Many years ago, my mother-in-law told me that I was reading too many books about parenting. She said that I should trust my parenting intuition, because the right answers would just come to me.
Her vote of confidence felt lovely…and yet, later that night, what “came to me” was a yelling match when my daughter refused to pick up her towel. Huh.
That didn’t work.
Grandma might be pleased to learn that a parenting book I recently read also warned against looking for guidance outside ourselves. (I know, the irony is rich.) I can appreciate the author’s point (and my mother-in-law’s), because I see so many parents trying so hard to get it exactly right, as if there were only one right answer.
They worry so much about making sure their child says thank you, shares toys, and is potty-trained “on time” that they lose connection with what feels right inside. I’m guilty of this, too.
Where is the Wisdom…
At the same time, I found the book’s advice discouraging, because while my parenting intuition does often guide with wisdom, it can sometimes guide me to regret as well. I don’t always have the answers inside. I need some help. And sometimes I just need some help finding what’s inside.
Isn’t it strange that we invest years in education for our careers — we get mentors, attend trainings, set goals, have performance reviews — and yet for parenting, arguably the most important job in our lives, it’s supposed to just “come to us”?
Any kind of job requires learning and practicing new skills.
Yes, parenting intuition will guide us, but it’s my belief that we have to help our intuition along.
After all, intuition comes from somewhere. A child who grows up watching his parents bribe police officers to avoid a traffic ticket may very well feel fine about lying to authority.
So where does intuition come from? Ann Betz, a mentor of mine who specializes in the intersection of neuroscience, coaching and human transformation, proposes that there are “Four Doors of Intuition.” In other words, intuition is shaped by and can be accessed from four different places.
I admit to vastly oversimplifying her doors, but here’s the gist:
Door 1: Intuition comes from your own context and experience.
How do your own childhood or adult experiences shape your intuition? If you grew up in a household that never accepted charity, you may feel in your gut that it’s not OK to ask for help. Or just the opposite. In either case, your own experience will shape your gut response. Experience can also come to as adults: professionals who’ve spent years studying child development are likely to have a quicker and more confident instinct when it comes to parenting decisions.
Door 2: Intuition comes from your body.
When we say we have a “gut feeling” about something, it’s true. There are millions of neurons in the gastrointestinal system, the heart and other organs that send more information to the brain than the other way around. Physical sensations like tension in the shoulders, rapid heartbeat, or shallow breathing, for example, are signals that the body has something important to tell you. If you consciously decide to turn off your brain (which cares a lot about what your neighbors say about your parenting) and tune in to your heart (which doesn’t care a bit), you might be able to access some very different information.
Door 3: Intuition comes from other people.
Like it or not, the responses or even just the energy from other people affect how we feel about things. Mirror neurons allow us to pick up on others’ emotions instinctively (note how your mother-in-law’s wrinkled eyebrow can cause you to doubt yourself while hugging your tantruming child.) Advice or modeling from people we respect shapes intuition over time, as well.
Door 4: Intuition comes from “collective consciousness.”
Ann describes this source as information that’s in the air all around us. I find her explanation a bit hard to grasp, so I interpret it as the “knowingness” that comes from collective wisdom, the universe, or even God. It’s all those lessons that millions of wise beings have learned and are energetically sending our way.
You don’t have to buy the “Four Doors” theory to get my point, however, which is that intuition is shaped by many sources. For this reason, it’s healthy to question those sources and try to differentiate between wise intuition and a conditioned response, or even fear of what your mother-in-law will say.
Ann Betz and I both agree that intuition can be developed: what “feels right” to me now — after 10 years of teaching and studying parenting and 18 years of child-rearing — is often very different from what felt right to me when my firstborn was two. And the right answers do just “come to me” more quickly and naturally.
In the end, I believe parents are at their best when they both tune into their own inner voice and seek guidance from people and sources they trust.
*The parenting book I read recently was “Hold On To Your Kids” by Gordon Neufeld.