“Parenting Experts” Can Do More Damage Than Good—Mothers, Trust Your Gut!

“You in danger, girl.”

When I first heard this line, I was young and unmarried. Children had barely registered a blip on my radar. Still those words stayed with me. And now, twenty-five years and 3 kids later, I know why. Whoopi was indeed talking to me, and millions of other moms—trying to prepare us for the hot mess that is modern motherhood.

[Read: Good Parenting Isn’t Complicated– Here’s Why]

Being a mom has always been challenging. There are the emotional pangs—worry, sadness and fear—that, like a packaged deal, come with loving another human being with every ounce of your soul. Physical drains, like sleep deprivation, have always robbed a mom’s strength. But now we have to contend with a $1.7 trillion industry built to steal motherhood’s very essence. Like a menacing character lurking in the shadows, the past two decades have seen a phalanx of so-called parenting experts brazenly highjack maternal instinct. Remember that organic and totally individual body of wisdom as old as life itself?

This heist of common sense has been in the making for quite some time. Back in 1945, a much lower grade Mommy Mania even prompted Dr. Benjamin Spock to write: “Don’t take too seriously all that the neighbors say. Don’t be overawed by what the experts say. Don’t be afraid to trust your own common sense. Bringing up your child won’t be a complicated job if you take it easy…what good mothers and fathers instinctively feel like doing for their babies is usually best after all….”

[Read: 3 Signs of Parental Narcissism & How to Counter Them in a Healthy, Positive Way]

Over the past 15 years, more than 800 parenting books have glutted the market. There are thousands of books devoted to the mere fundamentals of baby care—such as, sleeping, eating and potty training—then thousands more on building developmental skills and character that, in previous generations, were basic to sound home-training. Nothing is basic any more. The experts have made every aspect of childrearing complicated and anxiety-ridden. In a 2009 survey, Michele Borba, child psychologist and author, found:

  • 96% of moms reported that motherhood is “incredibly stressful”
  • 73% felt as though moms of previous generations had it easier
  • 30% said they were often depressed.

[Read: 4 Keys to Making Healthy, Empowered Decisions]

“It doesn’t make a bit of sense,” my mama would say. I was raised by a scarcely educated, single Black woman. Her parenting expertise began and ended with a beat-down stare and 5 simple words: “Don’t Make Me Hurt You.” It worked.

I don’t know that she “had it easy,” but she certainly had confidence. When my 3 kids—her grandchildren—were born, she would instruct me, with steadfast conviction, to rub whisky on their teething gums; let them cry themselves to sleep; and put them in a playpen when I needed to do housework.

Of course, I would look at her as though she had 3 heads and recite—chapter and verse—what the baby books said. I spent the first several years of motherhood trying to soak in every piece of advice I got. Here is a sampling of proof:

[Read: 3 Keys for Mastering an Unbalanced Life]

  1. I used to peel the skin off peas to make them easier for my babies to digest. Each and every pea. With writer’s carpel tunneled fingers. Each casing meticulously removed. Oh, and of course, the peas had to be organic. (It never dawned on me that as a nursing mom, the pesticide-infested foods I was grubbing could kill them just as well.)
  2. From infancy to around age 4, I planned my entire day around my kids’ sleep times—come hell or high water their heads had to hit the mattress by 1 p.m. Car and stroller naps were out of the question. A rigid bath-book-bed chain of events was a near-sacred ritual never to be broken, amended or in any way dishonored.
  3. Having some vague recollection of a Beach-Nut baby food recall in the early 1990s, I decided my kids would not ingest any Beach-Nut or Gerber (just to be on the safe side) products ever in life.
  4. I composed and printed out long, detailed itineraries of when my kids should eat, sleep and play—to the minute (for example, 9:15-10:00: “free play” time)—for any and all caregivers. I saved the document on my PC and updated it every few weeks or so, as each baby grew and changed. Needless to say, when I presented said rundown to my mama, a flurry of cussing ensued.

[Read: 7 Things Children Can Teach Us]

ylanda gault child, pleaseNow, I am willing to own my crazy. And I think we all should. To an extent us moms have contributed to our own undoing. By tackling motherhood, in some cases, as though it was a plum career-advancing assignment—overly intellectualizing a function that should be heart-led and turning what is supposed to be a journey into a destination—we became easy and lucrative prey. Instead of reading 1 or 2 baby books, the over-achievers among us felt compelled to read 30. We were fully ensnared in the industry’s rope-a-dope trap. Think about it: Is there really any such thing as a “parenting expert”?

Sure a child psychologist has theories and can hypothesize and generalize. But who can know you and your child and your family dynamics better than you? Admittedly, it is hard work. This trusting your gut stuff is, for some, very uneasy territory—especially when slickly packaged “rules” are dangled before you.

[Read Maria Shriver’s latest essay]

I used to think my mom and moms of her generation were a bunch of bumpkins, led mostly by crazy stunts lacking science or reason. In hindsight, though, what they had is a sense of inner knowing. The “I-got-this” spirit of trial-and-error that rejects handwringing and over-thinking. They had mother wit, which I, for one, am determined to reclaim.


{Image credit: Pixabay}

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