbled on this grand solution when at my neighborhood book club meeting in March, one of the women mentioned that she’d enjoyed listening to our April selection, The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. I’d never heard an audio version of a book before because it always felt like cheating.

“Does that count as reading?” I asked. The women in the room—serious readers, all of them—nodded. The next morning, one of my neighbors dropped off the CDs at my doorstep and forever changed my attitude about driving. I’ve long grown out of music as an aid to pass the (seemingly endless) time when I’m alone in my car. And after years of listening to radio talk shows, I’ve become tired of those voices filling the air, too. At last, like a hero riding into town on a white horse, the glorious world of audiobooks has swept me off my feet and brought joy to an unavoidable, daily task in my life. If I can’t get out of driving (I can’t), I know it’s up to me to make that time pleasant.

I now find myself getting in my kids’ school pick up line earlier than necessary so I can hear more of the story. I even signed up for an audible.com account so I can listen to books on my phone during other activities I dread like lifting weights at the gym or even putting away laundry. In less than a month I’ve heard all of The Kitchen House, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, and an entire David Sedaris show. It’s been incredibly gratifying.

“We get the point, Mom,” I can imagine my kids saying soon. “You can stop talking about audiobooks now.” And I will smile with self-satisfaction knowing that a bit more of their training is complete.

Have you found ways to make otherwise dreaded activities more enjoyable?

Illustration by Christine Juneau

Read Nina’s “This is Three” essay in This is Childhood, a book about the first years of childhood and motherhood. 

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