Monday, 24 February 2014

A Modern Parenting Problem...

For those of my readers who aren’t parents I’m sorry for this parent-focussed rant – I’m sure everyone with or without children can relate however, and I’d truly love to hear any feedback and your points of view.

I am a new mummy to Bert who is now 6 months old – the last 6 months have been absolutely amazing – the best months of my life – but also incredibly hard – as anyone whose ever been responsible most of the time for a baby will tell you: parenting is hard work.

I’m incredibly lucky that I have a strong network of support around me – my wonderful husband, parents, in laws and lots of fellow mummy friends who all live reasonably locally. I know I can call on them for help and advice, and I regularly do. Without that network of support I would have found being a new mum completely over-whelming, and would no doubt be cowering in a dark room right now. They have all individually given me really useful advice, taken Bert off my hands for an hour so I can get things done, or go out for some ‘me’ time, and have offered a listening ear when I’ve been over-whelmed or concerned about a parenting-related issue. They haven’t judged me for asking for help, they haven’t laughed at my questions, or pointed any accusing fingers – they have just quietly supported and encouraged me. And six months into this parenting malarkey I feel happy, confident and content in my role as Mum, largely because of them.

What has shocked me in this new journey I’m on is the flip side of all the support I’ve been given: unfortunately I have also played witness to some incredibly harsh and unsupportive behaviour.

The first strand in this bow is what I like to call Comparative Parenting – those parents who just LOVE to compare their friend’s child to their own. “Oh your baby isn’t sitting up yet? Mine did that MONTHS ago!” Those sorts of comparisons are largely unhelpful and only fuel a parent’s angst and paranoia – is my baby abnormal? Am I doing something wrong? I am lucky that my career history is in childcare and teaching – I am confident enough to know when I should or shouldn’t worry about my son’s development – but there are lots of parents out there without that experience who will largely base their knowledge on what their friends and acquaintances tell them. In my opinion pointing that “my baby is better than your baby” finger is just damaging and petty – trust me when I say that EVERY SINGLE baby is different and will develop at its own rate. Some will walk really early, some won’t say a word until they’re 2, others will sleep through from day one, and some might not sleep through until their first birthday or beyond. Children are so vastly different that there is really little point in comparing them – if you ask any parent with more than one child they’ll tell you how remarkably different each baby has been compared to the other.

The Comparative Parenting doesn’t just stop at a baby’s development though – oh no – it spans into equipment and toys too! I have a friend who has recently experienced this first hand while shopping in a well-known department store. Happily pushing her newborn son out of a lift in his pushchair she was faced with another mother and pram waiting to enter the lift – the mother looks her pushchair up and down and says “oh, you have that buggy: that was our budget option” cue wide open mouth from my friend in shock, as the woman wheels her buggy away into the lift. Strike me down – I was so appalled at this rude woman’s audacity – who was she to comment on what pushchair my friend did or did not choose to buy for her baby? Let alone to make a sniping comment about the cost! Why must it be a competition? Are some mother’s so insecure that they think good parenting is all about how much money you spend on a pushchair?

My gripe with some fellow parents doesn’t end there unfortunately. My next complaint stems from my online experience through my blog and social media profiles; and the reactions I have encountered from some parents. Unlike the real everyday world where people interact face to face and (hopefully!) think before they speak, I have found that the internet/blogging world can be entirely different. Let me say now that this rant is not about the majority of people I have encountered through the blogging/internet world, but a small minority who are ruining it for the rest of us. People are braver on the internet, without that face-to-face interaction I have found some parents to be rude, harsh, and incredibly judgmental about my parenting choices.

