You Don’t Have to Choose a Parenting Method to be a Great Parent

I walked the floor with a baby on each shoulder gently bounce, bounce, bouncing them, my back burning, hoping to ease my twins to sleep. They must’ve been just a few weeks old, our fourth and fifth kids, recently out of the neonatal intensive care unit, all of us recovering from their premature birth as I tried to learn two new little ones. What worked. What didn’t. How to navigate a whole new life. Again.

One of the boys, Cael, my snuffler and snuggler and warm-skin lover, conked right out, comforted by the mama sounds and mama smells and chaos all around us.

The other twin, though? Oy. Cai didn’t settle. And so for him, I continued to pace. Was he colicky? Gassy? Burpy? Sick? Over-stimulated? Hungry? Bored? I didn’t know.

He cried and cried, and I walked and walked, and I didn’t know.

My mom-in-law was over, and she offered to help. “Can I take him for a bit?” Judy asked. “Give you a break?”

Sometimes I dream of being a grandmother. All the wonderful parts of childrearing with as many breaks as I need, full nights of sleep, less constant anxiety and barely any vomit at all. Other times, I think it must be a special kind of hell, this Grand Parenting, where I’ll have to ask permission to take the baby who owns a piece of my soul.

Judy asked for Cai. To give me a break. And I didn’t want to let her have him because I wanted to do it myself. All my byselfTo be the comforter. The soother. But my back was on fire, and I recognized Grandma’s need was the same as my own. So I let her have him, although my heart was grudging.

I assumed she would walk him. Back and forth and back and forth and back and forth as I had done. Or, perhaps, she’d think she could sit with him in the rocking chair and she’d learn — quickly — that he cried harder when sitting. Instead, she laid him on his back on the couch and sat down next to him.

I thought, “You have got to be kidding me. I’ve been walking this child for hours. For days. And you’re going to take him and just lay him downThat’s not gonna work. That’s ridiculous. That’s

He was asleep.

Out. Arms askew. Blissful on the couch next to his grandmother. He twitched and then settled as if to say thank God you all finally quit touching me. 

That wasn’t the first time my kids were going to send my parenting method packing, laughing in the face of my One Right Way.

As for the twins, it turns out I’m parenting opposites:

Safety and DANGER.


Night Owl and MORNING GUY.

Vegetables and SUGAR.

“Hold Me” and “LEAVE ME ALONE!”

Are your twins identical, Beth? Um, NO. Not to mention my other three children, all of whom think they’re entitled to their own individual preferences and needs.


When my oldest was a baby, we subscribed to the cry-it-out method of bedtime because it was the Right Way to Raise a Child. The Only Way, really. The Godly Way, for sure. I didn’t know there were other options, and, when I got wind of them, I was pretty sure they were Wrong because I had read a book.

I hated sleep training. It went against every grain in my gut if guts have grains. It went against my gut grain, is what I’m saying. My baby girl cried for me, and I sat outside her room and cried, too. And it didn’t occur to me for years — literal years — that both of us miserable indicated it was time to consider a change. I just thought… I don’t know… that miserable was part of it.

And then we had three children, and we made some adjustments. Night terrors and attachment issues and bloody noses and vomit and wet beds and sheer desperation will do that to you. We started sleeping on kids’ bedroom floors. Upright in chairs. With kids in our bed. And I use “sleeping” in the loosest possible sense of the word.

In the end, Greg and I settled on One Right Sleeping Strategy for our family, just not on the same one. Greg is an ongoing proponent of Make the Kids Sleep in Their Own Rooms THAT’S WHY THEY HAVE THEM, and also, THIS IS MY BED, GET OUT. And I wholeheartedly buy the But Someday I Want to Remember I Had Their Legs in My Bladder and Elbows in My Eyes and Hot Breath in My Hair and ONE DAY MY BABIES ARE GOING TO LEAVE ME method.

It works out well between us.

And, actually, it does. Because Greg and I agree easily on one thing: we’re never going to sleep again and the method we use to get to “Hey, look! More midnight laundry!” doesn’t much matter. Because, of course, the word “sleep” in “sleep method” is meant to be figurative, which the manuals decline to mention. No matter what method you choose to help your kids sleep? It’s unlikely to net YOU any at all.

