Parenting manuals versus maternal instinct

Almost every day, I read about or speak to someone who has sage advice from a parenting manual. 

The advice is never the same twice. 

Your baby should be sleeping through the night, leave it to cry. You’re emotionally damaging your baby, don’t let it cry.

Your baby is too skinny, use formula. Your baby is obese, feed it less. 

You’re not interacting with your baby enough, it will be developmentally delayed. You’re over-stimulating your baby, it won’t sleep. 

Your child is too whiny, you’re mollycoddling it. You’re not letting your child cry, you’re damaging it emotionally.

Your child has too much screen time, you are effecting its behaviour.  Your child is starting school, it should be able to use an iPad. 

Your child doesn’t go outdoors enough, it will get ill. Your child goes outside in the rain, it will catch a cold. 

You’re feeding your child sugar, it will become addicted. You’re denying your child treats, it will be socially excluded

In my humble opinion, such advice is as much use as a chocolate teapot – all of it. 

And don’t get me started on the parenting blog – yes, this one for example.

Who am I to tell you how to look after your children?

Who am I to tell you to throw away the parenting books and wing it, using your parental instinct alone? 

I genuinely believe the old adage that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. 

Many parenting books, newspaper articles and blog posts are rooted in very basic psychology or even pediatric medicine. 

So is the amount of expertise contained between the covers of a book going to teach you to parent your child better? 

Or, realistically would your child be happier and healthier if you just relaxed, chilled out and parented naturally, the way you feel is best? 

After all, who knows your child better than you? 

I speak as someone who is getting it all wrong. We’re late for everything. Neither of my children get enough individual attention from me.

Both children go to bed too late, and when they wake up in the morning I do my very best to ignore them so I can have another few minutes in bed.

At lunch time today, I couldn’t be bothered to go to the shop and get something healthy for lunch. So we ate a supermarket frozen pizza. 

We’ve got two dogs, both of whom regularly knock the children over when they’re playing together.

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We also have a cat who is plotting our demise

I hate buggies so we haven’t got one. Last week, both my husband and I got knocked over by the dogs when we were carrying Lia. 

I have a drink most evenings and often eat junk food. I’m still breastfeeding. 

And no, I don’t read parenting books.

I know I’m getting it wrong, I know there are things I could be doing better. 

I know that my family think I’m too strict on the girls. None of them approve of the fact I won’t use a buggy. 

So do I care? Absolutely not.

You can add heartless to your list. 

I’m doing my best for my family, I make mistakes and my children do too. 

I’m not about to go away and dive into a parenting book to learn what time to put the children to bed, what to feed them and how to make sure they’re never ill. 

I’m not about to look up any basic psychology to find out how my children will be emotionally damaged by my parenting techniques as they get older. 

Occasionally, I am really interested in a topic so I do some research. Screen time is a prime example. 

But as a general rule, I think that parenting books make excellent door stops and Daily Mail articles about better parenting are ideal for getting the barbecue started. 

So please do let me know if there is a miracle cure for obnoxious three year olds or stroppy babies.

But until then, I’ll just be over here getting it all wrong. And having a great time in the process. 

12 thoughts on “Parenting manuals versus maternal instinct

  1. Maz

    Spot on. I did read some books and articles – I’m an obsessive reader – but the more I went with my instincts and ignored what I didn’t agree with (from people as well as books) the better I got on. Articles and books can be a good source of inspiration or a way to look at things differently if something isn’t working for you, and as a new mum with zero experience of babies was a good starting point, but they definitely need to be taken with a pinch of salt. There’s a lovely mock quiz doing the rounds on Facebook called something like ‘are you a terrible parent’ which also has it spot on. I like the Green Parent magazine because, while I’m not about to raise my babies on a seagoing boat or eat my placenta, it has a different view of parenting to the mainstream of stick kids in front of a screen and try to make sure they don’t get in the way of your plans too much attitude. Again, pick up what you like, discard what you don’t. Your kids are going to grow up happy and healthy with excellent parents and a healthy dose of pets, whatever some expert says.
    Maz recently posted…Being a studentMy Profile