I recently wrote a post on my blog in association with Pampers about using reliable nappies so that your baby has a comfortable night’s sleep without needing a nappy change. The post aimed to give parents some gentle advice on how to encourage your baby to sleep well and settle at night. I conveyed some general advice from a baby sleep expert called Jo Tantum, who has worked in the field for many years and has lots of great common-sensical tips for new parents. The advice wasn’t radical; it was your run-of-the-mill kind of stuff – make sure they’re well fed, bathed, and not over-stimulated before you try to put them to bed, ensure the room is dark, the right temperature and Jo explained how you shouldn’t jump up to your child as soon as they wake, that you should “give them a moment” to settle themselves back to sleep. Upon posting this article on the blog I was met with a barrage of unhelpful and highly judgmental comments from other mums.

These parents told me that I should be worried about my child as he sleeps so well, that there is clearly something ‘wrong’ with him, they have suggested I should be co-sleeping, they have accused me of practicing controlled crying (which, I haven’t – not that there would be a problem even if I had) – all of these judgments are based purely on this one article, most of which was written by Jo Tantum, not myself. What was most apparent to me after witnessing this response is how quick these parents are to attack instead of support their fellow parents.

Whatever happened to female solidarity? Whatever happened to compassion, open mindedness, and accepting that your own opinion and views aren’t the only opinions and views out there? If there is one message I am desperate to scream from the rooftops it is that parenting is hard, tiring, challenging and amazing all at the same time: and if we can give each other a break, as fellow parents, we should. Any way you deem best to bring up your children be it co-sleeping, puree weaning, baby led weaning, attachment parenting, or ‘this is just the way I do it’ parenting – who am I to say if it is wrong or right? All I can say is ‘this is what works for me/my family’. I don’t want to judge anyone else because everybody’s children, lifestyles, needs and priorities are different. What works for me might not work for you and vice versa.

I am a strong woman and I am confident in my own abilities as a parent, and as a functioning adult in the world. I am hugely proud of my baby son, and also proud of my mummy friends who are each doing their absolute best to bring up their children to be decent, polite and intelligent members of society. What worries me about parents ‘out there’ on the internet judging and accusing, is what happens if their hate is aimed at someone not quite as confident as me? Someone who is doubting their own abilities, who is feeling low and vulnerable, someone who is highly impressionable and might be hugely affected by these nasty comments telling them that they’re doing a bad job? Parenting forums are full of such comments, attacking parents for their choices, and telling them the ‘right’ way to do it. It shouldn’t be a case of ‘my way or the highway’…aren’t we courageous enough to say ‘wow, it’s cool that you’re doing that and it is working for you’ or ‘congratulations on having a baby that sleeps through the night’ – do we really have to be bitter and accusatory? Is it jealousy? Are these parents happy and confident in their parenting abilities? If you ask me, anyone spouting that much bitterness and anger can’t possibly feel balanced and in control of their situations.

If you co-sleep, practice controlled crying, advocate baby led weaning, or attachment parenting – whatever works for you, I’m truly happy for you, and glad you’ve found a system that works. If you use no specific system or guideline (like me) and that works then that’s equally cool. If you breast feed then I’m really happy for you that you’ve managed it, and if you don’t breast feed then I won’t judge you for that. I didn’t breast feed Bert – he was severely tongue-tied as a newborn and we just couldn’t get the hang of it. My son was hungry and I was exhausted from three days of no sleep and a horrendous labour; so we embraced formula feeding and put the breast debacle behind us. We moved on confidently knowing that we made the right choice for our situation. I have been judged since that decision, and will confidently say “I did the best thing I could manage for my son” I did also what was best for me, for my own mental wellbeing and ultimately my happiness.

Why is my happiness important you may ask? Well, it is my firm belief that happy parents equal a happy baby. If a child is bought into a happy home, full of love, with parents who are relaxed, confident in their abilities and surrounded by supportive and non-judgmental family and friends, then I’m pretty sure the baby will feed off of that environment and so to be a relaxed and happy individual. If for the sake of your own happiness it means that you decide to switch to formula feeding instead of breast because breast-feeding is making you miserable then do it. If making up powdered formula is stressing you out, use the ready made, and be happy that you’ve found a way to eradicate that stress. If the thought of giving your child finger food from six months (baby led weaning) frightens you, then use purees – and don’t apologise for that choice – be confident that you’ve made the choice that is best for your day-to-day happiness as a family.

