The study specifically focused on parenting books that advocated strict routines for very young infants; parenting books frequently made parents feel worse rather than better.
The problem lies in the nature of the advice given. In fact, in the aforementioned study, mothers who had previously agreed with the advice felt better, but the majority felt worse after receiving it.
Whether it’s crying babies, defiant toddlers, or moody teenagers, most parents seek parenting guidance in times of crisis. People want to be told what to do when they are unsure, and parenting books fill this need with directives. The issue is that parenting is clearly more complicated and unpredictable; there are no simple solutions.
How does an advice book make parents feel bad?
Parenting is as high stakes as it gets, one becomes responsible for another person’s life. Most parents look up to experts or parenting books for simple step-by-step instructions on how to do it correctly. However, what a “parenting book” explains does not always work. They fail to recognise that raising other humans is a messy endeavour, that each child and parent is an individual with their own set of experiences, needs, and quirks.
According to a clinical psychologist, parenting books quite often provide tips and guidance without providing context, such as child temperament or how a parent is trying to manage much more in their world than raising children. Many well-meaning parenting books leave out the grey areas of parenting, such as how one strategy may work well with one of your children but not with their sibling.
In other words, when the advice provided does not work for them, many parents believe themselves as failures. The psychologist said “When a book has a premise of how its approach will make your life better, and then the prescribed strategies don’t work, the reader feels like it’s their fault. They must be doing it wrong, or be a failure as a parent, instead of finding flaws in the advice.”
Even books that aimed at improving the parent-child relationship had a negative impact on the well-being of parents resulting in the same for the child.
Parents who read parenting books were found to have a loss of confidence and feelings of shame. It affects parents’ self-esteem, self-image, and how they perceive themselves as parents.” However, shame may have a more negative impact on people in general, and parents in particular. It may, among other things, also dampen curiosity and willingness to learn.
Parents experiencing shame while reading a book or implementing the tips and tricks in real life internalise themselves as failures if they do not achieve the life changing effects as promised by the experts or authors. This self-blame exacerbates stress, driving them even further away from being the parent they want to be.
Furthermore, scientific claims in many parenting books were not always accurate. One popular parenting book, for example, contends that babies have mental growth spurts at specific stages of development. While it is true that babies develop in spurts, this does not occur at specific weeks. Instead, there is a great deal of variation in how babies develop, both mentally and physically.
From learning about childrearing practices to reassuring themselves that their baby will be fine. There are numerous reasons why parents read how-to guides on raising children.
However, throughout history, humans learned to raise children by observing mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and other caretakers nurture babies or caring for younger siblings themselves.
From a scientific standpoint, the purpose of having children is to introduce more variability, change, and difference into the world. To have a generation that does things differently and in unexpected ways in order to adapt to new situations. Parents trying to follow books and shaping their children in a specific way, would defeat the entire purpose of having children.
It’s different with every child, a hundred children will have a hundred different ways of understanding and doing things, and a hundred of parenting trying to use that one advice on each one of them would take away the child’s uniqueness.
Maybe it’s time to ditch the parenting how-to book and try a different approach or find a better way. Most parenting books today advise parents to cultivate empathy for their children. But do parents need books for that? In any case, a book should never be influencing a parent’s emotions towards their child. Both the parents and the children should be given equal time to grow together.
Just as a newborn has come to life, the parents along with the newborn start a new life and it’s unfair for parents to expect themselves to do things in a certain manner or be perfect at it. It is necessary for parents to realise that they need to give themselves time to discover their own ways that would not only suit the child but also them. It’s something parents need to keep doing their whole life. A way that helped raise a child when he/she was 5 will not help when the child turns 15. Similarly, a way that helped when the child was 15 might not help when turns 25. This is why it’s important to become your own-guru at parenting.