I think I should probably open this week’s post with a disclaimer. I have not read Gina Ford’s new book, nor do I intend to do so. As a brand-new first-time mother, I did read the first couple of chapters of the other book, and very quickly realised it was not for me. Alt.Father was lent a copy by a workmate on his return from paternity leave. He gave it back, nodding and smiling as he did so. Thanks, but no thanks. Despite the bizarre love affair that the Daily Mail seems to have with Gina Ford, it does not seem to have escaped the notice of the general public that “Britain’s No 1 Parenting Author” is not a parent. Now she is also apparently a relationship guru despite also being divorced. I have learned that reading the Daily Fail, I mean, Daily Mail does nothing but make me angry and ranty. It certainly does not make me contented!
Also, let me be perfectly honest, I may have harboured one or two judgmental thoughts about those who adhere to Ms Ford’s advice. It’s none of my business how they choose to raise their babies, I only need to worry about my own babies. For that, I am sorry.
I am not sorry though, that Alt.Father and I chose pretty much the polar opposite of the regimented routine based parenting style advocated in those books. Somehow, both of our daughters seem to be perfectly contented little people. And there in a nutshell is my point. Babies are people, not pets. Instead of training them, we need to train ourselves as parents, to respond to their needs. That is the way we can truly be content.
When I hear my child crying, I am far from content. I am edgy, nervous, unsettled, until I know that she is unharmed and soothed. If I want to teach her that there is no need to cry, I will do so by teaching her that I will respond to her needs. “Use words” I find myself saying to Alt.D1 when she is frustrated. She takes a deep breath and usually manages to express what’s wrong in coherent language. At 3, she can do so. At 6 months, Alt.D2 is less able to communicate. Or is she? I often hear that babies cry “because it is the only way they know how to communicate”.
Actually, I would disagree. Alt.D2 astonished me in the first few weeks with the way she hardly ever cried to be fed. As she is my second baby, she has very much had to go with the flow in the house, being dragged along here and there with her sister. Yet somehow from even the earliest days, she and I had a communication going which let me know when she was hungry. Then I would feed her. I certainly didn’t add to my own agitation as well as hers by making her wait until a pre-determined time slot for her feed! This has since developed and I know her cues for tiredness, boredom, comfort, and countless others. We just co-exist, we just are.
Relying on your instincts could be considered a brave choice, whether for better or for worse. It’s certainly something advocated by the author Jean Liedloff in her book The Continuum Concept. This kind of instinctive parenting has been lost to most of the Western world as we’ve become increasingly keen to fit our babies and children into our busy, structured lives, somehow forgetting that perhaps nature intended us to listen to what our babies are trying to tell us. “Happy Baby, Happy Mummy” is all well and good, but if that “happiness” is achieved by conforming to a recipe, how much guilt and discontent must be underlying?
So Gina Ford now seeks to remind us that our relationship with our partner is going to change when we have children. She encourages us to start leaving the baby with others soon after birth, to take time together as a couple, before resentment starts to set in… well thanks, Ms Ford, for the vote of confidence! For the suggestion I might have forgotten about the person I have chosen to build my life with, to have children with, and to grow old with. Contentment in this relationship might have less to do with being able to leave the children with a babysitter, [not conducive to breastfeeding, anyway!] and more to do with the fact that caring about and caring for each other when you have young children is enough. It’s just enough to think to say “I love you” and “thank you” every day to your partner, and to know that he will be there and she will be there when these babies have grown and flown the nest.
If I am going to be content (and I am, thanks!), I really don’t think that heaping on the guilt is the way to go about achieving that goal.
Rant over, Alt.Mother resolving not to follow links to the Daily Mail website this week, in order to return to positive stories of alternative parenting next Friday!