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The Important Parenting Resource You Should Never Ignore

Imagine buying a brand-new appliance. You're so excited, but when you get home and open the box, your excitement quickly turns to confusion: there are five different instruction manuals, and they all say different things. Some of the instructions are similar but worded differently, and some are completely contradictory to the others — so there's absolutely no way of knowing which one is correct. You call your best friend for advice because she has an appliance like yours, but since hers is a slightly different model, you're not sure her advice will work for you. With a sinking feeling you realize that you're just going to have to figure it out on your own.

OK, so that may never happen with an appliance, but it happens with something far more complicated and important: our kids. If you think about it, that's almost exactly what we deal with as parents in the age of information. We are constantly bombarded with parenting advice from books and articles and TV shows and blog posts and pediatricians and child psychologists and sleep experts and nutritionists — some reliable, some questionable. Thanks to the internet, everyone has a platform, "expert" or not. If someone has a nice website and the ability to sound credible, it's hard to tell whether they're a genuinely reputable source or just another person with internet access and an opinion. Is it any wonder we're completely baffled sometimes? It's not our fault we can't make heads or tails of all this mess.

Luckily, we have at our disposal the single most valuable parenting tool — and no, it's not the World Wide Web. It's something far older and much more reliable: our gut instinct, the same one that protected our ancestors from being eaten by prehistoric bears and led them to find food and shelter for their families. It is literally one of the most helpful resources for parents and one of the biggest reasons why humanity has existed for so long. But despite all that, we don't trust it nearly as often as we should, just because great-aunt Mabel or our neighbor's pediatrician or some schmo with a keyboard (and yes, I appreciate the irony here) have fed us tidbits of conflicting information. Deep down, we feel like we ought to know what to do, but we're drowning in a deluge of well-meaning advice that often makes us second-guess ourselves.

I'll never forget the time my son, then 2 years old, kept whining uncomfortably any time someone would touch his arm. Putting on his jacket, buckling him into his car seat, giving him a bath — all those scenarios would result in him acting as though he was sore. But he didn't raise a huge fuss, nothing looked abnormal, and I didn't recall him injuring himself, so I dismissed my concerns for a couple of days, hoping that whatever it was would resolve itself quickly. After all, I didn't want to be "that mom" who rushes her kid to the doctor for every tiny snort and sniffle. Still, his reaction kept nagging at me, so I finally relented and took him to see the pediatrician.

When we got to the appointment and she examined him, he didn't flinch. The same child who had been griping about his arm for days now sat in the doctor's office as stoic and nonchalant as can be. Not so much as a grimace or a wince as she gently pulled, bent, and flexed the offending appendage. "Great," I thought. "She's going to think I'm completely overreacting."

Apparently, though, the doctor was much better at trusting her instincts than I was, because she recommended an x-ray "to be safe." And as it turns out, my poor baby had been walking around for half a week with a broken wrist. I felt like the worst mom in the world; had I listened to my inner guidance to begin with, he would never have had to go through as much pain as he did. But though it unfortunately came at his expense, it taught me a very important lesson. When your instinct speaks, you listen.

I promise, you know more than you think you do — even when you've never done this before. Nobody knows your child the way you do. Nobody else spends as much time, or invests as much of themselves, in your child. No one else is as much of an expert at predicting how your quirky, unique little individual will react to something. Will you make a few mistakes along the way? Sure; parenting is nothing if not trial-and-error. But a few minor missteps aren't going to screw anyone up for life. The biggest disservice to your child would be not heeding the advice of the one person who knows more about him or her than anyone else: yourself.

So go forth with confidence, mamas. Take a deep breath and do what feels right. Don't worry about that article you read on the internet; dig deep enough, and you're bound to find some sort of study contradicting it anyway. In the grand scheme of things, your intuition will never steer you wrong. Listen to what others have to say — after all, these days it's hard not to — but in the end, the best decisions are the ones you already know deep down.


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