I‘ve always loved reading. For as long as I can remember, I have turned to books for entertainment and comfort — and also for information and wisdom. So when I was pregnant with my daughter, Lucy (and even more so after she was born), I naturally devoured any book on pregnancy or childcare I could get my hands on.

I’d start with a simple question — is my baby supposed to be acting this way? — and somehow it would turn into an epic quest to find the One Right Answer, which I was certain must be found somewhere in the impressive stack of parenting books on my bedside table.

I was spending way too much time poring over these books — time that I could have spent finding my own way to mother her, or, I don’t know, catching up on my sleep.

So — after an intervention from my husband — I took a break. I stepped out of the urgent conversations about diapering methods, sleep training, and discipline, and tried to focus on my child and our days together.

I’ll admit — I still have a relapse now and then. Now that we have multiple kids, I wonder more than ever whether I’m “doing it right.” I’m drawn to shiny new parenting books, with their appealing philosophies and New Foolproof Methods. It sure feels good to be armed with a plan or to join an impassioned community.

But the reality is that kids are not omelettes — parenting them is not a technique to master, but a day-by-day trek toward greater patience, deeper love, and gutsier faith. We’re going to get things wrong. And then? We hug and cry. We ask to be forgiven. We don’t need a parenting book to explain that.

Book Learning

It unfolded so fast
past the hour of the nap
they never take:
one kid goaded the other,
who naturally sank her teeth
in the arm of her foe.

All I could think
was that justice
must be meted out,
and I’m supposed to do it.
But I stood still,
paralyzed —

not by the shrill howl
or the shaky hiccups,
but by the conflicting
voices of well-intentioned
parenting books

(with their absolute
confidence, catchy titles,
and celebrity review blurbs),
each forbidding
a different course
of action:

Don’t let it slide;she’ll becomea holy terror!Don’t spank her; she’ll choose violenceto solve her troubles!Don’t pay her extra attention;she’ll learn to act outto get more!Don’t banish her to her room;she’ll multiply her feelingsof isolation!

So to quiet all the voices,
I yelled at my holy terror,
then wrapped my arms
around her, and
we bawled.

© Sarah Dunning Park, from What It Is Is Beautiful (Peace Hill Press), 2012. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments! Have you whole-heartedly embraced a particular parenting philosophy? Have you ever had to modify it, or to ditch the parenting books altogether?

This post was first published in February 2013.