In previous generations, parents simply did their best with the limited information they had. Today, it’s like there’s a little parenting expert sitting on our shoulder all day, commenting on our every move—and that's not necessarily good news.
Modern parents are pioneers, bravely going where no parents have ever gone before: The land of the internet experts. We live in a swirling sea of information and advice—it’s like there’s a little parenting expert sitting on our shoulder all day, commenting on our every move. We suffer from a bad case of information overload.
In previous generations, parents simply did their best with the limited information they had. There were only one or two parenting books to consult; parents worked the rest out themselves through observation and experience.
Raising children in the age of information is a completely different experience. Of course, it’s great to be able to Google “What rash is that?” or “Which car seat is safe for four-year-olds?” at any time of the day or night. But having access to unlimited information can actually make parenting harder.
The problem with too much information
Firstly, it makes us feel guilty for all the ways that we are falling short as parents. Every article we read reminds us of yet another thing that we should be doing for our children. The more we know, the more responsible we feel to provide the best for them.
Secondly, all the expert advice makes us lose confidence: We start to feel unqualified for the task of raising our own children. We stop trusting in ourselves to make parenting decisions and become dependent on the “experts”.
Thirdly, reading so many different parenting tips can make us confused, since so much of the advice we read can conflict. This became very clear to me one day when two of my friends—both of whom I really respect—shared two different articles on Facebook with exactly opposite messages. One article said that parents should expect their children to obey them the first time; the other claimed that young children’s brains are incapable of comprehending and obeying our instructions the first time we say them. How confusing!
On that day, I realised that whatever I choose to do, someone somewhere will claim that I’m doing it all wrong.
So how can we stay sane in the land of the internet experts?
1. Establish a framework of values before you read
When my husband and I were feeling confused as parents, a friend suggested that we write down our family’s values. It was really helpful to stop and ask ourselves, What are the most important things we want to pass on to our children? What kind of people do we want to raise? What kind of family do we want to be?
When we read too many internet articles, we can get bogged down in the tiny details of our children’s lives and forget what we’re actually aiming for in the long-term. So it’s good to establish a clear framework of values before we start reading. When we focus on the most important things first, the other things will fall into line behind.
Once we have a clear idea of what we are aiming for in our parenting, we can choose to read only those articles that will help us to get there.
For instance, we might choose to read an article on “How to raise grateful children” but skip over an article about “How to raise a future millionaire”; we might seek advice on “How to teach children to share” but not on “How to teach children to ski”.
2. Read books too
Online articles are great, but if there is a specific issue you're trying to address, consider reading up on it in books too. Many internet articles are designed to be read quickly and easily; they address only one issue and do so without much depth or complexity. When you read too many articles from different websites, it can become impossible to fit them all together into a cohesive and consistent vision for parenting.
In my experience, you need to read whole parenting books too. In a book, you come to understand the author’s rationale: They answer not just the superficial “how to” questions but also the more significant questions of why they recommend something. Reading a good book should raise your confidence by helping you establish your own framework—your vision and values—for parenting.
3. Know when to stop reading
Once we have worked out our parenting priorities, we can confidently make our own decisions, rather than constantly deferring to experts. We can choose not to read every article or book we come across!
We can start to “read” our children instead: Are they becoming the kind of people we want them to become? Are they learning the attitudes and skills we believe are important? Is our parenting having a positive impact on them? Do we need to change our approach?
When we stop reading, we become the experts on our own children!
4. Seek wisdom from God
At a time when I was feeling particularly overloaded with expert information and advice, I turned to the Bible for guidance. Its timeless wisdom was a welcome relief from the frantic “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” that were swirling around me. Its ancient truths about God and humanity became a firm foundation on which I could build my parenting. The Bible helped me and my husband to establish our family’s values in line with God’s values.
And in the Bible, I read this wonderful promise: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).
What modern parents need most is not more information, but wisdom from God to choose the best path for our family.
This article first appeared in Treasuringmothers.com.