02/21/2013 12:30 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Throw Away the Parenting Manuals

I have been a parent for four years, four months and eight days. I'm not sure how many of those days it took for me to realize the only truism of parenting:

There is no one right way to do any of this.


We worked on potty training this weekend with our 2-year-old. He was showing all of the signs you read about in parenting magazines: staying dry for long periods of time, showing great (some might even say disconcerting...) interest in other people using the bathroom, excusing himself to take care of his own business. So my husband and I decided that we would try transitioning him from diapers to underwear this weekend, when we had little else going on and all of our time to devote to our toddler and lots of trips to the potty.

As I prepared for the weekend -- printing out free sticker charts and laundering tiny pairs of Wall-E underpants -- I thought back to this same weekend in our older son's life, a time when I still clung to the wisdom of parenting books and was convinced that there was a single right way to approach most parenting challenges. I got a book touting a one-day potty training miracle and proceeded to put all of us through several hours of tears and pee-soaked rugs. Luckily, I bailed on the "expert's" plan without doing any permanent damage to my son or myself, but it was still awhile before I stopped reading those books and magazines in hopes of finding a motherhood equivalent of the Rosetta Stone.

I am a person who craves direction. I love to follow recipes and check-lists. And I thought that the approach that had brought me success as a student and a professional would naturally work for parenting too. And, you know, in a lot of ways it did. I followed a plan to help my babies sleep through the night. I relied on a book to guide me through which foods to introduce to my kids when.

But there were two problems: First, I was at a loss when the solution I found in a book didn't work (see Potty Training, Take One above). And second, and perhaps more insidious, I thought that success at a method I found in a book meant that I had achieved something as a mother. I had found the way (and, yes, I'll admit it, although I'm ashamed to: if you hadn't, it meant that maybe you were doing something wrong).


The potty training is going fine. We're using lots of stickers and eating some extra M&Ms. We're using our son's enthusiasm for the "robot" alarm on my iPhone to give us gentle reminders to use the bathroom. We're also doing plenty of extra laundry and figuring out the very best ratio of vinegar and water to clean our carpet. We're still trying to decide how long to use Pull-Ups for excursions out of the house.

We'll figure it out as we go.

And what a relief it is to be able to do that.

Because, you know, there is no right way to do this potty training gig. You might let your kid go bare-bummed through the house. You might let him wear Pull-Ups for a year. You might send him to his first day of preschool hoping he doesn't pee on the rug in the Book Nook, but knowing he very likely will. And however you do it -- however I do it -- doesn't really say much about you -- or me -- as a woman and a mother.

Because there is no best way. Just the way you do it. And the way that eventually sticks.


This post originally appeared on Motherese. Image courtesy of Rhian vK via Flickr.