Friends of mine have also been on the receiving end of judgments based on their career choices in relation to parenting. For me it is simple. If you choose to and can afford to be a stay-at-home mum then that is so cool, I support your choice and am sure your kids will enjoy having you at home. If you decide to go back to work because you love your career, good for you, I’m happy that you have a job you love, and I know that you won’t have made that decision lightly. It’s a big deal to leave your kids and go back to work. If you have had to return to work for financial reasons, then I sympathise, and I can only imagine how hard it is to go to work every day when you’d rather be at home with your kids. Don’t worry, your kids will be fine, and you’re doing a grand job! If you are a part time stay-at-home-mum and part time worker I have ultimate respect for you, it must be hectic, but good for you for being able to get a balance. Can you see my point? Every choice is the right choice for each individual.

I don’t think it’s hard to support each other, to show understanding, compassion, and to listen to alternative points of view. I may not ultimately agree with your methods of parenting, but I’m not you, I’m me, and our situations might be completely different. Then again, they might not be, but either way - good on you for being a parent and giving it your best shot!

When talking all of this over with my husband who is also a blogger (http://www.childmanchild.blogspot.co.uk) he explained how his experience as a new Dad in the blogging/internet realm has been vastly different to mine. The dads he has spoken to and been in contact with via his blog, Facebook, Twitter and parenting forums have been ultimately supportive, good humoured, and relaxed in their responses. They have shared their experiences, laughed at their failures, and offered useful advice to each other without the rude and judgmental undertones. So is this hostility just a mum-thing? Have the dads got it right, and is it female competition that’s causing this negativity I’ve encountered? I wish I had the answers. All I do know is we could do with taking a leaf out of the dads’ book – if we can support and encourage each other without constant comparison, if we can listen without judgment, share ideas, and explore a variety of methods when it comes to parenting then surely we would all be better off?

Did our grandmothers suffer this same pressure to conform, to join a ‘trend’ in parenting and see no other methods of bringing up a child as acceptable? Did they feel pressured to go to baby yoga, baby massage, swimming for babies, signing for babies, do the housework, cook the tea, hold down a job and be a good wife simultaneously? I don’t think they did.

They confidently bought up their children, cooked, made their clothes and ‘kept house’ without the added pressure of all of those other things. Yes, the world just isn’t like that any more, I hear you. But I don’t think it is unreasonable to say that women of today have a pretty raw deal – we can’t have our cake and eat it, I know, and maybe we are eating humble pie after fighting for our freedom and choice for so many years. But cutting each other a little slack while we carve our way through the difficult task of being all things to everyone wouldn’t do any harm, surely?

In the words of the recent SMA Baby milk advert – to all mothers, whatever your choices: “You’re doing great!”

Mrs Bishop

xxx


13 comments:

  1. Hello Lucy
    So as you know I've not done the logical parenting route. (Foster parent to a 12 year old at 25, by July I'll be a 28 year old with a 15 year old foster son and a newborn baby -- eek!)
    Before I start, I haven't really met Bert in person because when do see each other he's at home heading for bed or has been asleep in his buggy but from the photos and the videos he seems like a very happy chap
    As a "parent" to a teen having skipped the whole baby, child and pre-teen stages, I can totally agree that it's hard work - but it's so rewarding too. The number of times Our Sidekick has seen that I've had a bad day he'll give me a hug as soon as I walk through the door or he'll curl up next to me on the sofa and watch TV together. He's not an angel and like every teenage boy his hormones go a bit nuts sometimes!
    As people have found out that I'm pregnant, I've had so many people give advice - sometimes genuinely wanted and other times it's definitely been unwarranted. I've come to you and said "Lucy what do you think of ........???" And you've been lovely enough to take the time to share your wisdom with me (please don't think I am dissing that for any moment) but I know that your advice is exactly that. It's advice - if I apply it to our situation then that's my choice but some people who are giving me advice almost give it in a "I did it this way so you must too" (does that make sense?!?)

