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What Happened to Just ‘Muddling Through' as a Parent?

By Sarah Liebetrau - 11th July 2011

These days there is so much advice available to parents, it can be hard to know where to start.  It’s good to have help available 24/7, but can all this information create a feeling of overload? Would we be better off ignoring the ‘experts’ with their conflicting opinions and just relying on good old-fashioned commonsense and gut instinct to help us navigate our parenting journey? Should we just chat to our neighbour over the back fence or have a chinwag with the playgroup mums if there’s a parenting issue that is troubling us?

It may seem an odd question to pose on a parenting website, but I would argue that there's a difference between using online resources to discuss general principles of child development, for example, and using them to inform the individual way you react to your children.

Personally, I can’t get enough of other people’s thoughts on parenthood, but  I would rather read about them online, at a time and place that is convenient to me, than hear it dished out at my local playgroup. At playgroup time I’d rather stick to safer conversations like the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy.  The reason for this is that there's a safety in reading a (one would hope) well-thought-out and researched opinion piece on my computer. It gives me time to process the information and formulate my response (if indeed I choose to respond). For me, it takes the emotional heat out of hot-button issues compared with the potential dangers of engaging in similar discussions face-to-face with people whose views I may not necessarily share.

I can also cast my net far wider online than I ever could in real life, with access to a much wider variety of information. Online,  I can research opinions of people from much broader walks of life, with all the expertise and experience that comes with it. I also have the option of shutting the information flow down instantly if it becomes too much.  

An acquaintance recently commented that she prefers to keep her own counsel when it comes to how to parent. She said she feels  bamboozled by all the information out there and would prefer to just work through it herself. As she put it: “whatever happened to just muddling through?”

Perhaps for some people there's value in just getting on with it, doing your best and not worrying too much about keeping up with what other people say is good for your children.  I have friends who say reading too much ‘expert opinion’ leaves them feeling inadequate and as if nothing they do will ever be enough. I can understand this. But I also think there is always room for improvement. The problem with ‘trusting your gut’ is that many of us learn behaviour as children which we repeat as adults when under stress, and this behaviour is not necessarily the most healthy or effective way of dealing with the issue. Sometimes it can be hard to listen to your gut when you are unsure what your gut is trying to tell you. That instinct to protect your kids is always there, of course, but to fine-tune the best way of going about it, I think we can all use some guidance at least some of the time.

For me, it’s important to take what I’m reading into context and assimilate it with my own values and beliefs. I read critically and apply only what works for me, rather than taking on someone else’s entire parenting philosophy. A wise friend said to me recently that it had occurred to her that there's a huge range of ‘normal and effective’ parenting techniques. There’s not just one way of getting it right - there are many. And none of us get it right 100% of the time. I can accept this, and be kind to myself at the same time as being on a path of continual improvement. And for me, the way I like to improve, is to read a wide variety of information.

How about you? Do you find it useful to read other people's parenting ideas?

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