Before I became a parent, I unconsciously internalized a disdainful skepticism of parenting books and literature. After all, their advice is the fodder of comedies, and who hasn’t been told that “those books don’t tell you anything about real life” or “every child is unique, and no parenting book is going to tell you what you need to know about him/her.” I also remember hearing older parents (in my parents’ generation) bemoan the disconnect between reality and what they read about parenting.
Still, when I found out that I was pregnant, my natural drive to research pushed me toward the parenting section at my local library. I read, and read, and read. My husband even expressed disbelief that any of my reading would be helpful. He even worried that it would prevent me from seeing our child for who she truly was, since I had so many parenting “lenses” through which I might view her.
One positive: my voracious reading and his skepticism lead to some lively debates over parenting issues and questions that my reading brought up. After all, he and I both had the same goal: to be the best parents possible for our little one.
After River was born, I found that having an arsenal of infant-parenting tips and a general sense of developmental “norms” for babies was immensely helpful and allowed me to better process her behavior and understand her needs. This remained true, even though she was born 2 months early and dealt with several issues that aren’t common to the full-term babies that the books are written for.
This experience reminded me of when I went to Italy, in my senior year of college. In preparation, I took a semester of basic Italian. I cannot begin to describe how helpful that teeny, but vital bit of information was during my trip! Because I had a foundation on which to build, I was able to “pick up” additional vocabulary and to more effectively use my resources (traveler’s dictionary, local signs, etc) than if I had gone with no knowledge. Sure, there were plenty of situations in which I was still clueless or lost, but overall, the preparation was invaluable.
Incidentally, research backs up my experience–in one of my language acquisition classes, I read an article in which a linguist went to a country where he was completely unfamiliar with the language. As an experiment, he immersed himself in the language with great dedication (attempting conversations, befriending locals, going out and listening to the language for hours a day). Yet he found, to his dismay, that he made virtually no progress in learning the language because he knew nothing about how its grammar and syntax functioned, or even what its alphabet was. Just having (or not having, in his case) those bits of knowledge made all the difference.*
Now that River is a toddler, I’m back to my research and am devouring books on toddler activities, development, parenting, discipline, art, reading, Montessori activities, etc. And while she is definitely her own, strong person, the benefit of having some “hooks” on which to hang my new knowledge of her has been, once again, invaluable. In a way, it frees me to see her for the unique person that she is because I have a sense of the developmental “norms,” giving me something to build upon.
Reading so many books on parenting has also forced me to come to identify what issues are important to me and where I stand regarding them. There are so many strong opinions on both sides of any major parenting issue, and interacting with various authors via their books was a nice kick-in-the-pants reminder for me to consider my own stances.
I imagine that as River gets older, and the developmental milestones become less concrete (able to kick a ball) and more general (able to think in abstract terms), perhaps it will be harder to find books that are so directly applicable.
Still, for our infant and toddler experience, I’m beyond grateful for the wealth of written information available. I encourage any new (or experienced!) parent to NOT make the same assumptions that I started with (parenting books = useless) and to see if there are any that resonate with you.
Checking them out from the library is a great way to see which ones are helpful without blowing your diaper-toys-and-nursery-decorating budget! :) Even my badly stocked, underfunded library in CA had more than 30 parenting books on the shelves!
* sorry! I can’t remember the name of this article but will update when I find it! :)