WITHIN REASON, PEOPLE. Please don’t accuse me of condoning parenting while addicted to crystal meth, or being involved in human trafficking, or posting a video to YouTube of you howling into the camera because Zayn Malik has left One Direction. But, seriously, it’s taken me two very different babies to realise that all this “expert” advice we parents keep getting thrown in our faces (yes, all that conflicting parenting advice that makes you feel like you are setting your kids up for a lifetime of abject misery no matter what you do), all of it really does not matter when it comes to raising your children to be decent, level-headed, confident adults. Truly.
Sure, go ahead and pick your preferred parenting clique, should you wish to do so. You could opt to be a Stay At Home Mum or a Stay At The Coffee Shop Until Closing Time Mum; a Working Mum or a Working Towards Getting A Gym Membership Mum; a Natural, Organic, Cloth-Nappy-Using, Homemade-Baby-Wipe-Making Mum, or a Mum whose outside bin is full of used nappies, wipes, and all manner of other plastic horrors two hours after the garbage truck has come and gone. Whatever. In the grand scheme of raising our children, It Does Not Matter. So, you may as well do what works for you, and your baby, and your significant other, and the dog. Because as long as you guys are happy, the rest of the world can go stuff itself.
Don’t believe me? How many blog posts or online articles have you read, how many indignant parenting “experts” have you witnessed on morning television, berating women in non-Western (I would say, specifically, non-English-speaking) cultures for the way in which they bring up their children? Hey, you Spanish/Portuguese/South American Mums, start putting your kids to bed at a reasonable hour, rather than letting them play in barefooted bliss in cobbled laneways while you and your extended family and all your friends and neighbours sit, sipping beer and enjoying dinner al fresco at 11pm. You Are A Bad Mum. And you French/Belgian/Mexican Mums who allow your young teens to sip alcohol in moderate quantities, and yet have some of the lowest teen alcohol abuse levels in the world. You Are A Bad Mum. And how about you Chinese Mums? What’s the go with potty training your babies from as young as six months old? You’re all Crap Mums.
I’m only joking, of course. If anything, we find these bizarre foreign parenting techniques whimsical and somewhat mystical. But if we turn inwards, here we are publicly shaming, whipping, and deriding mothers in our own society for, say, going back to work, or, um, not going back to work, or allowing our child to use a dummy after their first birthday. Get Over It.
A case in point (my own). With my first baby, I read up anxiously on everything I should be doing as a new Mum in order to get Bubba to sleep on cue. To be fair to myself, Bubba was a bit of a demon non-sleeper in the first weeks of our acquaintance. In fact, all I remember from those hazy first few months is the vision of her little face contorted into a purple scrunch of fury as she screamed her way through each day (and most of the night). Desperate to crack the code of the Sleeping Baby, I listened, ears pricked, as my mothers’ group dissected each other’s sleep routines, trying to find the perfect solution for my and my little girl’s woes. I read every parenting book ever written, and scoured every parenting website, for the cure to our sleeptime ills. I somehow bought into the myth that all babies must learn to self-settle, whatever the reason they have awoken or cannot get to sleep, and it does not matter how long they cry or how desperately unhappy they sound, you must leave them to scream it out. It was a horrible time. I was lucky in the end, in that Bubba turned out to be an excellent sleeper once the small issue of my not producing enough breastmilk to keep her alive got fixed. As soon as we began topping her up with formula, she slept like a baby. A very different baby to the one my husband and I had started out with.
With my second baby, I no longer really care what I should be doing to get him to sleep. As long as Squeaky is rested, I’m not madly chronicling each nap, or obsessively calculating how many hours he sleeps during any given night. In my favour, Squeaky was an excellent self-settler from day dot. In fact, from the day he was born right up until he was about nine months old, you could set your watch by his nap routine. Then everything changed. Overnight, he learned how to roll over while zipped in his sleeping bag, and that was it. I’d lay him down semi-comatose, and twelve seconds later he’d be on hands and knees, sniffing around the cot rails like a puppy trying to find a weak spot in the fence. So I took to rocking him to sleep in my arms.
And so, for the past two months, every naptime and bedtime, either my husband or I have held our baby son in our arms and rocked and shushed him into sweet sleep. And you know what? Both Hubby and I love it. We really do. It’s our special quiet time with our boy, our bonding moment in a day where, to be fair, his big sister tends to steal any adult attention going.
I love the feel and smell of my baby son in my arms; I enjoy peeking down at his slowly drooping eyelids and watching his little arm – at first held high in the air, fist clenched in defiance – progressively lower and loosen, until he is a warm lump of slumbering baby in my arms. And I don’t give two hoots what the sleep “experts” say. My son is happy; I am happy. And I’m pretty sure I won’t be rocking him to sleep when he’s in his mid-thirties, so where’s the harm? It takes five minutes, occasionally fifteen, and that’s time I don’t have to sit chewing the skin around my fingernails while listening to my baby screaming his little heart out in his cot.
New Mums, please. Don’t buy into the myth of the Perfect Parent. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are doing a crap job. Because you’re not. Please, trust your own instincts and do what you feel is right for you and your new family. Because, ultimately, theirs is the only opinion you need on your parenting.