The Beginner’s Guide to Instinctive Parenting

For the mama who is tired of living life by the baby how-to book, who is afraid of getting ‘the look’ from her kid’s pediatrician, who is overwhelmed by the universe of research, and who feels like the only mother on the planet without the ‘secret’ to parenting. In other words, this guide is for basically every mama ever.

After reading this post, you’ll know:

  • Why you should parent instinctively;
  • What instinctive parenting is;
  • Where your instincts are and how to find them;
  • How to set your family up for success;
  • The most important thing to remember with instinctive parenting.

Why Not Trust Your Parenting Instincts More Often?

Let’s say you have a toddler.

Your toddler is galloping down the front walkway of your house when the tip of his clunky toddler shoe catches in the crack of the sidewalk and he careens face first into the cement, leaving part of his nose smeared across the ground in his wake.

His breath catches as his eyes go wide, and you know what you’re about to hear. Your eardrums rattle in your skull as he informs the entire neighborhood that you are the worst parent on earth.

Leaping into action, you rush…right past him, up the stairs, into the house, straight to your bookcase where you start thumbing madly through every baby, toddler, and parenting book you have, searching for a section titled “What to do when your child scrapes his face off on the front sidewalk.”

Yeah right.

You would scoop that kid up faster than fresh guac on game night. You wouldn’t question your ability to comfort your child; you’d just do it. You may later consult a book or pediatrician to ensure you properly disinfected the remaining half of his nose, but you don’t need anyone to tell you to hold him.

Our instincts might be most pronounced in emergent situations, but they are certainly not absent the rest of the time. Why then are we so doubtful of our abilities as parents?

What is Instinctive Parenting?

Instinctive parenting, most basically, is tuning into your gut response when presented with an idea, situation, parenting method or style, etc. Instinctive parents don’t just breastfeed on a schedule because Grandma Beatrice told them babies are only hungry every four hours, for example. They recognize their own baby seems hungry every ninety minutes, and they act accordingly.

These instincts aren’t just feelings, or random thoughts. Our instincts, Mamas, are tangibly driven by hormones. Our biology is wired for motherhood.

Parenting instinctively does not mean forsaking all science, medicine, and parenting advice for your digestive tract’s opinion on how to respond to whooping cough. This is not Paleo Parenting. We aren’t cave men, no matter how much we sound like it when conversing with our babies.

Instinctive parents graciously accept well-meant advice and test it against their own intuition. Does it make sense, or does it feel fishy? Something worked for the Smith family, but is it right for our family?

Instinctive parenting means not following any given parenting how-to guide line for line, but rather considering what approaches are right for your child and which can be passed over.

How to Form Your Own Parenting Style

Step 1: Give your instincts a fair chance.

Truly, the most fundamental aspect of instinctive parenting is listening to your instincts. Well DUH. *close tab* Not so fast. Upon careful reflection, you might be surprised to realize how often you write off your gut reaction in favor of others’ ‘extensive experience,’ ‘professional opinion,’ or ‘expert advice.’ Which is not to say they should be wholly rejected, but if you feel something is wrong or right for your child, allow the thought to ruminate and process fully.

Step 2: Determine (with your partner) your overall parenting style.

Again, you might deviate from the typical tenets of that methodology. You might only fit very loosely into your self-donned parenting style. That is entirely your prerogative. But, considering this ahead of time will help you to analytically evaluate your gut reaction and clarify how to act upon your instinctive response. Certain parenting styles, such as attachment parenting, responsive parenting, and RIE, will be more amenable to instinctive parenting than some others might be.

Step 3: Do your research

Do not stop reading in the middle of this post to run and burn your parenting books. Instinctive parents don’t shove a finger at advice or denounce science. Quite the opposite.

Instinctive parenting is about making informed decisions after thorough examination of the information available weighted by what feels right. We have a wealth of resources at our disposal, from research studies to experienced parents, and it would be foolish not to take full advantage.

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Step 4: Connect with like-minded parents

This is not to say you have to find a cult who believes every exact thing you do. But you should find a positive group of people who are open to discuss your ideas without hostility or aggression. Find other instinctive parents!

They might disagree with you and still encourage your decision because they know you are acting on what you believe is best for your child and your family.

If you’re having a hard time connecting with such parents in your own circles, you will not strike out on social media. When Grandma Beatrice hmmmms and grimaces after seeing you nurse your baby twice in one hour, you’re going to want that support system.

Tips for Success

  • You don’t have to prove you’re right to anyone. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. Even your mom.
  • Smile and nod. Don’t turn every well-meant suggestion into a real life Facebook comment war.
  • Connect with like-minded parents. They’ll be both a sounding board and a support system.
  • Remember that research is the study of other people’s children. Do what’s right for yours.
  • Your pediatrician doesn’t have to know everything. It may be better not to discuss where your baby sleeps or just how often they eat.
  • Recognize that your instincts may change based on your experiences and the information available.
  • That being said, stay true to your family’s beliefs and values, even as you evolve as a parent.

Final Thoughts on Parenting Instinctively

The most important thing to remember when trusting your parenting instincts is that you will sometimes be wrong, and that’s okay. Remain in a state of constant evaluation and don’t be afraid to refine your methods.

Part of learning what does work is learning what doesn’t. It is very unlikely anything you do will kill your baby. They’re hardy little critters.

What is your experience with instinctive parenting? Have you ever ignored your gut and regretted it? Comment below!

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