It seems to me that there are numerous different approaches to parenting, and we’re all pretty much flying blind. None of us knows for definite that what we’re doing is the 100% right choice, that we’re not inadvertently damaging our children, that our children won’t grow up and wish we’d done something different.
When I was studying developmental psychology, I had naively chosen the course thinking it would tell me something along the lines of “and then, aged 12 months, the child can understand this, and is physically able to do this…” What it actually teaches you is a history of theory: this guy did a study where this happened, so he said children develop like this, then this guy came along and said actually, I think it’s like this and did a study to prove it. Even the genuine experts aren’t experts.
I have already written about how I don’t trust the advice of people who’ve made their name out of being a nanny – their job is to resolve behaviour issues quickly and without drama. This includes Supernanny and Gina Ford; to me, neither can be classed as any sort of an expert when they don’t have children themselves and are busy making a substantive living out of telling us what to do.
I love Sarah Ockwell-Smith; her approach to parenting is much more gentle and close to my own ideas. She is more knowledgeable, as she has four children of her own so you know that what she’s telling you to do, she’s tried and tested on her own kids. She does her homework, and her advice is backed up by reference to studies as well as her own experience. Still though, for every study saying one thing, you can usually find two saying the exact opposite. I love what Ockwell-Smith has to say, but I would probably call her “well read” rather than a parenting expert.
I am a massive fan of attachment parenting; I bought a Dr Sears book and loved every word of it. I still don’t think Dr Sears or his wife are experts. I think they have a lot of valuable experience, and a lot of great ideas, but they can’t possibly be parenting experts when every child and every parent are different. Also, the whole point of attachment parenting is that you go by your instincts, not by a set of instructions!
It is also worth noting that health visitors are not experts. In order to become a health visitor in the UK, one must be either a registered nurse or a midwife – so someone who looks after sick people, or someone who deals with pregnancy, childcare and immediate post-natal care. Training to go on and become a health visitor then takes just one year (if training full time). How much do you think a person can learn about babies, child development, sleep issues, weaning etc, in one year? On top of learning the regulations and requirements, that is. The majority of advice a health visitor gives out is based on their opinion. Considered as it may be, it’s still just one person’s opinion. I’m the first person to say how utterly amazing our health visitor was – but over the last two years I have heard some horror stories that made me realise that sadly, she was in the minority. Health visitors are not parenting experts; they are people who have weighed a lot of babies.
I am not a parenting expert. You are not a parenting expert. Your mother is not a parenting expert. Your mother-in-law is not a parenting expert. The woman up the road who keeps telling you to put a hat on your baby’s head? NOT A PARENTING EXPERT.
I know a lot of stuff. When S was born I was so worried about every single tiny aspect of parenting, I bought a shedload of books, and I borrowed even more from the library. Do you know what I learned? I learned that everyone has an opinion on how you should raise your child. And you probably shouldn’t listen to any of them, unless they resonate particularly with you. Even if it’s your mum.
I do definitely consider myself to be an expert; I am the world authority on my child. I know that when she wakes crying in the night, I can usually get her back to sleep with a bit of Baa Baa Black Sheep. I know that she loves porridge and hates eggs. All children are different though, and I’m willing to bet there aren’t many other toddlers out there for whom being handed a banana on the way into the supermarket guarantees their mother enough time to do the shopping before it gets boring.
I don’t know anything worth knowing about your child, though. And neither does anyone else – except you. Do not listen to them.
So what do you do? How do you decide the best way to raise your child?
I can’t tell you what to do, but I can tell you what I’ve done thus far. I read a lot of books; I always have at least one parenting book on the go. But I only stick with the ones whose ideas seem reasonable to me after the first few pages. I’ve never reached the end of a Gina Ford book. I ask people whose children seem happy and well adjusted (not necessarily “well behaved”). I don’t ask people who are always on Facebook complaining about their kids. And then, I put it all together and I make my own decision. What feels right to me? What can I not bear the thought of doing? What will get us through tonight, and not make me feel like the world’s worst mother?
At first, it’s terrifying. After a while, I found I began to trust my own judgement. I began to trust that actually, yes, this is my child and I do know best. Better even than a so-called expert.
There will always be someone who disagrees with your approach; there will always be someone who tells you in an authoritative tone that you are doing it wrong. To those people I generally point out that S is my child, and it’s my choice.
Of course, since I’m not an expert, you should feel under no pressure whatsoever to listen to a word I have to say!