So many parenting books prescribe the “best” and sometimes “right” way to help your child sleep, eat, play, bond and behave. They often promise to solve an assortment of other issues you may be facing as a parent. How on earth does a parent choose the “right” book? Hmmm, is there a right book or method? And what did people do before there were parenting books?

I have spent countless hours and money on parenting books of all varieties. Books on attachment parenting, books on “crying it out,” books that suggest rigid schedules, books that suggest no schedules, positive discipline, 1-2-3 discipline, demand feeding to feeding at only specific times—I have read it all!

What am I hoping to find? Sometimes my search is motivated by pure desperation and my being absolutely convinced that what I am experiencing with my children is not “normal.” Sometime it is motivated by pure inquisitiveness. I look on the Internet, read blogs, look at parenting forums and of course, buy more books! Seriously, I could start my own parenting book library.

When my girls—3 ½-year-old twins—were babies, life was all about getting them to sleep. That was the Holy Grail for me. I found a method that promised me nights of uninterrupted sleep and I stuck to it like nothing I have ever stuck to in my life. I timed when my babies ate and when they slept. I measured food quantities, I got blackout blinds, a “white noise” maker, I swaddled, I…you get the picture. I faced a lot of judgment from people who thought this was not a proper method for bonding (many of these opinions came from people that either did not have children, or only had singletons). I waffled between not caring what these people thought to not trusting what felt right for my family.

In the end, my rigid method worked. My kids slept through the night very early on and I thought I was oh-so-clever for figuring out the great mystery of how to make a baby sleep.

Fast-forward three years. So has all my hard work and perseverance paid off? Do I have the best little sleepers in the whole wide world? No! I counted the other night and one of my girls got up 13 times. Here were just some of the reasons why: “I need water,” “My baby needs to be tucked in,” “I need music on,” and on and on went the excuses.

So what went wrong? Once a good sleeper, always a good sleeper, I thought. Or conversely, once a poor sleeper, always a poor sleeper. I don’t believe this anymore. Do I have regrets? Absolutely not. I am a pretty structured person and this worked really well for me. I loved that I knew that by 7 p.m. every night both of my girls would be sleeping soundly and my husband and I could hang out and have some quality time together.

Here’s the only thing: I think that constantly consulting parenting books made me see certain behaviours as problems instead of seeing them as just part of the unpredictable nature of child development. Also, parenting by the book, so to speak, did not prepare me to be flexible as my kids got older. So when my daughter decided to stop sleeping through the night, I was surprised, upset and confused.

Back to my question of what went wrong: The answer is that nothing went wrong, everything is as it should be. My wakeful daughter is in a phase and just like all of the other phases, this too shall pass. I have had to step back and remember that my girls are going to continue to change and need different things at different times. Wow, is parenting ever humbling.

Have I stopped buying parenting books? No way! I just find now that I read them to get ideas, not to get the answers. I don’t consult parenting books to solve anything, but to know that I am not the only one dealing with a particular issue. I read parenting books to maybe give me a few strategies to try out for a specific phase.

My love/hate relationship with parenting books continues. Some I love (Hold On To Your Kids, by Gabor Maté and Gordon Neufeld, for example) and some I shake my head at in dismay. I will continue to buy them, read them and pass them on because I do think that we parents can use all the help we can get. “Expert” knowledge can be good, but often your own knowledge and gut instinct about what works best for you and your family is even better.

Jody Watson is a registered clinical counselor and art therapist at the Vancouver Island Naturopathic and Integrated Health Clinic.