The Only Expert Parenting Tip You Need To Know: Do Whatever The Hell You Want

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 don’t care what the experts say about co-sleeping. You Do Not Wake The Baby.

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.

7 Weird Things About Writers We Need You To Know

I’ve decided to give the topic of motherhood a (brief) rest and blog about writing this week. But since my life at the moment is 10% writing, 90% wiping bottoms, I thought I’d start off gently by writing something simple and bullet-pointy (real word, back off) to get myself back into the mindset of being a writer. It’s a strange mindset, I’ll grant you that. We writers are an odd bunch, and people who don’t write – or spend their free hours occupied in some other solitary, deeply personal, wholly engrossing pastime – often don’t understand why we are the way we are.

If you are fortunate enough to share your life with a writer, and find yourself time and again asking yourself, ‘Why is this person so weird?’, then hopefully this post will help to shed some light on the mysterious goings-on in the mind of a writer. And if you are a writer yourself, you may relate to some of these items. Or not. I’d love to hear feedback from other writers, including anything you would add to this list.

  1. We are always writing in our heads.

Wondering why the blank stare? The confused look on our face? It’s because we weren’t really listening to you, we were listening to two of the characters in our latest work arguing with each other. We might even have been arguing with one of our characters. “‘For the love of God, Maurice! You have to enter the abandoned warehouse at midnight! It’s where the serial killer has his latest victim bound to a chair and he’s already sharpening his knives!’ ‘Bugger off, you useless writer! You will not make me cliché!'” Or, in a less heated moment, we might be going over in our mind the opening lines to the chapter we’ve been working on. Or simply playing with words in our heads, finding interesting rhyming pairs we’d never thought of before, seeing how many synonyms we can think up on the spot for “quickly”. Our brains never stop processing words – ours and other people’s – and we tend to overload on language.

  1. We may not be very good with words.

This probably doesn’t make sense, coming straight after point 1. Maybe I should specify that we may not be very good with words verbally. Give us a laptop or a paper and pencil and two hours of solitude, and we could probably come up with prose to match Shakespeare or Tom Wolfe (yeah right, in our dreams. But we won’t stop trying!) Engage us in conversation, however, and we may quickly become tongue-tied. I’m not sure if my tendency to mispronounce words, forget what I was saying halfway through a sentence, stammer, and go all shy and clam up, comes from my brain working too fast or too slowly to process what I want to say. It’s awkward, I’m awkward, but it’s the way I am, and I’ve learned to accept it.

  1. We are not social butterflies.

This may be something of an understatement. Clearly, anyone who enjoys spending hours on end locked in a room talking to their imaginary friends is generally not going to be the life and soul of the party when surrounded by, er, real people. Writers tend to be introverts. We find large doses of social interaction, particularly in big groups, overwhelming and exhausting. We much prefer one-on-one conversation, particularly on an interesting and controversial topic which we can debate to our heart’s content. We also require time by ourselves in which to recharge our mental batteries. This doesn’t mean we hate the company of others, just that we prefer to balance this with time spent alone (possibly having words with Maurice, our reluctant amateur detective).

  1. We believe our characters are real.

Of course, we know intellectually that they are not. But to us, well, they still are. We created them, after all, but then magic happened, and they took on a life of their own. When we are writing, it’s our characters who lead the action, behaving in exactly the way they need to behave. Usually the task of the writer is to run, gasping for air, behind their character, trying to jot down at lightning speed everything they are doing and saying. It’s why we feel guilty when unpleasant things happen to our characters. It’s because we know them, we care for them, we have a vested interest in their well-being, even love them. Do I sound crazy yet?

  1. We don’t know where we get our ideas from, or why our characters behave in a certain way.

See above. It’s our characters running the show, not us. We’re just voyeurs in their lives. And our ideas? Who knows. It’s probably got something to do with our brains being constantly played at 78 rpm, that we’re always taking chunks of the world around us and slicing and dicing them up and then remoulding them into different worlds, different stories. So please don’t make us feel awkward by asking us where we got our idea for the Sci-fi trilogy about the cross-dressing unicorn who discovers a portal to another galaxy where intelligent life is a race of cannibalistic beetles. Because we just don’t know, okay. All we know is hallucinogenic drugs may or may not have played a part.

Time to lay off the peyote, folks.

  1. We don’t know when we are going to get published.

If ever. Please don’t give us a hard time about the marketability of our writing. We are not doing this writing thing for financial gain, or fame. Well, most of us aren’t. It’s just what we do. The story (or poem, or essay) is the end result, and if nobody reads it, we are fine with that. We don’t write because we necessarily want to make a career out of it (although, deep down, each of us would love to see our name on the New York Times bestseller list). We write because it’s just who we are.

  1. We love it when you read our work.

Argh, stop contradicting yourself! Okay. Sorry. We writers may not write for any other reason than we simply adore the act of putting words together in sentences and weaving something we hope will be pretty special out of them. But, still, come on. We’ve put all that effort in, could you not at least take a glance at what we’ve written? Of course we want you to enjoy our writing. Our goal is to entertain, to make you laugh, or cry, or feel icy tentacles of terror creeping up your spine. That’s what fiction is for, after all. Just don’t tell us it was the best thing you’ve ever read, like, ever, because we’ll know you’re lying to make us feel better, and it won’t. We are delicate wee petals, we writers. And ever so slightly bonkers.

