Are you reading any baby books at the moment? How’s that going for you? Are they offering you an affirmation of your innate parenting ability? Are they giving you handy hints and tips without being dictatorial? Are they offering you useful guidance that doesn’t make you feel overwhelmed or inadequate in any way? Oh good, that’s great.
Wait? What’s that you say? These books aren’t affirming your parenting choices? They are making you feel confused and inadequate? You do feel overwhelmed by the mountains of advice you’re receiving from all of these ‘helpful experts’. Well then, my friends, I’ll tell you what to do with those books; burn them!!
Ok, scrap that. Please don’t actually burn any books. In general I find not-doing-stuff-the-nazis-did a solid rule to live by. But if we’re not going to burn them we should definitely bin them.
That’s right, you heard me. Bin them! That book you read when your baby was five-days-old that told you feeding on demand would lead to childhood obesity: bin it! Or the one that told you leaving your baby to cry would cause long-term psychological damage (you only wanted to go to the toilet but now you’re wracked with guilt) bin it! Don’t give it to charity shop, don’t pass it on to a pregnant friend, put it IN THE BIN. It’s not useful. It’s rubbish, garbage, waste I tells ya! (though it should be noted that it’s waste that’s widely recyclable so put it in the paper bin, but, you know, that’s still a bin).
My problem is less with the demanding specifics of some baby books – though I have a thousand issues with those – than with the cacophony of conflicting advice that is just waiting to leap out of the bookshelves and into the dazed and vulnerable minds of new parents. Even more so that the doling out of this advice is big business. If a book is successful it spawns a sequel, or the author starts putting their name to products. Is this all for the benefit of parents? I begin to think not.
There are a million ways to be a good mum but I am yet to find a book that acknowledges this, let alone one that details a few different choices side-by-side without making a value judgement on any*. As it is, if you choose the ‘attachment parenting’ approach and co-sleep with your baby you’re likely to feel self-conscious about being judged by those who have read that this is dangerous. Then again, others are likely to fear judgement from you because they choose to put their baby in another room early on because you’ve read that this is damaging. The thing is, we don’t judge each other half as much as we judge our ourselves. And this internal awareness that everything we do is potentially wrong just fuels the anxiety and (yep, you guessed it) guilt that can so easily take hold of us as new parents.
I co-slept with my son for the first four weeks because it was the only way any of us slept, then I moved him to his own room at 10 weeks because he was bloody loud and I was completely exhausted. Honestly, I wish I hadn’t read anything about either of these decision, no books, no websites, certainly no forums. Because, 8 months in, I see that they were both the right thing to do at the time; for all of us. But I was constantly questioning myself, feeling selfish or lazy for not trying harder to ‘do the right thing’, bleugh!
The truth is, most of us don’t subscribe completely to the theories and methods of any one parenting style. We do what works. And if the birth of your first child weren’t the most exhausting, surprising, heart-wrenching emotional roller-coaster of your life you may just be able to take what you needed from these books and casually disagree with the rest. But I couldn’t, and I don’t know who many who could.
This is why I have stopped reading about how to take care of babies. I know how to take care of my baby. I’m really good at it. And so are you. Yes, you. And if there’s a book making you feel like you’re not then bin it. Just bin it!
*I really hope a book like this exists, if you know of one please comment and recommend.