I Wish Children Came with Instruction Manuals

June 11th, 2013 by Dionna | 26 Comments
Posted in Carnival and Special Series, Carnival of Natural Parenting, Consensual Living, natural parenting, Strive for Balance

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Welcome to the June 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting:

Parenting in Theory vs. in Reality

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants are sharing how their ideas and methods of parenting have changed.


I Wish Children Came with Instruction Manuals via Code Name: Mama

Last week I started on a sewing project; halfway through, my fabric stopped feeding through under the needle. I could manually pull the fabric along, but it wasn’t automatically feeding like usual.

I did the normal, easy things I knew how to do: checked and changed the needle, rethreaded the thread, took off the plate and cleaned under the bobbin, tried different fabric. Nothing worked.

So I got online and asked my sewing-savvy friends. They mentioned several of the steps I had already tried, and they suggested taking off the feed dog and cleaning underneath it. I tried that, still no dice.

And then, inspiration hit. There is this wonderful new invention called an “Instruction Manual.” Surprisingly, it is FREE with the purchase of a sewing machine!

I know, right?!

The trick is placing it where one can find it, but even more so, remembering that it exists.

I flipped to the troubleshooting section of my own (practically untouched) manual, and found this:

Condition: The cloth is not fed smoothly.

Cause: The stitches are too fine.

Solution: Make stitch longer.

I Wish Children Came with Instruction Manuals

Lo and behold, someone had moved my stitch length to zero (I’m thinking one climbing, knob-turning toddler). I lengthened the stitches, and a miracle occurred – the fabric started feeding properly again.

I’m so badass.

And it got me to thinking: crafting problems are sometimes analogous to parenting problems.

For example, let’s say you’re dealing with increased night waking. Your 4 month old had been sleeping for three or four hour stretches, and all of a sudden she’s starts waking up every hour. Sometimes more! You start troubleshooting your parenting problem:

You try bringing her into your bed. Nope.

You try taking some fenugreek to up your breastmilk supply in case she’s in the middle of a growth spurt. Nada.

After a few nights, you throw up your hands and ask your friends in a Facebook thread. And this is what you get:

  • Friend A, we’ll call her “Franny Ferber“: Oh, I started sleep training at that age. You should just let her cry.
  • Friend B, known to many as “That Hippy Chick”: That’s the classic 4 month sleep regression! This too shall pass!
  • Friend C, fondly referred to as “The Childless Know-It-All” (a.k.a. “Booby Trap Betty”): I’ve heard that giving babies an extra bottle of formula at night will help fill them up so they’ll sleep longer. Have you considered that maybe you’re not making enough milk?
  • Friend D, dubbed “Sally Reads-A-Lot”: We had that same problem and I’d recommend Pantley’s No Cry Sleep Solution – it’s gentle and effective!

Four friends, four sets of advice, no one “right” answer for every family. While I love reading about parenting, I’ve not found any one book that counts as an instruction manual.

Every child is different, every family is different, every dynamic is different.

And here’s what’s more important: Not one parent is perfect. No single parenting method or style is the be-all end-all. Not every child will respond the same way to the same things. These are the nuggets of wisdom that can never truly hit home until one has more than one child.1

Still, wouldn’t it be nice if parenting were as easy as repairing sewing machines?


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants (posts will be live and updated no later than afternoon on June 11):

