Parenting Rules You Can Feel Free to Break

If there’s one job in this life that comes with an unlimited set of do’s and don’ts, it’s undoubtedly parenthood. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a parent, grandparent, pediatrician or complete stranger unwilling to unveil a laundry list of things you should and shouldn’t do when raising your tiny human being. All of this can feel extremely suffocating for a new parent who has a million and one questions, insecurities and anxieties surrounding this all-important job. The good news? The only real parenting rule is that there are no one-size-fits-all rules. And the “rules” that work for your child and your family may differ vastly from those that work for your neighbor or your sister.

And we hate to break it to you, but the way you were raised might not be the best way to raise your own child. This is tricky because, as parenting mentor Sue Groner (author of Parenting: 101 Ways to Rock Your World) explains, we are all conditioned to parent the way our parents did — whether we realize that or not. “It takes time and thought to move away from that pattern — that is if you do want to raise your children differently.” 

However you choose your own individualized set of parenting rules, your instinct matters most. To help guide you when it comes to the big-ticket parenting rules people are likely to bombard you with during your early parenting years, we asked experts to share the ones that are totally fine to break — or at least heavily bend.

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“Breast is best”

While yes, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life is the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the reality is that breastfeeding does not work for every new parent. “Exclusive breastfeeding can be quite difficult for some women given the consequential sleep deprivation and difficulty having any separate life during the time one is breastfeeding,” explains Dr. Carly Snyder, attending physician in the department of psychiatry at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. If you’re struggling with exclusive breastfeeding, it’s absolutely fine to supplement with bottle-feeding or to stop nursing entirely, Snyder urges. You shouldn’t feel guilty or ashamed because you’re simply doing your best. “Mom’s mental health and wellness is profoundly important for baby’s health in the short and long run, so if breastfeeding is causing excessive stress… then opting out of exclusive breastfeeding may actually prove protective for all parties,” she adds.

“Newborns need to be socialized”

In some cultures, it’s the social norm to have company over to meet and greet with your newborn almost immediately upon birth, but this should absolutely not be an enforced rule according to experts. “Pregnancy and childbirth are huge endeavors that understandably take a lot out of a new mom,” says Snyder. “It takes the uterus six weeks to return to its prepregnancy size and even longer for the rest of the body and the mind.” What new parents really need and deserve after delivering their newborn is help and care so they can catch up on sleep and recover both physically and emotionally, so feel free to “socialize” that baby by having your brother come over and do its laundry.

“Never (or always) let your baby cry it out”

There are two camps when it comes to this parenting rule. Some are totally for crying it out as a method of teaching your baby to self-soothe, while others think this is one of the worst things you can do to a new baby. But the idea behind the method isn’t that you’re abandoning your baby to cry forever. “Modify anything modifiable, but then if the baby continues to scream, it is safer to put the baby down briefly in a safe place like a crib and walk away to take a few deep breaths,” Snyder says. “Everyone has a hard time and feels frustrated in these scenarios, where it is difficult to soothe an unhappy baby.” What’s also important and too often overlooked are the needs of the parents — who need to eat, bathe and care for themselves while also caring for their baby.

“Don’t go out right after giving birth”

Some will tell you that leaving your brand-new baby with a caretaker, be it a relative or a hired babysitter, is selfish. But not only is this untrue — it’s totally unfair. “A couple must remain emotionally and sexually connected after the arrival of their baby for the good of their relationship,” explains Snyder. “And this requires protected time together without kids. Being happy as a couple leads to greater ease in co-parenting and an overall calmer household.”  

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“Wait until 6 months to feed solids”

“For breastfed babies, we wait to give foods until 6 months because breast milk is so good for them that we want the child to maximize on all the benefits of breast milk before starting solids,” explains pediatrician S. Dr. Daniel Ganjian of Providence Saint John’s Health Center California. “However, sometimes babies are very interested in the foods that their parents are eating.” In instances such as this, Gajian says it’s OK to give a baby a taste — yes, even before the age of 6 months old — as long as you make sure the food was prepared with baby-friendly ingredients free from common allergens. However, he says to hold off on serving babies large portions until 6 months of age.

“Never let kids skip a meal”

As a parent, you want to nurture your child — and that starts with providing them with sustenance in the form of healthy food. But Groner says there are times when it’s totally OK to let your kid skip a meal. And if your child refuses to eat dinner one night or continues to forget her lunch, panicking and shaming yourself is not going to help anything. “If your kid won’t eat dinner because he doesn’t like what you served, so be it,” she says. “The less of a big deal you make about it, the less of a control issue it will be.” 

“Busy kids are smart kids”

Guess what? As a parent, it’s not your job to make sure your child is fully engaged and amused all times. “When your child is bored, it doesn’t mean you need to drop whatever you’re doing to entertain her,” Groner says. “This is a short-term solution that serves only to let your child know that boredom needs to be fixed, and you are the one who will fix it.” Instead, Groner recommends explaining to your child that not every second of the day is going to be as exciting as the last. She urges parents to remind children that they have “the best tool to make anything more interesting,” and that’s their own imagination. “When you help your child learn how to find (or make) their own fun,” Groner adds, “they get to have a life where routine or tedious experiences (like doing laundry or waiting in line) are not things to dread — and can even be brain-freeing moments to look forward to.” 

“No ice cream for breakfast”

This might sound like a crazy rule to break, but consider what other sugar-containing foods you might be giving your kiddo for breakfast. “If you are giving your kids sugary cereal and milk, why not a little ice-cream or frozen yoghurt with some granola and berries once in a while?” points out Groner. “Breaking food rules not only make you seem more fun, but it also helps kids understand diets that are too restrictive are not what life is about.” She suggests offering ice cream for breakfast or pancakes for dinner on very rare occasions, such as their birthday, as an excuse to be silly and fun. “No one will get hurt, and your child will think this is the greatest thing ever,” she adds.

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No matter the advice you’re getting when it comes to parenting, be it from other moms or board-certified physicians, the best thing you can do, undoubtedly, is trust yourself. You were given an innate instinct as a parent, and that is worth listening to and checking in with on a daily basis.

“With many aspects of parenthood, there is no one right choice; there is simply whatever is best for this child and this family,” says Snyder. Although many parents feel good about crowdsourcing for parenting advice (by, say, posting a question on social media), Snyder advises against it. After all, instead of asking the randos, wouldn’t you prefer to crowdsource advice from only your most trusted sources (like, for example, your mom and your pediatrician) and then make your own decision based on your own situation and judgment? After all, Mama knows best — and Mama is you.

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