Earlier today, I posted the first part of my interview with Heidi Murkoff. The author of the seminal parenting book “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” will receive the the John P. McGovern award from the Smithsonian Associates next week for her contributions to understanding the American family.
In the second part of our interview, we discussed how her book changed the concept of parenting and what advice she would give to a new parent today. It turns out she’s been mulling that question more than usual lately, as her own daughter is pregnant with her first child.
An edited version of the rest of interview follows.
JD: Your book, in many ways, kicked off a movement — both in publishing and in parenting. Parents became more accepting of the idea that there were right and wrongs in parenting approaches. In what ways do you think this has been helpful overall? Have there been downsides?
HM: Hopefully, “What to Expect” wasn’t responsible for that movement. It certainly wasn’t my intention. In fact, just the opposite — “What to Expect” was and always will be about providing support, information, reassurance, empathy, never about prescribing or dictating or judging.
I agree there’s nothing good to say about parenting philosophies that pit moms against moms, camp against camp. You can sign up for an epidural at the first prenatal, or you can leave your birthing options open, or you can deliver your baby at home, in a warm bath. You can be attached to your baby without following all of the precepts of attachment parenting, you can breastfeed and bottlefeed, you can circumcise or choose not to, you can use disposable diapers and be a good parent and you can use cloth diapers and be a good parent, you can and should pick and choose from all of the advice you’re inevitably going to get (and read in books, blogs, sites, boards) and opt for what feels right for you and your baby (which, by the way, isn’t necessarily what’s right for another family, or even for two babies in the same family).
That’s actually been the WTE philosophy since day one: You know yourself and your baby best. I think it’s evolved to be even less prescriptive, more balanced than it once was (but then again, everything about WTE, like everything about parenting, has evolved).
Having access to information and to advice is empowering but not when it threatens to unseat or unsettle your own instincts, which should always (matters of health and safety excluded) trump anyone else’s philosophy. The truth is, trends aside, there are lots of good ways to be a good parent and lots of good ways to raise children.
Love your little ones unconditionally, keep them safe and healthy, set limits, and really, it’s hard to go wrong. There are plenty of experts ready to offer you advice, but when it comes to your child, you’re something of an expert, too, and far more often than not, the expert that matters most.
Given that instincts are so important, is it a positive thing that bookstores and libraries now have whole sections devoted to parenting?
When “What to Expect” first came out, there was maybe a single shelf in bookstores dedicated to pregnancy and parenting, and still, making that shelf was tough going (it took years of word-of-mom before WTE started selling, or even being ordered by bookstores). Now, you’re right. There are entire sections devoted to parenting, but also sub-sections on pregnancy, on infertility, on twins, on special needs, you name it. There are dozens of major Web sites, thousands of bloggers, online magazines, apps. Clearly no shortage of information any more and probably, lots more than any parent would ever need or could ever use. Still, there are so many resources I wish I’d had back in my pregnant day.
What two (or three or four) pieces of advice would you give to a new parent today?
Remember to trust your instincts (and yes, we all have them. It just takes a little longer for them to surface in some of us than in others). Listen to your body when you’re pregnant, take your cues from your baby later on. Every pregnant woman is different, every pregnancy is different, every baby and every child is different. And most of all, stress less and enjoy more. Stop and smell the babies (and they do smell great, don’t they?).
Let babies be babies, let children be children. There’s really no reason to rush a process that’s too fast anyway. Slow down and appreciate those little things and those little ones because as I just found out recently (Emma, who inspired WTE is now pregnant with her first baby), it’s over in the blink of an eye.
Which reminds me of my very very very most important piece of advice: Don’t blink.
The Dec. 11, 7:30 p.m. award ceremony at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art includes a presentation from Murkoff and is free and open to the public. Tickets must be reserved to attend. For tickets and information, call 202-633-3030 or visit www.smithsonianassociates.org .
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