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Can parents rely on instincts alone to raise their children? ()

Authors Debate The Merits Of Parenting Advice

Mar 16, 2010

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Instinctive Parenting NurtureShock

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If you are looking for a book about parenting you will have no trouble. The bookstore shelves groan from the weight of all the parenting books for sale today. Many of those books come with a long series of commandments, decrees and dictates — do this, don't do that and don't even consider doing that EVER.

Michel Martin, host of Tell Me More, talked with the authors of two very different kinds of parenting books. 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.

Just A Little Reassurance

As a new mother, Calhoun said she was intimidated by those rows of books at the bookstores.

"New parents are scared and they get a ton of conflicting advice all the time," she says. "For me, when I was pregnant, I felt really overwhelmed by it and I didn't know who to listen to or who to believe and everything changed all the time."

What she wanted was the account of a regular parent, who was raising normal, healthy kids, to reassure her that what she was doing was OK.

"I wasn't seeing any reassurance on the bookshelves or when I watched TV and there was a parenting expert on — everybody had some kind of agenda there were pushing," says Calhoun. "I just wanted another parent talking to me about what they did and reassuring me that I could figure it out."

Unable to find that book, she decided to write it herself. Her conclusion? Just following your instincts is OK — most of the time.

She acknowledges in the pages of her book that she's no expert. But she says slavelike devotion to any parenting guru is a bad thing.

The message she's trying to get across: "Expose yourself to things that are helpful to you and you don't expose yourself to things that make you feel horrible and guilty and you could never do this."

She writes about how she started to ignore studies and experts and began focusing rather on the advice she got from her friends with children, her mother and pediatrician. Now she makes her parenting decisions based simply on what feels right.

Knowing When, But Not What

Bronson, it seems, thinks this is too simplistic of a view.

"People's instinct to protect their child is a very distinct neural network and when things provoke our feelings around our kids, it's a very powerful feeling," he tells Martin. "It's telling us, hey, let's pay attention to something. But it doesn't necessarily tell us what to do."

So, he says, this is where the benefit of expert advice comes in. He too acknowledges that there is a lot of bad and extraneous information out there, but he urges parents to take the time and patience required to sort through it.

"It probably seems to people out there like one scientist says this and the other scientist says that," Bronson says. "That is not the case. The scientists have been reproducing each other's research and been saying one thing for 10 or 20 years. And we as a society haven't been listening to that."

Some new fads can be ignored, he says, but once a study has been replicated and proven over and over — it's time to listen up.

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