Who's the expert in raising kids?

So, I am writing this column from Fort Worth, Texas where I am attending our annual science center conference with a number of my colleagues from COSI as well as from science centers around the world. Having gotten the email that this column was due at 5 p.m. tomorrow night and having not given the topic for this month a moment of thought, I asked my colleagues, about half of whom are already parents, what they thought I should write about. Their suggestions included:

Jon and Kate: I am not giving them any more press time then they are already getting. Should your child have to clean his/her plate at dinner: I can't even think about food let alone write about it after the Texas Steak House dinner we just finished. H1N1--are parents being overprotective: We are all scared about the flu so who's to judge this one? Using kids as entertainment between sections of the rodeo: We ARE in Texas, but somehow this didn't seem relevant to Ohio.
So by now you are all dying to know which of these riveting topics I have chosen, aren't you? I have decided to choose all of them. Wait, don't stop reading yet I have not gone crazy. The point here is that everyone has an opinion about parenting.

There are professionals who want to sell you their books and their classes to teach you to be a better parent. There are your own parents who want to tell you what they did. There are your neighbors who know more about parenting than you do. There are television shows, the internet, magazines--all of which can make you feel like you have no business being a parent in the first place. But while all of these resources can offer you something that can help you along your way, just as my colleagues did tonight (or tried to anyway), ultimately you have to listen to your own ideas and trust that you know what your child needs better than anyone else.

My colleagues suggested topics tonight, but ultimately I had to make my own choice and decide what to write. Now, I know that some of you might rather have read about some of their topics, but it's my column after all, so I get to choose and the same is true for you and your child. People can make suggestions, books can offer advice, parents can tell you what they think, but ultimately it is your child and you know that child better than anyone else.

So why is it so hard for us to trust our own thoughts about raising our children? First, because parenting is tough and confusing and we want to do it right. Second, even if we have done it before, parenting brings us a set of new challenges every time we do it with a new child, challenges that make us question whether we really know what we are doing. Every time you parent a child it is like trying to learn to ride a two wheeler all over again. You sort of know how to do it, but something appears in the road that makes you fall off and have to try again.

The point here is not that you should ignore the experts and friends and family, but that you should use their suggestions in a way that is ultimately your own way of parenting. I used every suggestion my colleagues made tonight for this column, but I ultimately did it my own way to share my own thoughts. Likewise, you need to take in all the "expert" advice that is out there and use it in your own way, following your own instincts about what your particular child wants and needs from you as a parent.

You need to trust that ultimately you know best what your child needs to grow into the person you want him or her to be. Parenting is about trust trusting yourself to make the best possible choices for your child and trusting that if you make a mistake, you will be able to fix it and move on to the next parenting challenge.

It is possible that I have made a terrible mistake in this column and you would much rather hear about Jon and Kate, but if that is true I feel certain that you will let me know and I will have next month's column to make up for it. In the same way, if you make a huge mistake in parenting, someone, most likely your child, will let you know that and you can get to fixing it.

So listen to all that "expert" advice (including this column) but ultimately trust your own instincts in raising your child. When it comes to your kids, you are the true expert.