    1. monsteridNatalie Ray Post author

      Thanks Maz. I’m also a bit of a reader given the opportunity, but I do worry a little bit about the implication that we’re all useless if we’re not doing what X, Y and Z psychologists are saying. I like the sound of the quiz, pretty sure I’ll get full “terrible parent” marks! I have read green parenting magazine a couple of times too and I like it – there is one particular contributor that talks a lot of sense, but then I’m biased because she’s my friend 😉

  2. Paul Coyne PhD

    If in raising your children things are fine, there is no need for advice from a child psychologist, a parenting book or advice from a parenting blog. But if your maternal instinct has produced a child who has excessive tantrums, is non compliant, is 4 but not yet toilet trained, or in 4th grade, but reading at a 2nd grade level (you get the point), then obtaining research based advice from a parenting book, blog, or therapist can be helpful. Of course I like my blog, ( but another good website for parents is Alan Kazdin’s at Yale University. (

    1. monsteridNatalie Ray Post author

      Thank you for your comment Paul. I personally believe that if a child does have problems then they should be seeing someone like you as a therapist rather than trying to deal with the issues themselves from a book. I do of course understand that books could be a good starting point to see what your child needs so thank you for pointing out the websites, I really appreciate it.

  3. Sarah

    When I fell pregnant I turned to the best, most inspirational mum I know for advise. The one with the most amazing, charming, bright and happy little girls I’ve ever met – probably because she is really strict with them, and makes them walk in the rain because she won’t use a buggy! And she told me not to bother reading parenting handbooks and to trust my instincts. So I haven’t bothered , (what a lot of time that has saved me!) and although i’m still pretty early on in this journey, I would much rather turn to my friends for advise than dive into
    a generic book. Having said that I have found some of the chat rooms and forums quiet reassuring at times, for silly things like “why is my baby dancing the fandango at 38.5 weeks when it’s common knowledge that babies are supposed to rest for a couple of weeks before they arrive?” Thanks to my mum for that old wives tale, and thanks to baby centre and the hundred of other almost mums, worrying about the same thing, also saying that their babies are going bonkers to, for putting mind at rest at 3am in the morning!
    Sarah xxx

    1. monsteridNatalie Ray Post author

      Aw thank you Sarah, such kind words. And my two little monsters weren’t still or quiet at any point, I’d be much more worried if they were quiet than if they were dancing away! You will be a wonderful mum and I know you’ll trust your instinct and take to it like a natural. The first few weeks are hard though, don’t let anybody tell you any different!xx

  4. Izzie Anderton

    I read a lot of parenting books while I was pregnant only to discover that my twin daughters (obviously) hadn’t read any of them and didn’t present me with anything I’d actually learnt about. I guess going with your instinct and trying to stay sane during the process is the only way to go. Good luck x
    Izzie Anderton recently posted…Bon VoyageMy Profile

  5. martyn

    I think you’re completely right here! I debated the other month about doing a parenting blig when someone asked for my advice. Did I have the right to answer. I, in the end, said I couldn’t tell them what to do I only write fr my own experience and what’s happened within my little world. I’d hate to think people read to ‘see how’ as most of the time I don’t have a clue. The boys educate me more than any manual would!
    I think they’re good if you’re a new parent and are a little panicked. Especially if like me you are a reader and try to read what you can about something. Ultimately once you get into YOUR flow with YOUR children then anything goes and the analysis should be used to keep the table up.
    martyn recently posted…Home School – Maps (A Cheeky Request)My Profile

    1. monsteridNatalie Ray Post author

      Thanks for your comment Martyn. I know a lot of us look to your blog to see how you do homeschooling – it’s so useful to be able to see what an actual teacher is doing for those of us who consider teaching our offspring whilst ourselves having no qualifications and very little clue! 😉


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