Since becoming a parent there have been many many times when I have been utterly baffled as to what the hell I’m supposed to do next.
She won’t latch on, how do I help her? She’s being crying for three hours, how do I make it stop? She’s tired, how do I make her go to sleep? She’s vomited all over herself, her bed and the floor, what the fuck do I start to clean first?
The thing is, it’s never-ending. Just when I think I’ve solved one mystery, another challenge smacks me in the face (sometimes literally) and I have to decide how I’m going to get us out of this one.
Most of the challenges we face as parents are incredibly, and scarily, similar. Those fussy evenings, lack of sleep, the guilt at sending a child to nursery, toddler tantrums, fussy eaters. As parents, we can relate to so much of what others are going through.
And yet despite those similar challenges, those moments that should be completely predictable and yet for some reason always catch us out, there is no definitive “rule book” for motherhood.
When I was preparing to become a mother I read as much as I possibly could. I bought Gina Ford’s Contented Little Baby Book, I read it from cover to cover and absorbed as much of her advice as I possibly could. I got this, I thought to myself.
It turns out my baby hadn’t read Gina’s advice. My baby popped out with ideas all of her own, and that didn’t involve being in bed at 7pm.
Fast-forward nearly four years later and she’s still keeping us on our toes. She’s gone through long bouts of nodding off at 7pm without a fuss (Gina would be proud). More recently she’s up and down like a yo-yo until well into the evening some days (send help, Gina).
That’s the thing about kids. They are so inconsistent, it’s really quite inconsiderate.
All of this is on my mind this week because for some baffling and probably daft reason I started researching parenting styles.
Gentle parenting, authoritative, permissive, disciplinary, the list goes on. I was pretty staggered at the sheer volume of very specific sets of rules you could follow in order to raise your child to be a well-rounded and happy individual.
There are books about how to make sure your child isn’t scarred for life by you, and others that promise to make your child polite and well-mannered from an early age (I thought that one belonged in the fiction section to be honest).
Gentle parenting suggests that lazy praise, such as “good girl”, is not a good idea. Instead you need to describe exactly what they’ve done correctly in order to acknowledge it in full. You should also praise failure, as well as success. So presumably when my child does a huge poo in the bath, I should avoid muttering “bollocks” under my breath while trying to fish it out and instead be telling her how great it is that she digested her food so efficiently.
The guidelines and rules are exhausting even just to read. Don’t say it like this, do say it like that. Encourage this type of activity. Let your child decide how they want to play. Give them a choice of what they want to do.
Quite frankly, who has the time. Most of us aren’t just here to raise our baby and do nothing else. We have work, a house to keep in order, other kids to keep alive.
And more than that, it’s just not practical. There is no ‘one size fits all” method of parenting.
While I might take the piss out of Gina and her drill sergeant-style routines, I did take snippets of her book and put those into practice. I just couldn’t handle following it word for word. I never would have left the house for a start.
Following a parenting style, or guide, is not for me. I need to be able to have an “off” day. And do you know what, the kids need to have an off day too.
You may wake up with all of the best intentions to provide amazing play choices for them and be armed with brilliant praise phrases to show them how much you appreciate their achievements, and failures. But your kid may wake up on the wrong side of bed, and absolutely nothing is going to please them. Not your “well done for drawing such a fantastic likeness of a cow”, or your contented little robo-baby routine.
All they want to do is cry, occasionally break something and scream “CBeebies” at the top of their lungs until you quit the lovely activity you spent ages planning and just stick the bloody telly on.
I’m not going to be following a manual, a guide book or any set of rules when it comes to parenting my kids.
I strive to be a good mother every single day, and I make the effort to do what I think is right.
I think that is all any of us can do. We are all just winging it. Don’t beat yourself up for not having all of the answers. Even when it doesn’t always feel like it, you really do know best.