  • My little gastronomes — "I'll never cook a separate meal for my children," Maud at Awfully Chipper vowed before she had children; but things didn't turn out quite as she'd imagined.
  • Know Better, Do Better. Except When I Don't. — Jennifer from True Confessions of a Real Mommy was able to settle in her parenting choices before her children arrived, but that doesn't mean she always lives up to them.
  • Judgments Made Before Motherhood — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama looks back on her views of parents she came in contact with before she became a mother and how much her worldview of parenting has changed!
  • A Bend in The Road — Lyndsay at ourfeministplayschool writes about how her visions of homeschooling her son during the elementary school years have changed drastically in the last year - because HE wants to go to school.
  • I Wish Children Came with Instruction Manuals — While Dionna at Code Name: Mama loves reading about parenting, she's not found any one book that counts as an instruction manual. Every child is different, every family is different, every dynamic is different. No single parenting method or style is the be-all end-all. Still, wouldn't it be nice if parenting were like troubleshooting?
  • The Mistakes I've Made — Kate at Here Now Brown Cow laments the choices she made with her first child and explains how ditching her preconceived ideas on parenting is helping her to grow a happy family.
  • I Only Expected to Love... — Kellie at Our Mindful Life went into parenting expecting to not have all the answers. It turns out, she was right!
  • They See Me Wearin', They Hatin' — Erin Yuki at And Now, for Something Completely Different contemplates putting her babywearing aspirations into practice, and discussed how she deals with "babywearing haters."
  • Parenting Human BeingsErika Gebhardt lists her parenting "mistakes," and the one concept that has revolutionized her parenting.
  • Doing it right: what I knew before I had kids... — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud, guest posting at Natural Parents Network realises that the number one game in town, when it comes to parenting, is judgement about doing it right. But "doing it right" looks different to everybody.
  • A synopsis of our reality as first time parents — Amanda at My Life in a Nut Shell summarizes the struggles she went through to get pregnant, and how her daughter's high needs paved the way for her and her husband to become natural parents.
  • Theory to Reality? — Jorje compares her original pre-kid ideas (some from her own childhood) to her personal parenting realities on MommaJorje.com.
  • The Princess Paradigm — Laura at Pug in the Kitchen had planned to raise her daughter in a sparkly, princess-free home, but in turn has found herself embracing the glitz.
  • Healthy Eating With Kids: Ideal vs. Real — Christy at Eco Journey In The Burbs had definite ideas about what healthy eating was going to look like in her family before she had kids. Little did she realize that her kids would have something to say about it.
  1. This is one reason why I urge advocates and parents to be respectful and compassionate with each other, even when they don't agree.

26 Responses to:
"I Wish Children Came with Instruction Manuals"

  1. So so true! Oh how I wished for a miracle manual with my first child. And now how glad I am that one doesn’t exist. No one could know MY child like I do!

  2. Ruth Mitchell

    I SO agree….I have always said that parenting is the single most important job in the entire universe and unfortunately we are sort of on our own as we raise our precious little ones. I know I did a far from perfect job with MY children…but I did the best I could. I guess that is all we can ask of ourselves!!! :-)

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I just started reading a book called Parent Effectiveness Training – he starts out by saying that parents are universally blamed for every problem a child has, but there is no training. So true.

  3. Jennifer @ Hybrid Rasta Mama   hybridrastamama

    Your post is great but I am terribly distracted by that sweet little bean at the sewing machine. She is far too cute for her own good. I kind of want to hop on a plane and come give her a snuggle!

    So yeah – great post and all but little Miss A sort of stole the show!

  4. Darcel {The Mahogany Way}   MahoganyWayMama

    Aw…look at the baby, so sweet! I’m glad there isn’t one parenting manual. We’re all doing what works best for our family and no one “parenting expert” knows what that is better than we do.

  5. Sheila Pai @ ALivingFamily   aLivingFamily

    Hahahaha. I was just laughing about this today with a friend. I was telling her how funny it is for me now after two kids to hear the mother who has a 9 month old extreme sleeper say something like “Oh, if you just have a bedtime routine/take a bath before bed/darken the room/wear them in a sling/etc.” When I know now so well that every child and sleep have their own relationship. Yes, they can all sleep well, and the methods for doing so and what “well” looks like will be different.
    Bless you for letting us all be human.
    And I can’t stop staring at your little person at the sewing machine. Is she really sewing? I thought about knives but sewing machines are something else entirely…

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      When Kieran was a baby/toddler/preschooler, I had so many doubts about my mothering, because he refused to engage in a lot of “independent” play, and everyone kept telling me “well you just need to _____.” Even people in my AP community. And now he is 5.5yrs old and still sometimes needs to be coaxed into it, while Ailia has been off doing her own thing since practically birth. She is so independent! It really takes that 2nd child to validate that you know your own children (at least it did for me). And now I’m glad I stuck to my guns and listened to my gut about Kieran.