Who knew, right? Well, not me when I was a new mama, that’s for sure. I thought sleep training or attachment parenting or whatever, if done right, if done the way it’s prescribed, was supposed to result in sleep for us all. Or well adjusted children. Or well adjusted parents.


I mean, eventually it does, right? Parenting takes time, after all. But, in general, WRONG.

Which brings me to the entire point of this post, and it’s this:

Dear New Mama,
Did you know?
You don’t have to choose.

Parenting. It’s just so… whew!… devastating and triumphant. And that learning curve is WOW! Learning your child and yourself and your partner and your method and your madness and your magic all at once? WOW. And doing it again with each subsequent child? Double WOW.

Then along come the people. ALL THE PEOPLE. Who tell you what to do. And that there’s just One Right Way. The gurus. The books. Facebook. The grocery-store advisers. And they all talk in snapshots, with stationary bits of information, instead of telling you the more complex truth: There are Lots of Right Ways. Loads and loads. And this parenting picture is never at a standstill. Never ever. It moves, friends. It’s a moving picture. A talkie. In color. And surround sound. And high definition. On the BIGGEST screen of all. Your life.

And so, New Mama,
Did you know?
You don’t have to choose.

Not a sleep method. Not a feeding method. Not a potty or a pee or a poop method. Not a once-and-for-all, ’til-death-do-us-part method. You don’t have to choose.

But, wait.


What is this, “you don’t have to choose?” 

That’s what I’m saying, friend. That’s what I mean. These parenting methods? The ones by the experts and from mama friends and the church and the schools and the doctors and the neighbors and the lady at the park who’s a specialist?

You don’t have to choose.

You don’t have to choose for once and for all. You don’t have to subscribe for forever. You don’t have to buy into this or to that. You don’t have to believe like in ice cream or world peace.

You can if you want to. You can choose, of course. But, new mama, you don’t have to choose.

You can try different things. It’s okay to try them. The sleep training and the all-night bladder-kicking. The cloth diapering and the ruin-the-earthing. The breast feeding and the bottle feeding. It’s okay to move in the picture.

If something’s not working, you can ditch it. Pitch it. Without ruining your baby or yourself or your mind. If something’s not working, you can do something else. You can, if you want. You can.

You can, and I know. I know ’cause I did. Or didn’t. Or don’t. Or, rather, it’s truer to say that I won’t. Not anymore. Now I just do what works. For right now. In this time. For this kid. In this space. For this night. For this meal. For this minute, what’s right.

Here’s the truth I’ve learned after five. And the twins at the end drove it home. All children are different. And all parents, too. With our needs and our wants and our whims. “Rock me!” “Hold me!” “Leave me alone!” So I try. And I move. And I breathe and I bend. And, in the end…

In the end, I’m happier and much better off when I’m me. Wild and free. And picking and choosing. And making mistakes. And making thing better. And making things best.

And my kids? Most important of all, my kids are better off, too. When I choose what works for us all, not a rule.


Oh, mamas and daddies, what do you think? What’s your story of methods and peace? And how do you choose when to bend?



ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
  1. I too at times wish to be a grandparent. Mostly in the middle of the night when the baby #5 won’t settle without being attached to my body via nipple.

    My best advice is if what you are doing doesn’t work, try something different, go with your instincts and put the wailing baby down and take a break sometimes. Those don’t necessarily all work together all of the time, but none are absolutes. And in parenting, there are very few absolutes, but the ones that are there, God put them there, and it was for a good reason.

  2. Great post. Every kid is different. We only have two but they make their differences known every day. One was sleeping well by 3 months, the other not until a year.

    My biggest pet peeve in the world is when people ascribe the differences between two kids as being due to the difference in their gender. I have two girls. They are very different. Just like your twins are different, even though they are both boys.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed this post.

    1. Yes. My daughter was the only girl in a passel of 7 grandkids until my sister finally had another girl last summer. Every time my daughter is bossy or gentle or good at reading or ahead in math or doesn’t enjoy rough-housing or runs screaming at the top of her lungs, my family attributes it to her being a girl. Worse, when my son is too rough with something or someone, I get the “that’s a boy for you!” comments. Rrrrr…

  3. So true! I read THAT book when my first one was about six weeks. Because she’s a naturally orderly little soul, and inherited her father’s blessed love for sleep, “sleep training” basically consisted of me giving her her binkie, singing a verse of a lullaby, and putting her in her crib/carseat/stroller/quilt on the floor, and moving on with my life. She was sleeping through the night at six weeks (don’t hate me!), and I was convinced it was because I was AWESOME and my Book was the Right Way.