All The Awesome Mothers: I Salute You

I was planning on returning to the subject of writing with this post, since I haven’t written anything about writing since I started blogging again a few weeks ago. Writing is what this blog is supposed to be about, in part at least. But two things changed my mind. Firstly, not a great deal of writing has taken place in this house recently (kids not napping at the same time, blah, blah). Secondly, I received a lot of lovely, positive feedback to my previous blog post, “Great Expectations and Familial Frustrations”.

Firstly, I am thankful to everyone who takes the time to read my blog. And I am humbled and honoured that many of you take further time to offer me your feedback and encouragement. Okay, so most of the feedback I received was from other Mums that I know personally, so part of me feels that you are just saying nice things to me because you are such lovely people. But I also received feedback from a few people I don’t know, and that makes me hope that something in what I wrote struck a chord. And, because it can be a lonely, isolating transition from working, socially active woman to stay-at-home milk machine, I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you wonderful Mums out there who have been there for me since I first got into this parenting gig.

Over the past two years, I have met younger Mums and older Mums, working Mums and stay-at-home Mums, breastfeeding Mums and bottlefeeding Mums, Mums who co-sleep and Mums who don’t, Mums who feed their kids activated almonds and Mums who feed their kids pork scratchings. And I have learned something from every single one of you awesome mothers. Some of you are new friends, others I have known for years, and some of you I have never met, but you have all influenced me, and hopefully made me a better parent for it.

Look, it’s not easy being a Mum, we all know that. (Dads, this blog post isn’t about you, but you are awesome too, okay? We love you, we appreciate you, and we couldn’t do it without you.) Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes. Motherhood. Here we are, thrown into a job we’ve never done before, with no training and no manual, expected to work a 24-hour shift seven days a week, and with a boss (or bosses) who make Pol Pot look like a laidback, easygoing kinda guy. But while the physical side of being a new Mum is hard in itself (let’s not discuss chronic sleep deprivation, cracked nipples, or what it feels like to rock a 10kg baby to sleep in your arms for forty-five minutes at 3am, shall we?), much harder than that is the mental strain it puts us under. Those without kids can disagree all you like, but raising children is not like caring for a pet dog. Trust me, if I was allowed to make my kids sleep outside all night with a blanket and a shin bone for company, I would, but I’ve done the research and it’s not okay, apparently. Children are our creation, they are literally a part of us, and the emotional investment which goes into not only caring for them, but raising them to be (we pray) content, emotionally secure, well-adjusted, kind adults, can be exhausting.

To make matters worse, we are bombarded on a daily basis by ‘expert’ opinion telling us over and over again that we are Doing It Wrong. Swaddle your baby? Their legs will drop off. Allow them to take a bottle to bed? Their teeth will fall out. It doesn’t help that these parenting ‘experts’ change their mind about what we should be doing more often than the rest of us are changing pooey nappies. And there’s no escaping the labels. Watch your pre-schooler doesn’t hurt themselves at the playground? You’re a Helicopter Mum. Allow your kids to go to the park by themselves? You’re a Free-Range Mum. Help your kid with their homework? You’re a Snowplough Mum. Enrol your kid in piano lessons? You’re a Tiger Mum. Teach your two-year-old to sing “nana nana nana nana BATMAN”? You’re a Dad.

On top of all this ‘expert’ waffle, many of us are receiving well-intentioned but totally useless parenting advice from older relatives, many of whom last did this parenting-of-littlies gig several decades ago. Teething baby? Drop of arsenic will fix that. Toddler tantrum? Clout around the ear will fix that. YOU ARE NOT HELPING.

Parenting. You’re doing it wrong.

So, with all this insecurity and self-doubt swirling around our sleep-deprived brains, it is comforting to think that we can all, you know, be cool with each other and not give each other a hard time.The media would have us believe that we Mums are a nasty bunch, always judging and criticising each other for doing things a different way. I haven’t found this to be the case. I have heard differently from other women, but I for one have not (yet) met a single Mum who has made me feel like I’m completely stuffing things up. What I have found – personally and online – is a supportive and inclusive community of women who are just trying to do a decent job of bringing up their kids. And I wouldn’t be the mother I am today without the friendships, the kindnesses, and the words of wisdom you have all offered me over the past two years.

So, in a roundabout way, what I want to say is:

To all the mothers I know personally, who have listened, comforted, commiserated, and laughed with me: I salute you.

To all the mothers out there writing brilliant blog posts on motherhood, and causing me to have many wonderful laugh-out-loud moments of recognition: I salute you.

To all the mothers campaigning at grassroots level for the right of all mothers to breastfeed in public without fear of discrimination: I salute you.

To all the mothers who believe a mother should be able to bottlefeed in public without being judged: I salute you.

To all the mothers who allow your daughters to play with toy trucks, and your sons to play with dolls, or the other way around, on any given day, whatever: I salute you.

To all the mothers out there: here you stand, raising the next generation of humans who will take over this world we have created. And I feel honoured to stand amongst you. You are doing a wonderful job.