Dear Tzippora,

It is really important to me to be a good parent, so I try to raise my kids "by the book." But the books are driving me crazy. One day I read that parents are too lenient, and that's why their children lack self-esteem and direction. The next day I read that today's parents criticize their children too much, and need to learn how to let things go and not be so controlling. I am really confused. How can I know which advice is right for me and my family?

Baffled by the Book

Dear Baffled by the Book,

You are not alone in your confusion and bewilderment. There are many schools of thought regarding how to raise ethical and well-behaved children. The fact that so many theories exist shows that no one method has been proven to work for all parents and all children. In the absence of one perfect model, you will need to choose the parenting method that best suits your family.

Find a quiet place, and ask yourself honestly: "What is my greatest strength as a parent?" Perhaps you are consistently warm and emotionally demonstrative. If so, your kids will never doubt that you love them. Perhaps you are fun and creative, and use these skills to make chores and family routines fun. In that case, you may be able to use this strength to avoid power struggles with your children.

Once you have identified your parenting strength, recognize that this is an asset you already possess, and not where the brunt of your work lies.

Now take a deep breath, and ask yourself: "What is my biggest challenge as a parent?" Is establishing structure and routine hard for you? Is taking on the role of disciplinarian, and enforcing consistent limits difficult for you? Sit quietly and review your day. It takes courage to identify your weak spot, but this insight will help you to truly understand where you need to focus your efforts.

Once you discover which specific area you need help with, choose a book that focuses on that area of parenting, and can provide you with practical tools and ideas for how to improve.

Give yourself time to peruse several books and choose one that most appeals to you and your unique situation. Now make your selection, and put away the other parenting books. Don't read them. Don't look at them. Don't think about them. They are not relevant, and they are not worth your time.

For the next six months, stick to this one area, and try to improve. If you get discouraged, remind yourself about the unique and beautiful parenting strengths you already possess, and how much you already have to offer your children as a result.

It is not necessary to keep up with the latest and newest parenting books. Parenting is not a trend, or a fashion. Each family is unique, with its own special destiny. By setting a course based on your unique strengths and struggles, you have already established the path to success.