I was participating in a conversation on Facebook this morning where a friend asked what questions would you ask of a parenting/mothering “expert”. The word “expert” brought up some strong emotions in some of the commenters, even though I don’t think that was the focus of the original question.
Admittedly, I think that word expert gets used a little too often and it does bring up strong emotions for me too. The Oxford dictionary gives the definition of expert as: “a person who is very knowledgeable about or skilful in a particular area” originating from the Latin word expiriri meaning “to try, test, experience or prove”.
When you look at the word “expert” in that light, it perhaps lessens the emotive sting of the word and allows you to better decide whether the person you are seeking advice from is actually an expert.
In the broad sense of being a parent or more specifically a mother, any parent can be considered an expert in bringing up children because they have experienced it. In a more specific sense, no other parent can provide expert advice in the upbringing of your child, because no other person has experienced the unique combination of you and the interaction you have with your child in your environment. Another parent can only ever provide examples of what they did and what results they achieved. It’s up to you then to decide if that course of action suits you and your child for the desired outcome. Having said that, because of the uniqueness of you and your child, there is no guarantee you will get the same outcome.
Where to get parenting advice
Have you ever ventured into a bookstore and seen the overflowing shelves full of parenting books? A search for Parenting books on Amazon returns an enormous 61,815 results. And Google provides a staggering 210, 000,000 search results for the term parenting (as at Sept 20th 2011). Is it any wonder that parents are so confused about the “right” way to raise their child and that discussions on Facebook about expert status can cause emotional comments?
What I’ve noticed is that I tend to gravitate towards people whose ideas resonate with my beliefs – which effectively reinforces my beliefs. It takes something really drastic to alter my beliefs in a particular area. I imagine that this is similar for other people.
With my first child, I purchased and followed the advice given in the popular parenting books – that’s what everyone was doing and I thought that was the way I needed to do it too. I wanted to do the best for my new baby (as every parent does) and so when these “experts” advised:
- Regular invasive testing during pregnancy,
- Pain relief given during birth doesn’t affect the baby,
- Breastfeeding at 4 hourly intervals,
- Not breastfeeding your baby to sleep because it will form bad habits,
- Putting your baby to sleep in it’s own bedroom in it’s own cot,
- Controlled crying to teach your baby to self soothe,
- Vaccinating your child according to the advised schedule,
to name a few, I followed blindly and without question. My reasoning was, why would there be any need to question this advice – after all it was written in a book or it was provided by a doctor and so it must be true. Have you ever wondered how books are chosen to be featured in book stores, why one book is chosen and not another? Perhaps those with the biggest marketing budgets get prominent placement and they have the biggest marketing budgets because they adhere to the mainstream way of thinking – no rocking the boat – just my thoughts.
It wasn’t until after things started going wrong for us that I started to question the “experts” – and let me tell you, experts (particularly doctors) don’t like to be questioned.
How to determine if someone is an “expert’
An interesting question to ask of an expert is “WHY?” they are recommending things be done in a certain way. Asking “why” helps you to ascertain what their underlying reasoning and motivation is for providing that advice. When I started reading more and delving deeper, I discovered often times mainstream advice is given with the reasoning of “that’s just the way we do it” and that there were alternate points of view to those of the mainstream experts and those alternate views often (but not always) provide a better, safer, more loving option to parenting than the socially accepted options.
With my second child I have chosen a very different path – the word to focus on there is “chosen” – I think there are a number of parents who don’t actively choose a path to follow, they just fall into it by default and accept what they are told as being the gospel truth, without doing any further research of their own. And it’s not until something goes wrong that they might question why.
My response to the conversation of Facebook was that I thought parents needed a framework to function within – not just more advice. A framework could for example consist of questions to ask, the answers to which would then allow parents to make the best decision for their family based on their individual circumstances.
One final note – there are people that have ideas that resonate with my beliefs and I like to read what they have to say and implement those ideas where suitable. I also realise that they are human and don’t know everything and that down the track they may discover more information that could alter their existing recommendations – I’m ok with that and I take full responsibility for any of the actions I choose to implement.
In reality, I think that parenting is just one giant experiment and all parents hope that their way of parenting will result in happy, healthy children. So I’m going to focus on all the things I want for my child and have faith that by focusing on what I want (rather than on what I don’t want), the best options and information will be presented to me to implement in my family.