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  2. Unfortunately the Comparative Parenting doesn't finish at baby or child stage. I turn 28 in April and up until recently I keep getting the "So when are you going to do something that relates to your degree?" The person it comes from regularly notifies us all of how their "child" is doing job wise and family wise and things like that. But I'm first to become a parent - both through foster care and biologically. I know it shouldn't be a one-up on each other but it just shows that career isn't everything. If I go back in 5-10 years and train to be a teacher or do something else with my degree then that's my choice when the time comes. (Now I'm getting ranty oh dear!!)
    My mum tells the story of how I formed a few words and used the minimum to communicate then when my brother arrived about 27 months later I wouldn't shut up! For ages I'd be like "Richard is hungry" "Richard is thirsty" and so on lol.
    Our buggy is second hand from a charity shop. Minus about three outfits all the baby clothes I have so far are hand me downs from friends. The changing bag I adopted is second hand from another friend. My parents bought a rocker thing from a charity shop and Mum recovered it or made a cover for it.
    My mum is on a knitting spree and so Baby Johnson is going to be decked out in fab woolen jumpers made by Granny. They are also going to have a homemade blanket when I get my butt in gear lol.
    I did look at the buggies in Mamas and Papas mainly to see what was out there - there was one for like £700 - why would you spend that much on a buggy?? Am I holding on to the purse strings too tightly? Then again for £700 I could probably get a car seat and stroller and have spares for other baby bits.
    Now please don't take that the wrong way - if some mysterious benefactor rocked up on my doorstep tomorrow with a lovely travel system that does what I want it to and is nice and easy to get in and out of the car and ticks the boxes then I wouldn't turn it away but if I had that money in my wallet to spare I'd more than likely be trying to make it go further.
    I agree about people being braver when they are hiding behind their phone or computer screen.
    A friend of mine didn't want to try baby led weaning because she feared that her child would choke and she'd not realise or see until it was too late. One of our mutual friend's have me a book all about BLW and I quite like the idea of trying it knowing how picky I was about food when I was younger. For ages I lived on strawberry jam sandwiches and wouldn't eat anything else - Mum ran it past the health visitor or someone and they said as long as I'm happy in myself and healthy (and not losing weight) then I'll be okay - "thankfully" I did grow out or it and by the time I was in my late teens, I could clear the dinner plates just as well as my cousins and brother - part of how I ended up doing SW last year!
    Every child is different something that works for you and Bert might not work for me and Blueberry. As I see it - we give it a try and if it works it works. If it doesn't then we try the next thing.
    So if you stand with me I'll try to stand with you. Female solidarity might not be widespread but maybe we can start our own little huddle to kick the world's butt!!

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  3. Hi Lucy - we have a mutual friend Mags who introduced me to your blog. I too have recently had a baby boy. Guy was born nearly 10 months (10 months!) ago and like you feel that I am a pretty confidant sort of gal but being a mother certainly knocks you sideways doesn't it? I would say that it took a good 9 weeks before I started to think that I finally was getting the hang of it and gained my confidence back. My cousin gave me some great advice when Guy was a newborn - she said don't listen to anybody because people forget - forget how long they breastfed, when their baby slept through, started sitting up, rolling over and eating solids etc - she said they always remember with a rosy glow; I thought that was good advice. I can't believe that comment about your friend's pram! We bought a name pram (albeit second hand) and the cheapest Britax to go with the car seat - we hardly ever use the expensive one as it's so big and cumbersome and impractical! Live and learn.