    Then I had another kid. Y’all know this story. He isn’t the polar opposite of his sister. He’s just enough different to make everything I figured out for the first one Not Quite As Awesome. Also, sleep training an infant when you have a two-year-old in a Big Girl Bed (which she can get in and out of anytime she chooses, yay!) and live in a small, one-story, open plan house is impractical at best. We probably tried it all of once before deciding we were tired of being awesome and would rather be rested. Sort of.

    So we pitched the book and felt a little guilty about abandoning The Way. Because if you abandon The Way, your kid is not guaranteed to Turn Out Right, evidently. Now we’re only two years in, but he doesn’t seem any worse off than our other munchkin, despite the lack of Methods and Books and Ways.

    My new plan is to try to figure out some core values we want to build our family around and everything outside of that is negotiable. So we don’t feel guilty anymore (not about that, anyway) and we all get a little more sleep. Sometimes.

  4. “There’s no way to be the perfect mother, but there are a million ways to be a good one” I forget the source. Thanks for your words. They definitely hit home as I’m figuring out how very different my second is from my first. Feels like starting from scratch again.

  5. When my babies were babies I had the benefit of a really fabulous playgroup, with some amazing and powerful mamas – one of whom told me early on”there are a million right things that can be done for a child, but YOU can’t do all of them”. Best advice I ever got. Now that I have 6 kids, people ask me for advice all the time and what I tell them is this: I don’t know, I have six first children, don’t compare yourself to other parents, just love them fiercely and trust your gut, you know what to do. And when you screw it up, cause you will screw it up, then you learn from it and you’ll be a better parent tomorrow . Also, pray constantly…I always pray, asking God what I should be praying for, because with my tribe I am just never sure.

  6. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!

  7. One thing I have learned, from my seven babies, is that what works this week may or may not work next week! I vividly remember a little over a year ago, when our current baby was, maybe, two months old, one evening when we had a Bible study here. I worked with that baby all evening, trying to get him to settle, feeding him, jiggling him, patting his back…. Finally, at the end when our guests were leaving I put him on his tummy in his bassinet, covered him up, and let him cry. In five minutes he was sound asleep! That worked for the next three months, till he was big enough to climb out of the bassinet, and then we were back to square one. Now, at a little over a year, he has to nurse to sleep. I don’t mind, though–he’s only little once and it’s such a fleeting time.

  8. Thanks, Beth! Just what I needed to hear today.

  9. I had long thought that it would be so.much.easier if you DID have to choose and that in choosing, it would have to work. LOL riiiiiiight!!

    Really you are so right. You have to move with life as it moves, which IT KEEPS DOING. Which is sometimes annoying as all hell and sometimes it’s good. Either way, it is moving, so there we have it.

  10. Yes! Yes! Yes! This is a wonderful post and wonderful advice. I don’t know how anyone can pick a parenting method b/c parenting is just SO ever-changing and mind-blowingly hard. Just when I think I have some sleep thing figured out it..well…stops working for whatever reason (sickness, teething, its a Tuesday and I no longer sleep on Tuesdays, etc….)
    And the cry-it-out- thing has never worked for me because I am SOOO weak and a SLAVE To my babies and then the guilt about them not getting the sleep they need kicks in and WAAAH!!!
    What I’m saying is I needed this post, and lots of others need it to so thank you!

    And also your little bald babies were (are) adorable!

  11. Hey there,
    This is beautifully written and has the same rhythm to a lot of Dr Seuss’ books. It seems you and him share the same capacity for thoughtful philosophising 🙂
    You are absolutely right – there is no ‘one way for all children’. I am raising my 8th child and number 7 taught me ‘I aint all that! And, I don’t have all the answers.’ That was confronting!
    Love your posts and your happiness to share all the big stuff and all the little stuff.
    Take care.

