Once you have a child, you will be deluged with parenting advice from books, family members, well-meaning friends, and the media. But is all this advice really helpful? Is there really just one way to parent? Guest author Emily Hourican has some advice about all that advice.
Having children is probably the steepest learning curve you will encounter since the days when you got to grips with a two-wheeler or learned to swim.
As your child masters various milestones – holding her head up, rolling over, crawling, the square root of pi – so too will you be learning how to function in the new world that becoming a parent has launched you into.
As you do this, you will begin to realise that never before have you been the object of so much advice. Everywhere you look there will be baby books telling you what to do, newspaper articles describing “studies” that show how kids who walk to school do better at math; even the lady in the apartment below who so kindly brought you up a lasagna and knitted booties will be itching to tell you how you should bath or feed your baby. As your child grows, so too will the onslaught of advice, until society will sometimes feel like one giant finger, constantly wagging at you and beginning every sentence with “You should…”
So, how to cut through the hysteria and find what really works? Here are 8 tips to point you in the right direction for your family:
Tip #1: No matter what the suggestion, if it doesn't fit with your life, it probably isn't going to work out.
If you are the kind of person who loves routine and thrives on structure, now is NOT the time to decide to be the free-floating earth mother, doing everything on demand and according to the baby's wants.
You may have read a book about instinctive mothering and being baby-led in all things, but you will not harm your baby, or the bonding process, if you set a few rules. And conversely, if you like to decide on a whim, keeping your plans fluid until you actually execute them, then stuffing yourself into a structured system because your sister told you that kids thrive on routine is only going to make you feel stifled. Balance is always good, and especially with a baby.
Tip #2: If it seems too good (or too bad) to be true, it probably is
Raising children seems to bring out the hysteric in so many people – “Do this or your child will suffer…!” “Do that and your child will be a genius…!”
To bewildered, well-meaning parents, the threats and promises can be very confusing. But let’s be rational. How likely is it that any one thing – be it daily doses of quinoa, a strict discipline system, or Mozart in the womb – can predict or influence the success or failure of your child? Over-claiming is the territory of baby-experts just as much as used-car salesmen. Get used to looking under the hood.
Tip #3: Breast is…breast
Breast-feeding is definitely the best option for babies and mothers. It is perfectly formulated for every stage of your child’s development and offers some protection against breast cancer.
But it isn’t always as easy and effortless as you might expect from Mother Nature. Neither is breast-milk a magic potion or a magic bullet. If it is really not working out for you, then make peace with that. A few bottles of formula, indeed an entire diet of formula, is not going to make the difference between Harvard and Walmart for your child.
Tip #4: Just because your mom did it, doesn't mean you have to
This can be a hard one to accept – but your mother isn't always right. She probably did the best she could, with the circumstances of her life. But things have changed. Your life is different. The demands on you are different. You need to find your own path.
Tip #5: Consistency isn't always key
You can change your mind.
In fact, I would argue that in a very inconsistent world, teaching your child early on to roll with the punches (not literally, of course) and adapt to changing situations is actually better than conning them into believing that the world is always going to be kind but firm and set-your-clock-consistent. The world is capricious, unpredictable, random. Now is a good time to start learning that.
Tip #6: Do not listen to debates on working mothers vs. stay-at-home mothers
These are almost never helpful because most of us do not have a choice about which we are. Listening to committed working mothers say that they are better role models because they teach the wonders of hard work and material achievement, counter-argued by stay-at-home moms who insist they are better nurturing their child, would make any of us cry tears of frustration and misery. In this area at least, we need to be kind, non-judgemental, and accept that the data is inconclusive at best.
Tip #7: Everything matters – but far less than you think
Yes, what you feed your child is important, as is the amount of fresh air, exercise, and quality time he or she gets. But a few chicken nuggets or a day in front of the TV when you are too busy to play is not the end of the world.
You are not super-human. Your kids will not suffer because you are a normal person, with normal demands on your time and temper. If today was a bad day, make tomorrow better, but do not agonise or give in to guilt.
Tip #8: You actually know best (you just don’t know it yet)
The world is full of parenting experts. Each one has a “system” and a selection of promises around outcomes, whether these are unbroken nights of sleep, or secure, happy children. All of them are persuasive, some of them are even good. But, the bottom line is, you know your child, yourself, your family circumstances better than anyone else. You know what to do, if you just trust yourself.