Parents are under intense pressure to get their parenting just right for their child or risk “messing up their child for life.” Then parents doubt they know enough to truly be an expert. It’s a situation that affects everyone, even the super rich like Paris Hilton.
In a recent article for Psychology Today, I wrote about Paris’ experience with her first child, as documented on her reality TV show. In one episode, she revealed that she had not yet changed her son’s diaper when he was over a month old. We might initially think to ourselves, “must be nice to have a nanny.” But we’d be missing Paris’ self-doubt as a mother. An important dynamic shows up when her nanny instructs her on changing the diaper. It’s clear that the nanny is the expert and Paris is unsure of herself.
Paris Hilton’s therapy session
Later, Paris talks with her therapist about how her nanny loves to be hot and dresses the baby heavily. Paris worries that her baby is too hot, but lets the nanny override her when she brings it up. As a pediatrician, this one gets my attention, because over-bundling is a real issue in newborns. They are unable to regulate their body heat and can easily get too hot (or too cold).
And in words every mother needs to hear, Paris’s therapist responds, “OK, so this is where you should trust yourself in terms of what you think is good for the baby. You are the mother; she’s not.”
Paris’ response is like so many mothers who have been convinced they are not enough. She says, “I know, but she’s done this millions of times.” In other words, she knows better than I do.
“You’ve given up authority to the baby nanny. I’m sorry, but that’s wrong,” the therapist confronts her. Paris is legitimately confused. “It is?” she asks.
Her therapist explains, “Because you’re the expert, not her. It doesn’t matter how many babies she’s raised; that’s your baby. You’re the expert on your child.“
Paris quickly protests with her fears that she isn’t responsible enough, not capable enough to care for her baby. These are fears every mother shares at some point. Her therapist encourages her, and so do commenters on TikTok where the clip was shared. As @LibraGold21 wrote, “I think all mommies need to hear that you’re the expert on your baby.”
It’s encouraging to be the expert on your child.
Paris’ therapist was trying to build her up. In this case it’s encouraging to hear that she was the expert on her child. And indeed, it is something parents need to hear: that they can trust themselves to know their child and make good decisions for them.
We all need that kind of encouragement, but to be honest, sometimes it falls flat. So many of us have such high standards for what we think an expert is, that being told we are on can make us feel like a fraud. Or it just becomes one more source of pressure to be perfect as parents.
Experts observe and practice.
Fortunately, if we understand the word expert in a different way, we soon realize that we can become confident experts on our child more quickly than we think.
For example, let’s consider how medical doctors become experts on a particular disease. What they do that makes them experts is spend far more time with a subject or a type of patient than other doctors do, learning everything they can from every reliable source and sometimes running research experiments.
Then, when they have a problem to solve or a diagnosis to make with a patient, rather than expecting themselves to just know what to do, they rely on a combination of observation, outside information, and their own prior experience, and knowledge. Next, they try something that makes sense based on that process and follow up with their patient to see if and how it works. Over time, they add knowledge by learning what works and what doesn’t.
Why Parents are experts on their children.
Spending time with our kids, observing them closely, and trying things out until we know what works is exactly what life as a parent means.
But new parents start out in the middle of a confusing world of noisy parenting advice and criticism that tells them to focus on getting it right rather than on the path of curiosity that experts take. That’s why I developed the Sigh, See, Start method, which helps parents tune out the noise and tune on their kids. By practicing this simple technique, parents find the behaviors of experts have become second nature, and their confidence reaches a new level.
Pre-Order Sigh, See, Start: How to be the parent your child needs in a world that won’t stop pushing. Or read the first chapter free. Sections of the above article were adapted from “Paris Hilton Learns Mothers Are the Experts on Their Child.” first published on Psychology Today, and from transcripts of her reality TV show via Buzzfeed News.