My sister and cousin have both had babies recently, so there’s a lot of baby talk going on. Feeding, sleeping, hormones, boobs, vaginas, it’s all out there. It’s been almost three years since I was living the newborn rollercoaster, and now seeing it close up from a new perspective, I’m realising all over again just how much pressure there is on new parents.
I mean obviously there’s pressure, your life is flipped overnight and you’re given full responsibility for a human. But the external pressure. The clinicians, the groups, the online posts, the relatives. They all have things to tell you, things that you or your baby ‘should’ be doing, and quite frankly it’s all a bit bullshit.
I think we need to change the language we use when talking about how we look after babies, and children generally, and ease off parents a bit. That word ‘should’ is just the worst!
If you’ve ever seen Room 101 (it’s still on!), my subject of choice would be ‘other people’s rules about raising kids’. Frank Skinner would be all over this one.
First in my bin would be that old favourite, ‘you’re making a rod for your own back’. As the proud owner of a non sleeping child, I’ve heard this one a good few times, and every time it made me feel like crap, and like I was making a mistake. I was doing what I could to ensure my daughter went to sleep happy with cuddles, not screaming because she’d been left alone in her dark, scary room, but apparently I was doing it wrong. If no one is being harmed, who are we to tell anyone else their parenting choice isn’t the ‘right’ one?
We should be supporting each other, whether we agree or not. If what your friend is doing is safe, tell her she’s doing a grand job. She needs to hear that. If you’re dead against dummies but she’s using one straight away, who really cares? It’s making life easier for her, that’s what you should focus on. Parenting is hard enough, and we are all wonderfully efficient self critics, we don’t need more of that to contend with.
Here’s another I heard a few weeks ago – ‘See? You were worrying over nothing’. Now this isn’t harmful, but it’s also really not helpful. When you’re up in the middle of the night, desperately trying to find the answer to why they won’t stop screaming, you’re sleep deprived and in need of a shower and a decent meal, then it really does feel like ‘something’.
Telling parents they look tired is another (not so) great one. I was told this so often I had to ask people to stop saying it after I had Millie. Being tired comes with the territory after producing a human, it’s an obvious one! Plus, when you’re congratulating yourself for actually making it out of the house with brushed hair and stain free clothing for once, being told you look knackered is just the kick you need!
Finally for this blog – there are loads of these phrases but we’ve not got all day – is the classic ‘shouldn’t they be doing xxxx by now?!’. It happens around every milestone age, because we’re all taught to believe kids should develop at similar rates, and they just don’t. Millie’s still in nappies, and will try the toilet if she fancies it but mostly she just doesn’t, and I’m good with that. She’ll know when she’s ready.
Now I’m not saying stop giving advice – parents definitely need advice as we all do! But they don’t need judgement; there’s enough of that shit going around already. They need acceptance. If you’ve resorted to ready meals all week because life is busy – your kids are being fed, you’re doing it right. If you are co sleeping and it’s a bit cramped but you are all getting sleep – you’re doing it right. If everyone’s telling you breast is best but you’re just more comfortable using formula – you’re doing it right. We all have different ways of managing, so we can’t all be judged by the same standards. Are your children loved, healthy and happy? You’re definitely doing it right.
We need to stop accepting things as just so, and question more. Sometimes the advice you’re given works. Great! But that won’t always be the case, even from professionals, and you don’t need to just take things you’re told as the only way. I was once told by a health visitor that the crying it out method was the only way to get my daughter to sleep through. I tried it, we were all pretty miserable for a couple of weeks, and even though I persevered and followed my instructions, it didn’t work.
She now sleeps in my room, which is unconventional when she’s nearly three, but it’s good for us. Her bed is next to mine, and she’s down for a full 12 hours or more, every night. We found our own way in the end.
The truth is that there is no right way, in parenting or in life. There’s what worked for the guy sat next to you at work, which is different to what worked for the girl at baby group, and will be different again for you. Who came up with these ‘rules’ that we all need to fall in line with? They may be well meaning, but they’re definitely not right. You know your little one best, and you know yourself, too.
You’re doing an amazing job, you know. Let’s try telling each other that a bit more before assuming we know best, and offering cups of tea and hugs. You’ll definitely be thanked for those 😍