How to ignore your parental instincts


parenting-booksbecause-I-said-so-greenWhen I was a new mom I refused to rock my newborn son to sleep. Before he was born I read a few popular parenting books that asserted that the only way to get a baby to sleep through the night was to put him to sleep when he was awake and let him self-soothe to fall asleep. Never rock a baby to sleep, the book said, and I conformed.

He wasn’t a particularly snuggly baby, and most nights swaddling him up and putting him in his crib to fall asleep was no big deal. But there were nights when I wanted to hold him all night, to let his sweet-smelling head rest on my shoulder and watch his bottom lip quiver as he slept. Those nights, though, like most nights, I put him in his crib instead. I wanted to rock him to sleep, I really did. But I couldn’t let one night of bliss derail all of my sleep training efforts. I knew too much — or at least I thought I did.

When our parents were younger, if they had a parenting question they asked a trusted neighbor for advice. Now, thanks to Facebook, parents of my generation can ask the entire neighborhood for their two-cents on the best way to potty train a toddler. Our parents had maybe one or two books they referred to for recommendations. We can pick from more than 80,000 parenting titles on We’ve got websites, mommy blogs and online medical journals. Super nannies, lactation specialists and sleep trainers.

Want information? You’ve got it. But there can be too much of a good thing. Modern parents are so overloaded with information and standpoints from everyone else that it can be difficult to pinpoint the one opinion that matters the most — yours. In our (often desperate, sleep-deprived) searches for solutions that will transform our parenting, we’ve passed over our instincts in favor of information. Motherly intuition is the baby that’s been thrown out with bathwater.

Don’t get me wrong. I love parenting books. They’ve taught me how to swaddle a baby, how to assign age-appropriate chores to kids and how much to pay for allowance. I am inspired by mommy blogs. They’ve motivated me to make family work fun, to take lots of pictures and to have family dinner every night.

With all of this information, though, it can be tempting to think there is only one right way to do things. The way to get a baby to sleep through the night. The most nutritionally sound diet for our families. The scientifically confirmed age when you should wean a child. The verified-by-Facebook-friends way to get kids to clean up after themselves. This overabundance of information can lead to paralysis by analysis. You know too much; so you do nothing.

If something resounds with you, if it feels good in your brain and in your heart, then by all means go with it. There’s nothing wrong with getting advice from others. But remember that in the end the opinion that counts the most is yours. Not your mom’s. Not your best friend’s. Not some ultra-expert parenting guru’s way of doing things. If it works for you … it works for you. And you don’t need science or popular opinion to back you up.

I have two friends whose babies refused to sleep in cribs. Refused. So after a year or so of trying to put their babies to sleep in a crib, these moms gave up and had them instead sleep on a mattress on the floor. It’s certainly not my ideal, but it worked for them.

I have friends who’ve quit public school to homeschool, and other friends who quit homeschool to go to public school. Friends who feed their kids a vegetarian diet while other parents are going paleo. Friends who have never left their child with a non-family babysitter, and others who have a nanny.

As the parent, you know when it’s time to call it quits on a sport that is only discouraging your daughter. It’s clear when you should gently encourage your teenage son to find a different group of friends. And you just “feel it” when your oldest child is mature enough to babysit younger siblings.

It look me a few years of parenting to realize that it was OK to ignore what works for others and go with my gut. Of course, I still read parenting books and blogs — as a journalist I’m basically a professional information junkie. But instead of fretting over the myriad ways to discipline my kids or which extracurricular activities will best develop my child’s brain, I do what works for me and try my best to ignore the rest. And these days, I rock my baby to sleep.



Natalie Hollingshead is a former magazine editor turned freelance writer and editor. She writes regularly about home, family, food and travel for a handful of publications, and is co-author of the book "Happy Homemaking” (Cedar Fort, 2012) with Elyssa Andrus. A native of Alberta, Canada, Natalie lives in Orem with her husband and their three children.


  1. AvatarSandra Reply

    All true about conflicting advice out there, and the need for customized care. Nonetheless, some people’s guts are unfortunately trained by abusive, or erring methods learned from those before them. I have worked with many parents and teachers that wanted to go with their gut for punishment, even though the results were not as good, in comparison to alternative approach was tried (that took more initial investment of time). This also considers long term effects rather than mere short term. Trained Gut always works best

  2. AvatarJanet Brooks Reply

    I agree with all your comments, except where your say your parents only had one or two books. 30 years ago I had a bookshelf full of parenting manuals, including several on sleep training (who can forget Dr Ferber?). Brazleton, Spock, Faber and Mazlish were all popular. There were numerous classes on disciplining with logical consequences, tons of information on breast feeding etc. Sorry to go on, but I’ve heard the same from my kids. Just because it wasn’t electronic, doesn’t mean we didn’t have more than enough advice, good and bad to go around! We all have to learn to listen to our hearts at some point. Good luck on your parenting journey. I’m now working on my grand parenting skills!

  3. AvatarKathy Reply

    I feel we have left out the most critical source of information for parenting…PRAYER. When you read something, decide to try something new, or need energy to conitnue with a path you feel is right, prayer to the perfect parent. He will confirm your decision or help you know what is needed for you and your child in every circumstance.

  4. Avatarlaurel Reply

    I was a victim of years of college training in child development. When I had my first child I was trying to do everything I had “learned” from the books. One day my mother said, “Honey, just throw away the books and follow your heart.” Five awesome kids later, I can honestly say it was the best advice I have ever been given. When it came to taking advice from others she also said, “If they don’t have at least four children and at least two of each gender they don’t count.” When I started using that yardstick I discovered that nearly every writer of college child care books have either no children or one. How silly that we would use them as experts! That’s like taking advice on building a bridge from someone who has never actually built a bridge. Some things we were taught I look back at now and just laugh! (Particularly Freud.)

  5. AvatarCindi Reply

    I couldn’t agree more with this article. Yes, I suppose there are those that shouldn’t follow their gut but as a rule, I think it is true that parents should just follow their instinct. Parent with your heart. The spirit will guide you and above all else your kids will know that you love them. And even though you will make mistakes your kids will always know that it was just that, a mistake. And from there, we pick up, forgive, and continue loving each other. I’ve been thinking a lot about this subject lately and I appreciate this perspective.

  6. AvatarChristine Reply

    Thank you for this opinion. I have rocked all 3 of my kids to sleep until they where too heavy to lift and then I sit with them till they are alseep or almost there. My three year old still ends up in my bed every night around 1 am. As they grow older they will learn to comfort themselves and so far they have turned out fine. I like to read and listen to others advise and then try something new if what I am doing is not working. Sometimes we just need an idea. I agree that trusting your instincts along with following advise and council from Heavenly Father is really what is best for your family.

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