The Parenting Instict - Does It Exist?

By: Shen-Li Lee

"Instinct is the inborn behavior of a living organism that is not learned."
While I do believe that some parents are born with parental instincts and innately know just what to do when they become first time parents to a newborn, I believe that for most parents, parenting is largely a learned experience. If parental instincts truly were a gift bestowed upon all parents, then there would be no such thing as abandoned babies. For what kind of parental instincts would convince parents that their babies are better off in a rubbish dump, public toilet, or whatever other dreadful venues babies have been known to be abandoned in?
Just as you cannot know what it is like not to have something if you have been blessed with it all your life, parents who have the gift of parental instincts cannot know what it is like to be a parent who was born without it. However, that does not mean that parents without instincts cannot be good parents. As it is with everything else in life, one can always learn to be a good parent.
If you were born with parental instincts, you would know the moment your baby cried what it is that your baby needs - to be fed, to have a diaper changed, to be cuddled, etc. But for most parents, learning what their babies are crying for is a steep learning curve. In time, they do eventually learn what it is that their babies require of them, but the knowledge isn't derived from an instinct, it comes from experience. It might be the experience of remembering that a certain cry meant hunger, or that a certain look from their babies that meant a poop has been made. Whatever it is, these are all learned reactions, not instincts.
It is said that you can't learn how to be a parent from books and that parents need to trust their own instincts to do what is right. Indeed, you cannot depend solely on books, but you can get ideas. Ideas which stay with you even as you parent your child. The same ideas that infiltrate the actions and decisions that you eventually make even as your own past experiences with your child affects your future behaviours and choices. To say that what you have read has not helped you in any way would be false - even if you choose to act against what you have read.
When you follow an instinct, you are making a decision based on a feeling that has no other basis apart from the fact that it feels right. An instinct is not assisted by knowledge from past experiences, or knowledge gleaned from written or verbal sources. Parenting instincts are not about making mistakes and learning from them as you continue along your parenting journey. Most parents are not born with parenting instincts, but most of us do eventually learn how to parent our children effectively without it. We simply utilise what we have learned, whether it is through parenting books, past experiences, or shared knowledge from other parents.

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Shen-Li is a stay-at-home-mum dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in parenting. She has a formal educational background and former work experience in healthcare. If you enjoyed this article, visit her blog Babylicious and follow her as she learns how to raise a happy, confident and successful person.

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