Parenting By the Book or By Instinct

Today’s parents are overwhelmed with information. Parenting books, blogs, classes, and DVDs provide various viewpoints on discipline, education, nutrition, and every other conceivable child rearing topic.

The information overload begins with the book, What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Since the book was published, it has been the reference manual for every new parent in America (my wife kept bookmarking chapters for me to read). Then they move on to What to Expect the First Year. Pretty soon their bookshelves are filled with “What to Expect…” books for every stage in their child’s development.

After reading these books, many parents desire more information and continue to seek it out because they don’t fully trust their parental instincts.

As you can imagine, many people have different opinions on whether it is better to trust your instincts or trust the experts.

Ada Calhoun, author of Instinctive Parenting, makes the case that children will turn out fine if parents simply trust their gut. But Po Bronson, co-author of NurtureShock, begs to differ — he says instincts may tell parents when something needs to be done, but not how to do it. He maintains experts are still relevant for that. (Martin, Michel, “Authors Debate the Merit of Parenting Advice,” NPR, March 16, 2010)

My mother never read a parenting book in her life. When I was growing up, I think Dr. Spock was the only guru in town and I’m sure that my mother didn’t agree with his philosophy because my butt still hurts from some of the spankings I received.

My mother relied solely on her instincts. Sure, she made mistakes just as any parent does, but she was attentive, nurturing, and gave me the skills I needed to be a productive adult. I think her methods were effective.

That is why I tend to lean more towards instinctual parenting. I believe that I am in tune with my children’s needs and that I am the best person (in consultation with my wife) to guide them through life.

But sometimes, I need guidance and validation. That is when I turn to books. Authors such as Bill Cosby, Armin Brott, and King Solomon have helped me to be a better father. However, I don’t fully rely on books because I’ve discovered that many authors have agendas that don’t necessarily relate to parenting.

Let’s take a book such as Bringing Up Boys, by James Dobson. This book has some useful information about the nature of boys and gives some good advice on how to properly channel their energy. I read the book with an open mind and I knew that it would be filled with conservative religious values (some of which I share). But I quickly realized that Dobson’s ulterior motive was to attack feminists and homosexuals. Therefore, I chose to apply the useful information and ignore the rhetoric.

While I am comfortable with trusting my instincts, I realize that I don’t have all of the answers and I require assistance from time to time. Books give me the information I need to hone my instincts.

I also think it’s important for parents to build a network of parents who they trust and can consult with. With the glut of information available, it is sometimes hard to trust your instincts. But with a group of like-minded parents, I think getting to the right answer is a lot easier.

Stay Strong,

Questions: Do you think parents should trust their instincts or trust the experts? Have you read any books that have helped you to be a better parent?

About author

Frederick J. Goodall

Frederick J. Goodall is the founder of Mocha Dad - a parenting website focused on fatherhood. He is passionate about parenting and helping men to be great dads, husbands, and role models. You can contact him at or on Twitter at

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