When instinct trumps philosophy

By Published On: April 9th, 2015

There was a time when my wife and I voraciously […]

photoThere was a time when my wife and I voraciously consumed books and articles and advice about all the practical minutia of baby care. We were determined to have a well-researched and firm conviction about every possible parenting practice imaginable, from food selection to vaccinations. We wanted to have an air-tight, bullet-proof, completely defensible position on all things parenting.
That time started just before the birth of our first child and continued with our second, but then things start to get fuzzy as our other three arrived. Somewhere along the way, our need to have a philosophy for everything gradually faded and was replaced by a confidence that came from something else. For lack of better term, I would say that parenting instinct had eclipsed parenting philosophy. But this process was gradual, and we hardly noticed it happening ourselves. I had a conversation this past week that provided a contrast that helped me see it.
I was talking with a friend of mine who is about a year into parenthood with his first child. Somehow, we got on the topic of sleeping arrangements with babies. He asked me what our arrangement is with our baby. I told him that we have our little guy in our room with us for now. I also mentioned that we moved our previous four kids out of our room as soon as possible, but I am actually not looking to rush this guy out of our room anytime soon.
He responded simply by saying, “Yeah, we are pretty big fans of Baby Wise, so our little guy sleeps in his own room.” The bluntness of the statement shocked me a bit. It also pretty much ended the conversation, which had started with an open-ended question that seemed like genuine inquiry. It turned out to be a set up to find out if we use the same philosophy or not. Once it appeared that we might not have the same approach to sleeping babies, the conversation was over.
I reflected back on this situation later because it troubled me. I had answered his question with no sense that I had to prove anything. Yet, he responded to me as if I had given the “wrong” answer. I thought back to the time when we were new parents, and I remembered that I also felt like I was on a crusade to get the “right” answer about all things parenting. If someone had asked me at that time how they should handle sleeping arrangements with their baby, I definitely would have told them to move the baby out of their room ASAP. Now, I would simply reply with another question: What do your parenting instincts tell you?
As an analogy, I think of Luke Skywalker as he is flying his X-wing toward the only vulnerable spot on the Death Star. He switches on his targeting computer and prepares to take the only shot the rebels have at destroying their enemy. [Spoiler Alert] Then he hears the disembodied voice of Obi Wan telling him to use the force. Everyone starts freaking out that he’s not using his computer (i.e., parenting philosophy). But wouldn’t you know it, he uses the force (i.e., parenting instinct) to make the one-in-a-million shot that preserves the rebellion from certain doom.
Parenting shouldn’t be only philosophy or only instinct. Instincts can be misinterpreted and philosophies misapplied, but the two put together can help hone one another. I think the more common error in our day is to rely too heavily on philosophy to the detriment of our instincts.
To be sure, Luke had to be told about the force, and he had to train in it before he was able to use it proficiently. But the force was strong with him to begin with, so he was able to come up this learning curve quickly. As young parents, I think we can educate ourselves with parenting philosophies as part of our training, but we should be looking ahead to a time in the future when we can use the force in parenting.