  12. Of course I learned to lay that baby down and let him sleep from his own daddy at that age. That’s exactly how Greg wanted to go to sleep. But that’s not how his brother wanted to go to sleep, and I learned that, too. I think one of the wisest things we learn is to let our babies teach us what they need. And then WE make the choices that are best for all of us at any given time. Not necessarily the same choice every time. Well said, Beth.

  13. I can’t remember if I’ve told you this before, but I love you. I believe deep in my heart we will be real buddies someday. Anyway, my daughter is only 2, but I’ve been dying to write something like this to all my new mommy friends. I shudder when others on FB recommend THAT book, but you know, that’s part of what they have to choose from. I read it, tried to follow it, lost touch with my mommy instincts, threw the book out and started the “whatever works” method. There’s no way God intended us all to parent or be parented the same way. I mean, have you seen us? I love you, Beth, keep writing!

  14. I couldn’t agree more! We have had to use a different method for all of ours too

  15. Agreed!
    “Never parent last month’s child.” The best, and ONLY advice I’ve actually taken and actually listened too. I would add, “never be last month’s parent.”
    Turns out we’re changing, all of us, at the same time.
    That’s crazy.

    1. So true! At this age (mine is 21 months) last weeks child is a whole different person.

  16. I stumbled on this and I LOVE it! I have a 19, 17, and 15 year old. What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for the others.. and what worked for one yesterday may not work today! I remember trying to “sleep train” my oldest when she was still getting up to nurse every night at 2 a.m. (Because a book told me she shouldn’t be hungry and she needed to sleep through the night.) Two nights of constant crying until I fed her at 5:30 a.m. and I caved…she ate at 2 a.m. until a little over one year old. Because? She was hungry. Her digestive system was very sensitive. She couldn’t take in a ton of calories before bed time so…shocker…she needed to eat! Letting go of the guilt of not having the perfect sleeper liberated me early on to not listen to the know-it-alls and start listening to my kids! Every child is different, and that little episode set me free to get to know my kids. From curfews, to driving, to parties to prom, our expectations change and flex depending on what each child needs. Loving your kids and understanding their unique needs trumps anyone else’s “right” way. ANd P.S…having watched parenting styles up to the teen years…I have noticed that those that are always trying to control and find the “one right way” to raise their kids often ending up stressing out their kids more than themselves—creating rebellious and secretive teenagers.

  17. Oh we learned that the hard way too! We struggled so much getting our oldest to sleep. Our youngest now sleeps in our bed if she wants. The oldest we tried to sleep train, the youngest sleeps when she wants to and goes to bed when she is tired… no sleep schedule. And she is MUCH easier going! Our oldest prefers to fall asleep on the couch at night – we have fought it now and then and it is so not worth our trouble yet and the youngest gets rocked – yes rocked! I know the horrors of rocking a baby to sleep when they will wake up on their own and not have you there – to sleep and then I go to her when she needs it. And I love it way more! They aren’t twins, but they are total opposites too. From foods they eat, to temperments, to sleep styles, to labour! They will always keep us guessing! I have always said that parenting is a science experiment… You hypothesize a solution, test it out and either stick with it or modify the plan!

  18. Hey look, more midnight laundry! Yes, that is exactly what it is around here… all. the. time. And sometimes 3am with all the lights blazing while one kid is sound asleep through his brother puking all over everything.
    Ah the joys… 😉
    I have no idea what my style is, right now it’s just called Survival I think.

    1. Survival. I can buy into that.

      Here are a few survival books that would translate well for parenting:

      1. Survive!: Essential Skills and Tactics to Get You Out of Anywhere – Alive by Les Stroud

      2. How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It: Tactics, Techniques, and Technologies for Uncertain Times by James Wesley Rawles

      3. A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency by Matthew Stein

      Hehehe. PERFECT.

      1. Surviving the Long Emergency, yes, I think that one might need to go on my list stat! 🙂

  19. Some expert once said you should NEVER use sarcasm with children….I wouldn’t even know how to function like that.

    First, snark is what bonds my family together: I’d hate to have her feeling left out (Fortunately, Leigh’s a natural). Secondly, if I don’t model sarcasm, how’s she going to learn?

    She’ll probably be the first kid in her class to appreciate The Daily Show and New Yorker cartoons.

