Blue Suit Mom

Kids Don’t Come with Instructional Manuals

By Heidi Emberling

There’s no shortage of media outlets warning parents that what they’re doing is wrong. From provocative magazine covers espousing the dangers of attachment parenting, to newspaper coverage of psychopathic 9-year olds, mainstream media profits from parental fear and self-doubt.What’s missing from these water-cooler discussions is the basic fact that kids don’t come with instruction manuals. Parenting is a life-long process: an art, a learned skill, and a science. The early years are the laboratory years. Which parenting tools work with your particular child? Does she share your worldview, or does she think like your mom-in-law? Why did my first child sleep through the night, while my second can’t seem to settle?

There is a surplus of parenting advice in the world, but the truth is, there is no one right way to parent. There are too many variables, too many distinct temperament traits, and too many environmental and biological possibilities. Each family is its own organism, striving to adapt as it morphs from one developmental stage to another.

Which is why parenting strategies that work for one family will most likely fail another. Instead of embracing the latest parenting trend, do some thinking about your own family unit. To guide you, consider the following key ideas:

  • Know Thyself (and Thy Family). Until you understand the different perspectives each family member brings to the discussion, you won’t be able to define common goals. If one parent is ready for sleep training and the other believes in the family bed, it may be more difficult to identify strategies toward the common goal of “sleeping through the night.” If your child is a go-go-go kind of kid and you’re a curl-up-on-the-couch kind of parent, your challenge is creating opportunities for both.
  • Trust Your Instincts. Parenting experts know about child development, and grandparents contribute their experience of raising you (or your partner), but you know your child best. Watch your child, listen to your child, and appreciate your child for the unique human being he is. If you have a nagging doubt about your child’s development, check it out. Know your child’s strengths and build on them.
  • Value Your Support Networks. Parents need community. Raising kids is a tough, underappreciated job. Find your group, learn more about ages and stages of development, and seek out expert advice when needed. Parenting is not a solo sport. Ask for help, get involved, and accept that we are all doing our best to raise healthy, successful kids: our legacy to the next generation.Heidi Emberling, M.A., is an Early Childhood Parent Education Specialist at Parents Place in Palo Alto. She is a popular speaker around the Bay Area, focusing on positive discipline, sleeping, toilet learning, temperament, and peer relationships. She offers individual family consultations, preschool staff development workshops, and behavioral observations, supporting families and teachers of young children, ages 0–5. To learn more about Parents Place classes and workshops, visit us at, and be sure to join us on Facebook and Twitter. Parents Place’s mission is to partner with parents to raise healthy children. Through observation, assessment, parent education, and counseling, its parent educators and clinicians help families find answers to their questions and concerns.

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