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Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The parenting police

When you become a mum, there appears to be an army of individuals, organisations and books ready to set you up for the guilt trip of a lifetime. So here's a few of my thoughts on what they tell you and how you might stay sane as this stuff gets thrown at you.

1. Don't drink during pregnancy.

I drank in all three of my pregnancies. I did not smoke though so do I get Brownie points? - probably not. Anyway, with hindsight, I would recommend listening to the medical view at the time you are pregnant, being aware that this might change even before you give birth and making your own mind up. However, I think it would be a great idea for mums-to-be to check out the potential consequences of excessive drinking on the foetus. It is not worth that lovely Baileys or a little glass of wine to land your child with difficulties for life.

2. Breast is best

I agree with this. However, I do not think that if you are satanic like me and go down the bottle-feeding route that your baby will turn into someone who can not pass exams, function in life or is likely to turn to crime. I also was not prepared for the midwife mafia making breast-feeding such a pressure at a time when you are reeling from a major life change anyway. I felt bullied into breast-feeding with my first child and tried hard to succeed. It hurt like hell and I am grateful for my husband who suggested that at such an early time with my child, loving times were more vital than breast-milk. Enlightened midwives came on the scene with my second and third children and they function perfectly well having never tasted breastmilk in their lives.

3. They should all walk by a certain age

My three children walked at widely varying times. My first child was early and seemed to be able to walk for miles from the moment he pulled himself up to his feet. My daughter was incredibly late just managing to squeeze the feat in before her second birthday. Beyond checking to ensure there are no physical difficulties, relax about the walking issue. They will do it in their own time and you will then spend your life following them around the house to see what creative carnage they are causing.

4. Potty-training

In my opinion, there is all sorts of nonsense spouted about potty-training. I don't think you can get inside a child's mind and persuade them to suddenly find peeing and pooing in a pot the most fascinating thing for them to learn. I tried potty-training my first two and largely failed miserably. Then one day, my eldest said that he wanted to go to the toilet and continued to do so bypassing the potty completely. My daughter became toilet-trained from the day I said she could have a lollipop from town if she managed it in time for going to school. Oh I know, horror of horrors - told you I was an inadequate mother. My youngest seemed to find it easy but again bypassed the potty in favour of the toilet. So my advice is that they do it in their own time and neither they nor you should be tormented by the experts. Remember the experts are all neatly making an income out of their spouting whilst you are going slightly insane and tearing your hair out.

Other falsehoods that come your way

1. If they drop their dinner down their school jumper, they will fail all their GCSES

2. If they "lose" their stuff at school, it is not the fault of the teachers for not tackling the bullies but is your child's fault

3. If they stay up late one night, they will become an axe murderer

4, If they don't eat 5 fruit and vegetables per day they won't make it to adulthood.

5. Crisps and sweets on any occasion are the work of the Devil

6. A child will stay happily on the naughty step. Not if it has owt about it, it won't. Give me a child with spirit even if it exhausts me.

7. If a child struggles with some aspect of schoolwork, it is the parents' fault and no investigation should be done as to whether the child has a learning difficutly or a condition that the education system could help with

8. If a parent can't get time off work to attend a school event, the child will be traumatised for life. I do think it is important to do all you can to be there but realistically, some parents cannot do so. They are doing evil things like bringing an income into the household.

9. If you object to some of the practices of sports day, your child will never be a team-player. I have to admit that part of my response to this is "So what?". Maybe they will be a great leader or an inspiring individual.

10. If any parent is to blame, it is the mother.

Overall, my message to parents-to-be would be

1. Do your absolute best
2. Seek support acknowledging that you cannot be an expert in every aspect of a new experience
3. Look after your own mental health and if the horrors of depression strike, take it as seriously as you would a broken limb or worse.
4. Network with other parents whether your own family, friends or via the internet parenting sites such as Netmums
5. However shy, do try to get to some classes for mums and children. Sometimes you can be stressing about something when a little word with another mum could put your mind at rest
6. Communicate with the other parent (if present) as it is far better to work together than end up bickering which is draining when you need all your energies for the important task of raising your child.
7. Listen to the experts but don't sign your life over to them
8. Make valiant attempts to ensure you have time alone to think, to feel, to relax
9. You can do better but you are learning as you go
10. Don't give in to the conspiracy out there that wants to write off all women and mums in particular. If you are questioning yourself, you are doing fine.

Here's to all "good enough" parents


  1. This is so true! And I cannot see any point at which I haven't experienced! I have 2 kids and each of them is different. My daughter didn't walk till 18 months, my younger son was on his feet by 9 months and I didn't do anything different. Potty taining is a nightmare and none of the books where helpful in my case. Thank you, I am not an abomination of a mother. :-)

  2. You are absolutely right! And the occasional full afternoon blobbed in front of the TV can be exactly what busy stressed kids (and mums) need.

  3. Yes, when you think about it, it's truly amazing that anyone ever attained maturity in the days before the parenting police started spouting, isn't it?

  4. As my first children were twins born 6 weeks early I was told by doctor, midwife and health visitor 'you should be doing this, you should be doing that' and because I didn't know any different I listened to them. They put the fear of God into me. I tried breast feeding and it wasn't working for any of us, but was bullied by a midwife into persevering for a month.(we were all kept in hospital) This might not seem much but it was bloody hard work and non stop with twins. Breast is not always best if it's not working. Once we came home and got into our own routine (and stopped listening to experts) we were fine. When I had my 3rd child it was much easier as I did what was right for us and didn't listen to anyone else. Every child is different and develops in their own time. My ex mum-in-law used to say 'mine were dry at such an age, mine were walking at such an age, etc' I wanted to say SO WHAT! None of us are perfect but we do what we think is right for our kids and that is good enough. Great post Kate.

  5. I tend to agree with a good deal of this.

    Thanks especially for the potty-training bit. My kid and I are having an awful time of it and I think it's just because I've been guilt-tripping myself into thinking it should happen NOW and quickly.

  6. Yes! Thanks for this, ditto potty training which has been tough. Wish more parents were more honest. 'Good enough parenting' is my mantra. Great post.

  7. The sleeping position the baby must be put in changes every few years as well, when mine were small it was on the tummy, if we didn't do that they would surely come to harm! Yeah well it's all changed now I believe!

    Then weaning, it used to be 4 months, now the rule is 6 months I hear.

    It's amazing any of us survived as babies through the years with all these ever changing rules!