  20. Yes, well said, so true! God has kept me humble by giving me two very different twins as my first children, and I’ve never been able to boast that my parenting methods were the reason for such great outcomes with them. Partly because we’re still struggling with said outcomes, and partly because each of them responds so differently to the same input. So I’m constantly making things up as we go. Your post is perhaps a more positive way of stating this than saying I’m “making it up.” Thanks, love your blog!

  21. Yes. THIS. My kids are total opposites. One of my kids needs a little more “tough love.” The other is tough enough on herself, and needs me to let her know I’m there for her anyway. One kid yells at me in the night just to see if she can get me up. The other has nightmares and needs my comfort. And discipline is totally different. I’ve realized that equal, fair, and same have very different meanings, and that to see my children as equals and treat them fairly, I can’t pretend they are the same, or that they need the same things from me, or that I mean the same thing to them.

    1. “I’ve realized that equal, fair, and same have very different meanings, and that to see my children as equals and treat them fairly, I can’t pretend they are the same, or that they need the same things from me.”

      I love this, Emily. So true.

      1. Emily – I’m going to shout this from the mountaintops. You are a very wise woman. I am going to share your wisdom with everyone I know and hope that this sage advise goes viral.

  22. So true! We struggled so much with our first, trying to do it “right.” Eventually we settled on “whatever way means we get to sleep,” which for us turned out to be a complicated game of musical beds, with the rules constantly changing. Sometimes (ok, often) i look at other moms and am jealous of their commitment to a Method. But then i remember my mothering mentor, the leader of the La Leche group i attended, who ended every meeting with “You are the boss of your family. Only you know what fits your family and your baby. Take what was useful and leave the rest behind.” The wisest words to remind me that the only Method that will work for us is the one we make for ourselves.

    1. I, too, have often subscribed to Whatever Way Gets Me Some Sleep. It’s a good method. Maybe not the BEST sleep, but some is better than none, yes?

      I love your La Leche leader’s advice. “You are the boss of your family. Only you know what fits your family and your baby. Take what was useful and leave the rest behind.” Word.

    2. Seriously, that is the best advice ever. I think I may have to tattoo that on my body somewhere…

  23. You’re a very smart lady. I’m in the teen years now, and still learning that what works for you, or a book author, or my neighbour or co-worker, does not necessarily work for us.
    And I had to laugh at your story of screaming Cai, because I had that baby, too! Just put her down and she’d drift off in an instant. Weird, right? Especially after the first one liked to be walked and rocked and cuddled and nursed to sleep.

  24. I said pretty much the same thing this morning to a mum; even if you do nothing, things will eventually change. She won’t still be in your bed at 18. He won’t want to breastfeed at 20. Even babies who sleep all night at an early age will start night waking again at some point. And parents are important too, and it’s ok to take care of our needs too.

    I do cringe when I see things like CIO v cosleeping or breast v bottle presented as an equal choice, because they’re not. But it’s ok to find a way that works for you, and I try to support mamas rather than subscribe to the Only Right Way.

    1. Thank you, Judy. (Different Judy than in the story, btw.)

      I really struggled with whether or not to include more information about the TRUE DANGERS associated with some methods of parenting. And there are. Oh, there are. Usually with parents with little common sense, but STILL. Please do research, folks, before adopting any parenting method.

      That said, I will tell you that, even though we thought “cry-it-out” was a good method for the first one, we never (ever) thought it was appropriate to leave our daughter to cry while she was sick or hungry or, or, or. So we did use common sense, even while subscribing to sleep training. And, although sleep training is far from my natural inclination these days, all of the people I know who do it know there are obvious times NOT to sleep train.

      Also, I breast fed our twins for 5 months. It was so, terribly sad to me when we stopped. But it was also necessary. It’s that experience that makes me incredibly sympathetic to whichever way a mama chooses to feed her baby. I know that either decision is tough and requires tremendous sacrifice. I know no mama who took that decision lightly.

      I agree with you that not all choices are equal. And I applaud you for supporting mamas first and a method second.

  25. You’re a very smart lady. I’m in the teen years now, and still learning that what works for you, or a book author, or my neighbour or co-worker, does not necessarily work for us.

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