Stripping the Layers of Advice

By Carrie Kerr, Safe Sleep Editor for The Attached Family

My grandma was working on writing a book when I was a teenager. The subject was music. She never finished the manuscript, so I can’t be sure of the exact focus of her topic, but I do remember that she interviewed my brother and me on the theory behind Alternative Rock. I didn’t have all that much to offer; I just listened to what sounded good. But my brother, always the academic type, was quick to add his input. He said, “These bands have stripped away the unnecessary layers and gone back to the basics. They threw away the synthesizers, and all the extra bells and whistles, and have focused on the classic instruments of guitar, drums, and voice.” I don’t know if his explanation was accurate or not, but I was reminded of his comments recently as I came across a parenting message board from a fairly prestigious college in California, USA.

I had never visited the site before, and I was very interested to see how such an intellectual group of people addressed the parenting topic of sleep. The advice was fair. It was supportive, friendly, educated, and it was very much Attachment Parenting (AP). But as I read on, I became overwhelmed by the amount of input on the subject. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “All of this advice is over-the-top. What ever happened to intuition?”

Shortly thereafter, I started reading a book by Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Dr. Gabor Mate entitled Hold On to Your Kids. Interestingly enough, my thought process was affirmed early on in the “Note to the Reader.” It said, “The modern obsession with parenting as a set of skills to be followed along lines recommended by experts is, really, the result of lost intuitions and a lost relationship with children previous generations could take for granted.” Now, that being said, it is also human nature to discuss day-to-day joys and struggles with our friends, relatives, or experts. But, in considering how to best get our children to sleep, I’d like to bring intuition back into focus.

Intuition refers to the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning. We all have intuition, but often our gifts for it are in differing domains. For instance, some people may have great intuition when it comes to safety or emergencies, whereas other people lack common sense or tend to panic. This can be seen in parenting as well. I have heard people say, “I’m not very maternal.” They probably mean that they don’t have a strong intuition for handling children. Strongly knit societies typically have had frameworks for helping develop this intuition in the younger generations. Modern-day societies are struggling with this. As a result, the door for random parenting advice is wide open.

AP is largely based on the idea that we do have instinctual parenting skills and, with the right support, we can reconnect with the behaviors of our ancestors. Our current culture has made that difficult. We don’t have, as Neufeld explains it, “attached cultures” in our society. Our communities are segregated by age groups, with large gaps often existing between the young and the old. Instead of gleaning the wisdom and experience of our elders, we look to our peers for advice. This habit carries the risk of becoming a circular, fruitless, and maybe even harmful experiment.

What if the way you parented your child at night was only between you and your child? What if you never had to tell the opinionated bystander if your baby did or did not sleep through the night; you never had to hear unsolicited advice from your best friend; you only had to do what felt right to you and your child? What if you threw away the message boards, threw away the parenting books, and didn’t have any baby gadgets? Then what would you do when you and your baby were tired?

When it comes down to it, the issue of sleep is largely based on individual child/parent needs. We need to be less concerned with following a superficial protocol and more concerned with thinking critically about our unique situations. Game plan or not, intuition will be the leader for meeting the spontaneous needs of your child. A parent always needs to be sensitive to the miraculous instincts that come with parenting — the unexplained start that wakes you up only to realize your child has a fever, or the let-down of milk just moments before your baby starts crying. To override that with advice that is outlined by current trends, even those we view as positive, can be counterproductive.

Sometimes, like too many synthesizers in a band, all of the nighttime parenting advice gets in the way of our inner voices. For just a moment, I suggest we stop layering ourselves with tips and strategies, stop reading, stop second-guessing. Perhaps all of the overanalyzing is what’s actually exhausting! Regardless of my advice to you, or someone else’s advice to me, it often comes down to personally testing the waters of our unique situations. It’s about listening to your child, his or her needs, and the reasonable, responsive inner voice that comes with the age-old occupation of parenting.

