THE BLOG
11/16/2012 04:00 pm ET | Updated Jan 16, 2013

Throw Away Your Parenting Books

"I'm almost finished reading [insert-name-of-parenting-book]," the first-time mom confessed, "and I have to tell you, it's really stressing me out!"

"Well, don't read it!" I urged. "Just put it away." (I think I actually suggested that she throw it away.)

That's kind of an odd recommendation from a parenting expert who has written two award-winning parenting books.* But I meant it sincerely. It was the part about teaching young children foreign languages -- Mandarin, in particular -- that did her in and prompted my response.

There are a plethora, a veritable flood, of how-to parenting books on the market. Every day heralds the publication of a new one, pointing out the way to raising just the child you hope for. These books can play to a parent's worst competitive needs and insecurities. Add the time you need to spend hunting for the right-latest-best-newest-most-eco-friendly-non-BPA everything, and you have a raging case of STRESS.

But raising children is a journey... more like a hike. I mean that in a good way. There are hard parts, really hard trails, places where you catch your breath, some great vistas and lots of cool stuff along the way. Like the hike, the normal developmental path of the growing child dishes up challenges (and joys) a plenty. No need to add ankle weights as you climb. If you're not Chinese, you can forget the Mandarin.

I can promise you that Socrates' mommy didn't enroll him in philosophy class. Einstein's mom didn't use flashcards (to quote the wonderful book by approximately that title). And I'm quite sure that Mrs. Bell, Alexander Graham's mother, didn't fill his after-school hours with electronics lessons. The chances that any of those mommies of the world's most accomplished contributors read any parenting books is nil.

Parents have been raising children since forever. (Actually, they have been raising adults.) For years, parents have been meeting children's developmental needs, nurturing and educating them, giving them plenty of time to play, explore and create, and putting them in a position to tackle adult life head-on. Children have not needed or always been given soccer skills classes at age 2, academic tutoring at age 3 and figure drawing at age 4, and yet, they've grown into adults who lead happy lives.

How interesting it is that children in Finland start elementary school at age 7 and spend the fewest amount of hours in the classroom in the world? And in 2006, Finland's pupils scored the highest average results in science and in reading (and came in second to South Korea in math) in the whole developed world? Do you think their parents gave them Mandarin classes when they were toddlers?

Through time, parents have used common sense, life experience, the village it takes and expert help when necessary to raise people who turn out just fine, even highly accomplished.

So, relax, slow down, cancel the Mandarin lessons and put the parenting books back on the shelf. Use them as needed and not as gospel.


*For the record, my books are absolutely fabulous and should be kept front and center in your library!