Parenting 101

I’m convinced the parenting book business is a complete racket. Well, other than Dr. Harvey Karp.

I’d marry that man.

But every time I hear there’s a new! awesome! guide to finally answering all your most challenging conundrums, I roll my eyes since most of them are less about helping you and more about making you feel bad about your choices.

The books I want to read are by real parents with real kids and real problems that they solved without devoting their entire livelihood to the process.

But they’re too busy parenting their children to have time to write a book. Oh the irony.

One sweep of the parenting books today would have even the most seasoned parent confused.

If you sleep with your baby they’ll sleep better and have better self-esteem. Then the next book tells you that they need to be in the crib so they’ll be independent thinkers.

On their back! On their stomach, with supervision! On their side with a sleep positioner and white noise machine on low because then they’ll get used to sleeping with background noise and they’ll get into Harvard.

OK, so that’s not entirely true, but a quick scan of a few of these books will have you thinking that, especially if you’re a neophyte parent.

You’ll also learn that you must have a label for all your choices.

Child-led feeding. Elimination communication.

Whatever happened to “eating” and “potty training.”

Also, “parenting?”

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The challenge with all these parenting how-to books has always been that they tell you how to parent their children. Some children. Those children.

And while your children might fall into those categories, many times they just won’t. Or only part of the time they will, like when it comes to sleeping but not when it comes to eating. But you don’t necessarily know that until you try and fail miserably, carefully rereading exactly what the book says about trying new foods between pea stains on the pages and boiled carrots stuck in your hair.

These books offer plenty of how-tos but not a lot of what-ifs.

What if he’ll pee in the potty but will only poop in a pull-up?

What if she’ll sleep swaddled in her bouncy seat but not in the crib?

What if he won’t take a bottle and it’s driving me completely insane?

With several kids under my belt, I’m able to read these books from a different perspective, and rather than take the suggestions as the “Word of Parent,” I can accept that while it sounds awesome, it might not work for us.

And I can also pull ideas from them that are simply brilliant.

But when you’re just looking for answers to your 400 questions as the baby screams in the background, you want someone to tell you how to fix it, no matter how hard it might be on the baby or on you.

Just make it stop!

And so what I’ve found is that my favorite go-to resource is other moms. Not just any mom, mind you. The been-there-done-that ones who don’t often wear make-up but make sure to put on a smile. Their kids look happy and healthy, and aren’t asking you the amount of sodium in the goldfish your own kids are eating off the ground.

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If there’s anything I’ve learned as a mom of four, most of the stuff we obsess about—that we think is so monumental for our child’s health, well-being and happiness—is really quite small.

My youngest two children have slept in our walk-in closet with a playpen as a crib. Mostly because it’s dark and quiet and we can make a good joke when they finally transition to a real room.

Other than her diapers, I’m pretty sure my youngest owns absolutely nothing that was originally hers, and she doesn’t know the difference.

I give them love and attention, I feed them healthy food, and I put them to bed at near the same time every night.

And I wash their hands. A lot.

What happens in between is a combination of trial and error, of small victories and big defeats (and sometimes the other way around).

But there's also imagining what will shape them into cool, responsible people later in life. And what will help me make it through the day with my sanity intact.

I’ve learned the most about how to parent from other moms (yes, even my own) who frankly and honestly tell their stories. Not just the pretty, happy ones covered in organic cake icing. But the elbow deep in poop ones that might require chemical disinfection.

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