11 thoughts on “Stripping the Layers of Advice”

  1. Thanks for sharing this. Growing up as an unconventional child myself, I realize that I cannot force myself to parent my son the way others “helpfully” suggest. When I truly need answers, the best I can do is clear my head of what I’ve “heard” and search within myself.

  2. Very nice! My husband and I bed-share with our son because it’s what works for us. Nothing else worked. Now 10-months old, people comment on how calm and happy he is. We know it’s because we bed-share, as well as nurse on demand. However, when we share that, the same people raise their eye brows, and start talking about sleep training. I find it sad that our society is more concerned with processes than results. It’s like the old medial adage. “The surgery was a success, but the patient died.”

  3. I really liked this article. It makes sense to listen to ourselves, but I do believe as a society we need to get back to our roots and ourselves, which the seed is our inner voice. Well written without being preachy. Love it.

  4. I love this article. I only wish I had read it when my daughter was still a baby (she is now 5). I was so overwhelmed with advise and baby books that I had no idea what felt natural to me. Happily now I stick to what works for me and try to ignore well meaning but annoying advise.

  5. Thanks for the reminder. So far, this is what I’ve tried to do, but it is very difficult when everyone else (including partner and family) want to do things differently. Thanks for the support.

  6. I am totally in agreement with your article, but I think it is important to realize that not everyone is raised in a family that allows for intuition to kick in. Helping those mothers learn to find reliable sources of help and support and information is incredibly important in this age of “information (and opinion) overload”

  7. Thank you so much. I have a 5 year old and a 6-1/2 year old and have always tried to parent by instinct (with a little help from books, your website, etc). I have also constantly fought those advice givers, including spouse. I am now involved in a very ugly custody battle and the level of over analytical parenting judgement is out of hand. Even going so far as to say breastfeeding after chiildren have teeth is abnormal and the reason other societies do so is because they don’t have formula!!! We, as a society, need to save ourselves. I have come to believe that attachment parenting (especially bedsharing) is the silent majority. I have had several women quietly, almost shamefully whisper their confessions of bedsharing. I immediately refer them to this website. We really need to change this mindset.

  8. Thanks, Carrie. We totally agree. As parents of an extremely sleep-challenged child, every night is a new battle and nobody’s advice seems to hold much value. There is no absolute rule book to parenting, and nor should there be.

  9. I am always amazed how much excitement comes from pure re-discovery of common sense or the option to listen to one’s own instincts. So sad that they both died long time ago…. (applies not to the parenting only but unfortunately to all the ways of life..). SO UPLIFTING that there are glimpses of attempts to bring them back to life.
    So true that we all should use the outsider’s advice as a hint or a suggestion only. Our own thinking and common sense should always prevail. Acting out of love would help immensely. I’d even suggest love to be our sole adviser anyways.
    Back to API way of raising children. I consider myself a strong woman and restless and fearless fighter for the fair equality between men and women which, however, goes both ways. That’s why I do not like the lack of stress on the importance of the father’s role in the child’s development. All I’ve read so far was Mother, mother, mother. Is it really so that this API way sees the fathers just as a supportive (or optional, or even not really needed) element in the whole process??? Or do I just misread it and it should be read Mother (Father), mother (father), mother (father), or better Mother=Father, mother=father, or even Father (Mother)in some instances??
    I am a mother who raised one son who is now 30 years old. Actually we all did. Myself, his father, his grandparents, and the whole family, our friends, his teachers… Without following any theories he successfully survived his own childhood and has grown up to a fine man and a loving father of his newborn baby. We did all love him and still do. We applied our loving care and still do. Unfortunately, the last impression I’ve got from my daughter-in-law is that she would follow API way of raising my grandson, which means that ALL the others (includes not only me as a grandmother and the whole crowd of whoever, but also my son as a father) have not much to say or do about or with the baby. It does sound scary to me and I wonder if this is the message the API way of raising children tries to send out?? Separate the baby from the family in the name of the HOLY MOTHER? I hope I just misunderstood it….

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