Parenting your way. It sounds simple. We all pride ourselves on being independent, discerning people in every other facet of our lives – how hard can it be to just trust yourself when you have a baby for the first – or even second – time? Well, based on my experience and the experience of a lot of the mums I’ve met, it’s actually much harder than it sounds.
I still shudder at the memory of calling my husband in tears, wailing that I was “doing it all wrrrrrrong” after reading a ‘how to’ book by a leading UK baby ‘expert.’ I only wanted some tips on how to get our baby girl to sleep better in the day, not to be read the riot act! My husband’s sage advice was: “Burn the book. You know best.”
Although I didn’t listen to a word he said (of course), I look back now and realise he was right. I think we all accept that every baby – just like every human – is different. Yes, these may just be nuances given the eat-play-sleep cycle is pretty much the same, but those nuances are important. Every baby has a different way of entering the world, a different personality, a different temperament, a different culture, a different place in the family etc. And that’s before you’ve added your own background and baggage into the equation. So, if we know that, why do we seem to put so much faith in what other people say? And why is it so hard for us to trust ourselves?
I read somewhere that trusting our instincts is a skill we’ve lost. Our fight or flight response today seems confined to the odd conflict situation or a public speaking engagement. Neither is hardly of the life threatening variety. But perhaps there is more fear around not parenting the ‘right’ way (whatever that is) than we care to admit.
It’s natural to go into parenthood with trepidation. It is the biggest life changing – possibly defining – event in your life and it deserves the nervous anticipation we give it. There is no get-out clause; a child is for life, not just for Christmas, after all. So is it fear of the fallout from trusting our gut instincts that allows us to cloud our better judgement? Is that why we dive knee-deep into finding ‘answers’ outside of ourselves?
The information sources we have available to us nowadays are mind-boggling. Want a quick answer to a question? Google it. Or find a thread on a discussion forum. Or join a Facebook group. Or stick your nose in a book. It is so easy to over-research and over-think almost every aspect of parenting that it can take a mere 10 minutes to send yourself into a tailspin of confusion. And perhaps where we find it possible to weed out the chaff from the golden nuggets of information in other areas of our lives, we do not find it so easy with parenting. Our perspective is too subjective and loaded with responsibility.
So how do we wade through it all?
Well, I think we need to get back to trusting in our own choices and decisions. Finding the philosophy or approach that suits us and being confident enough to stick to it. That doesn’t mean being closed-minded to other approaches – in fact, I think we need to accept other people’s choices no matter how different they are from our own. It just means understanding that there is no manual, no right or wrong (aside from obvious moral and social mores) and no one true expert.
The sense of responsibility we feel for another human being is so ginormous that we continually strive for some sort of perfection. An impossible sort. Parenting is not a science. It is lived through and learnt from like all the best experiences. So we would probably be better to treat it like any new experience and trust that if we do our best it’ll be good enough. Not perfect, but ok.
So when it comes to my children, I do know best. And, for once, my husband was right.