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment Katherine, it means a lot to know that it's not just me thinking these things & that there are loads of kind and level headed mothers out there who fundamentally want to be good to each other xx

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  4. What a great article. My youngest is 3 1/2 now, and although I remember some things as clear as day about her development, other things are very fuzzy in the background. I dind't turn to the internet much when she was little, but I am in a local facebook group for mum's and am shocked at some of the responses I have seen people give. I always try to offer a little advice based on my experiences of two (very different) children, but try to be supposrtive in my comments to the monther's situation and make the point that what works for one doesn't work for everyone - as you say it should be gentle advice offered as a suggestion to try if you think it might help solve your problem. I've never followed any regime, I'm sure i've made mistakes along the way, and I have no illusions that being an older mum makes me any better than someone half my age.

    And on the pram front, I bought the chapeast I could find as knew I was going back to work when she was 6 months old, so it only really needed to last that long - we had a stroller from my son still. 3 1/2 years on and that cheap pram/pushchair is still going strong. Who gives a monkeys how they get around?

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  5. Hi Sam, Thank you for your comments, you are so right and I'm glad you agree with the points I've made - I don't think a little bit of support and understanding is too much to ask for from fellow mummies! xx

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  6. Great post Lucy. We have spoken lots about this, so I know you know that I agree with you wholeheartedly. Wouldn't motherhood be so much easier if we could all just be nice to each other and not judge? Every child is different, so nobody is ever in your exact situation. Therefore, none of us has the right to judge anyone else. We are all just doing our best, for the situation we are in. Let's just all try being nice to each other!

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  7. Hello lovely, Such a great post! It makes me sad and angry to hear of ladies and fellow mothers at that being judgemental or bitchy towards a fellow lady mother! It has definitely happened to me over the last couple of years and doubtless it won't be the last time. We're all just trying to do the best for our little ones and what we need is support and compassion - we've all been there and I simply cannot understand why anyone would want to judge or hurt someone based on a decision which simply doesn't actually effect them! I also like that you raised the point about women having it all - the way I look at is that everyone is equal and should have the same opportunities but I don't think any one person (man or woman!) can truly have it all, everyone has to make compromises somewhere along the line and work out what's best for them - you're right that it is so hard and to have people criticise you when you've not made any of these decisions lightly it utterly unfair!! Maybe we should start a support network to bring back the solidarity!!! i think you my love are doing a fab job with your beautiful boy who is clearly happy and healthy and if anyone tells you otherwise send them my way for a talking to!!! xxx

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  8. Fantastic posy and I couldn't agree with you more, but for me it even started when I was pregnant. I struggled with my pregnancy and was in a lot of pain and on crutches from the SPD. I put on quite a bit of weight but not ridiculous amounts but some of my 'friends' were very cruel and then as a new mum you face so much judgement and criticism it can be a nightmare. I try very hard on my blog to always put a balanced viewpoint and deflect criticism. People are entitled to their opinions, I just wish they wouldn't insist that they are right and anyone who chooses a different path is wrong. It is such a shame that we have turned on each other rather than being supportive of each other and it's really interesting that your husband has found it very different from the dad's viewpoint. Great post :) #brillblogposts

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  9. Wow shocking the way some parents can be, it seems worse with first time parents too, life is tough a lot of the time with kids and parents need to be kinder to one another! Thanks for this great post. Please do add my #brillblogposts linky or badge!

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  10. Thank you so much for leaving such a supportive message on my blog today. I have just read this and I feel that it was almost written to make me feel better. After what happened today, I needed to read this. So thank you for linking it to me. It's nice to know that the good internet Mums outweigh the bad. xxx

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    1. I'm so glad you read it Alex. And I'm glad it helped. I mean every word and honestly, just ignore those ignorant women. You're doing a grand job, Ethan is amazing & I love your blog xxxx

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  11. Brilliant post, I've stopped going to baby groups because of this, so I completely agree. I get understand how some people can feel like they have the right to judge others so much.

    thanks for linking up to #tbtl

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