This morning I tuned in to a radio debate and for the first time was compelled to call in and join in. Sadly I didn’t have enough time before the school run to partake, so I’m going to share my views here.
The debate concerned parenting books; the suggestion being that parenting books are responsible for stifling the natural instinct and intuition of parents. Callers of all ages made their points, with some arguing that allowing babies to “cry it out” is the only way to get a baby to sleep through the night. Others argued that Gina Ford’s ‘Contented Little Baby’ routine was both the work of the devil and equally the only possible option for raising a happy child. Several parents from older generations pointed out that none of these books and regimes were available “in their day” and their children turned out alright (even though, when pressed, at least one admitted that her children didn’t sleep through the night until the age of five).
Few topics polarise people as much as parenting. There are so many factors and variables along the rocky road that is parenthood and it’s such an important job. Nothing magnifies irrational thought as much as sleep deprivation and this is where parenting books come in. They can feel like a life-line when your instinct and intuition seem to be failing you.
The one thing all callers had in common was their passion. They all felt so strongly that they were right.
Had I been put on-air this morning, my point would have been this:
“Why does your way have to be the only way?”
Nobody on this particular radio show was able to appreciate that what works for them may not for someone else; all children are different and what works for your first child may not have the same effect on your subsequent offspring. Others may do things differently from you, and that’s fine. It doesn’t mean that they’re wrong or that you are, either.
The main topic of this phone-in was intuition, which I think is a really interesting point. The suggestion was that anyone following a routine from a parenting book was ignoring their own common-sense and instinct. The reason I felt compelled to join this debate was that this view is so incredibly black and white.
What if your intuition is telling you that you need help? Why ignore the wealth of information in books and online? What if you are seriously questioning whether you were over-looked on the day that maternal instinct and common sense were handed out? What’s so wrong with using a crutch?
I admit that I’m somewhat of a parenting-book-junkie. Especially when Madam was born, in the early days and during the onset of what turned out to be severe post-natal depression, I was desperate for help. I bought book after book, determined to shoe-horn my little baby in to a routine that would get her through the night. Looking back, what I really needed was to feel in control. Anyone who’s ever had a newborn will know that control, hormones and little babies don’t usually go hand-in-hand.
The start of my darkest days coincided with trying to fit Madam in to Gina Ford’s routine. I just couldn’t seem to get her to “obey’ the timings that Ms. Ford insisted upon. I felt like an utter failure. Several of my peers had successfully implemented Gina, yet I simply couldn’t make her routine work. I think my baby was four weeks old. Had I been thinking rationally at the time, I’d have realised that either this routine wasn’t for us, or that we’d have to try later when the baby was a bit older. Perhaps I’d have taken some tips or ideas and found my own way. But I wasn’t thinking rationally. I was desperate. I bought several other books, determined to fit my tiny little baby in to some sort of schedule: to make me feel back in control of the situation and in hindsight, my life.
My fixation on routine was in all likelihood something for me to focus on. Of course I now realise that putting so much emphasis on getting little Madam in to a routine was causing me to miss out on so many joyful moments. I even felt resentful of her at times. Of course, much of this is closely tied in to PND. Also, thinking back, the control issue was also probably magnified by my inability to breastfeed her (more on this topic soon). I looked to parenting books to help me regain control as I felt completely unprepared for the spiral that my life had seemingly become.
With this in mind you’d think I’d be firmly in the anti-parenting book camp. But this is not the case. Not at all. My situation was extreme and I am in no way suggesting that any book was responsible for my depression. I did find a routine that worked for us (from Tracey Hogg’s ‘The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems’), and Madam did sleep through the night from eight weeks. I say this not to brag, but to show that with perseverance I found something that worked. For me, the stress of implementing a routine was negated by the rewards. Getting the baby to sleep through the night as soon as she was ready helped me to feel more in control and made me more capable of seeking help for myself. I genuinely don’t believe that she’d have slept as early as she did without the routine.
I’m occasionally asked my views on Gina Ford and her routines. I would never dream of saying “Oh my God, Gina and I don’t get on at all, she nearly sent me insane. Steer well clear if you’d like to avoid taking up residence in a padded cell!”. I realise and accept that all children and all families are different. The reason there are so many books, ideas and baby products on the market is that there is something to suit everyone. I can only offer my own experiences and share what did and didn’t work for us. I try very hard to stick to point number five in my Mummy Kindness Manifesto:
I will only offer advice when it’s asked for. I will do so with love and without judgement.
When it comes to receiving parenting advice, experience has taught me to filter advice and to keep an open mind. It is perfectly acceptable to glean useful nuggets of information from an assortment of media and to disregard what doesn’t speak to or work for you.
There is no reason why reading parenting books should stifle our parental instincts or intuitions. If we have peace with and faith in our own choices as parents, there’s no reason why we should feel threatened by someone else’s different approach. I think this goes for all aspects of life, really, not only parenting. We all simply want to do our best for our families. Hopefully we can all continue to listen to our own instincts and at the same time respect and accept that others are doing the same, differently, and that’s fine too.
I used Gina Ford’s book and also read through the Baby Whisperer (actually discovered that the routine is the same in both – feed, sleep, playtime, repeat ad nauseum!), it’s just that Gina’s routines are a lot more strict. It really helped with my PND, but that’s because my baby happened to be a very settled baby anyway, so even if I didn’t ‘try’ with the routine he would pretty much follow it by himself anyway!
With my first I tried everything, she was a colicky baby and basically used to cry 24/7 and didn’t really sleep at night and I was exhausted, I just wanted something to work. But after a while I just went with what she wanted and she was sleeping through by 5 months and in a good day time routine of her own making. My 2nd however was a really good baby, very chilled out but always hungry and would only sleep on me. This time I just went with what he wanted. I suffered with PND with him and to be honest didnt have the energy to impose a routine early on but he is now 13 months and generally sleeps through 7-6 but he still has no real routine during the day but to be honest this doesn’t both me too much.I am just happy to go with what he wants.
I completely agree with your comments that all babies are different, while my first thrives on routine my 2nd is just happy to fit in with family life and my more relaxed attitude 🙂
I have to admit to being in the anti-Gina camp, because I recognise that it would have been totally wrong for my style of parenting. Do I want someone telling me the exact time my child should sleep for, when they should be fed, how long I should be playing with them? Do I heck! However, I know people who have followed books like this because it gave them the sort of framework they needed, and without it they would have been rather lost. I very much doubt my first or last children could have been ‘Gina Forded’ due to their personality types, although it might have worked with my middle one, but this just illustrates the point you make – what works for one will be wrong for another.
However, my real quibble with any strict regime or schedule is that they don’t allow for breastfeeding. They might say that they do, but when you are establishing your milk supply, or when your child is having a growth spurt or when they are ill and need extra (whether it be extra cuddles or just extra nursing for comfort) you can’t keep to a strict schedule. You just can’t, and anyone who says you can is sadly deluded.
Using a parenting book as a guide is all well and good, but I have spoken to parents who appear to have left their intuition at the bookshop and plan their every move according to whichever book they are reading. It is a trap that is easy to fall into for a sleep deprived first time (or even second or third time) parent, and one which not everyone is self aware to notice. Parenting books should probably come with a parental warning.