Listening to Our Parenting Intuition

April 6, 2017

Perhaps no human endeavor engenders as much well-meaning advice as parenting. Parenting books, websites abound. Friends, relatives (mothers in law?), strangers, and of course the media are happy to offer advice on all aspects of raising children – much of it wildly contradictory.

Despite all this advice – or because of it – raising children is full of uncertainty. Each child is different, and what works for one may not work for another. What works for one child in early childhood may backfire later. As parents, we must content ourselves with groping our way through the parenting process. Though it can be helpful to seek out advice and information, ultimately, we will have to rely to some extent on our intuition to choose the best course.

Listening to our intuition can be difficult, especially if we were raised in families that did not teach us to trust ourselves.

fairy tale from South Africa called “The Three Little Eggs” shows how a woman’s use of her intuition can be the difference between life and death for her and her children.

A woman with two children lived with her abusive husband. One day, she decided that she had had enough, and she leaves with her two children. While fleeing, she noticed a bird’s nest with three eggs in it. She thought it would be a lovely plaything for her children, so she took the nest down from the tree and handed it to her children, reminding them to be careful not to break the eggs.

After a while, she came to a fork in the road, and did not know which way to go. “Go to the right!” commanded a little voice. The woman was startled because the voice came from one of the little eggs. She followed the egg’s advice, and found a cozy cottage filled with food. After she and her children had eaten and slept, they continued on their way, still following the advice of the little eggs.

As the story continues, the eggs don’t always steer them clear of danger. More than once, the eggs direct them to a place inhabited by an ogre or ogress. When there is a crisis, the eggs tell the woman what to do. Sometimes, they tell her to do the impossible, such as picking up a heavy rock. The mother does not think she can manage it, but she attempts it any way, only to find to her amazement that she can do it.

On two occasions, the initial advice of the eggs is wrong or incomplete. For example, the eggs instruct the mother to climb a tree and drop an axe on the head of the sleeping ogress. The woman does so, but the axe only wakes the ogress up! The eggs then tell the mother to climb down and kill the ogress with the axe.

This is in fact often how intuition works in our actual lives. We may be unsure of what to do, but we have a hunch. When we act on our instinct however, it may be that things get worse! Then we have to adjust our plan, and perhaps consult our intuition further.

Sometimes we just have a feeling.

A woman in my practice had a child who was not nursing well. The baby would pull of the breast, cry, and arch his back when feeding. My patient reported to me that she “just had a feeling” that something was wrong, although when she shared her concerns with her husband or pediatrician, they minimized her fears, explaining that the baby was just colicky.

This mom’s intuitions were persistent, however. She tried different solutions to the problem, but nothing seemed to help. Eventually, this mother was persistent enough with her pediatrician that the doctor checked the baby’s stool, which was found to have blood in it. The mother was advised to give up dairy, and the baby’s fussiness resolved.

Parenting offers us the opportunity to listen to our instincts more carefully. This is an important skill to model for our children – and a healing opportunity for us.

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