  6. JW   TrueRealMommy

    Come to think of it, I do often feel similarly about my children as my sewing machine.
    “What is the matter? You were fine 5 minutes ago!”
    “Oi! Why can’t you just do what I want?”
    “Oh, when I find whoever decided it was ok to mess with you…!”

    And often my solution is the same. Have someone else (my sister) take over until I can manage well, or they are in “working order” again.

  7. Theek @ Laotian Commotion   LaotianMama

    Isn’t that what most parenting books out nowadays are disguised or misused as? As instruction manuals? It’s so true that not one method works for every child or every situation. I always wondered why not every breastfeeding mom slept next to her baby because *I* got so much more sleep. *I* had amazing supply. *I* knew all about it blah blah blah. I also knew that not all families wanted to and that I may come off as pretentious or judgmental. I now just offer gentle support with things that did work for me and they can take it or leave it. :)

  8. Maud   AwfullyChipper

    I used to keep telling people that the problem with my son was that he hadn’t read the book, so he didn’t understand what he was supposed to be doing.

    Then I read a different book, and another, and it turned out he hadn’t read any of them. Slacker.

  9. Jessica @ Crunchy-Chewy Mama   crunchychewy

    Love the analogy! How different life would be if we ALL came with instructions, including our spouses… and including ourselves. If I just knew what the best healing path would be for me, I’d be all better by now! If I just knew what to do when my husband made a snide comment, well, you get the idea. (Usually compassion is a pretty safe bet, but sometimes you need more than that!)

    My two kids are so different; they were certain to have come from rival machine companies and could never have interchangeable answers since their challenges have been so different.

    Thanks for a great post!

  10. Amy Willa   Amy_willa

    This is a great thought! What IF our children came with instruction manuals? I’d really love the troubleshooting section! :) although, after a beat or two of thought, I realized that if there were instruction manuals, there would be no need for connection and understanding and getting to know YOUR unique child. Very very interesting thought!

  11. Deb @ Living Montessori Now   DebChitwood

    I love your statements “Every child is different, every family is different, every dynamic is different” and “Not one parent is perfect.” So true! And who can look at those photos without smiling?!

  12. Tat   muminsearch

    Oh, but how unexciting is repairing a sewing machine comparing to parenting! (Says she who never reads manuals on anything, but has read tons of parenting books.)

  13. Lyndsay   hisfeministmama

    I feel that we write our ‘instruction booklets’ ourselves; they grow and edit themselves as we grow up. I suppose it is an internal document that we carry around for our lives – never really complete, never really done. I love your point that despite the good parenting titles that are published, there really isn’t a set of answers that ‘fits’. Sigh – and maybe when people understand that, they will stop judging parents (and kids).

    Thanks for hosting the Carnival!

  14. Lauren @ Hobo Mama   Hobo_Mama

    It really is true — having one (high-needs) kid made me strongly suspect that every child is not created alike. But having two, and having the second be so comparatively easy-going, confirmed it! All that advice I got for “easy!!!” ways to deal with my firstborn finally works with the second. ;)

  15. christy   ChristyRollo

    I thought I had found a parenting manual after my first child, because she settled into a fairly easy toddler. Unfortunately I discovered that my second daughter was a different model so I had to throw that manual out. I thought surely one of the two would work for my third. Nope. How could three different kids from the same parents be so different?!

    I have fallen prey to thinking I had all the answers and have silently judged other parents. It took me a long time to realize that there was no manual. I wish I had known sooner and not wasted so much time searching for it. My book shelf would be a more empty, that’s for sure.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Amen on the judgment – I was guilty of being judgmental when I was a new mama with “all of the answers.” It’s taken time and my own failures to humble me ;)

  16. Before I had children I was convinced that everyone was doing it wrong, that my child would not have tantrums, would always sleep through the night, would listen to me the first time, would say please and thank you without being prompted, and end world hunger before she was out of training pants.
    Now I know…oh boy do I know.
    There are no right answers.

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