An article in The Observer newspaper recently reported on research done by Warwick University which asked mothers what they felt about advice given by six childcare experts who had published books on how to raise a baby - Frederic Truby King, John Bowlby, Donald Winnicott, Benjamin Spock, Penelope Leach and Gina Ford.
The researcher found that regardless of the different advice being given all were in the style that set the bar so high that mothers invariably felt like a failure when targets could not be met. In addition, the researcher found that mothers across the generations were uncertain of which expert had the best approach which has left women feeling confused and disillusioned.
I find it sad that it has got like this though not surprised because even in my own family I have seen how older mothers are frightened to advise the younger mums in case they contradict modern advice.
For me though, the only book I ever had was a practical baby care book that guided me through the first three years of a child’s life. It never told me how to parent in a particular way but merely highlighted what my child should be doing at a particular age, the sort of difficulties I could encounter and possible solutions. As a new mum I found it a helpful book to dip into but by the time I had my second child I hardly used it as I had enough confidence to follow my own child and to trust my motherly instinct.
Of course if there was anything medically wrong I would visit my GP and I do recount loads of visits regarding asthma, ear infections, rashes, suspected meningitis plus all the usual routine developmental check ups. Everything else regarding behaviour, sleeping, toileting, feeding, learning was learnt through experience, motherly instinct and sharing tips with other mums.
And with that I developed confidence as a mother that equipped me for the challenges ahead. When my second child started to exhibit unusual behaviours (later diagnosed as ASD when he was 9) no parenting book would have been good enough and I’m sure that if I had picked up one of these books I would have been crushed as a parent.
That is not what my son needed. He needed a confident mum, not one overwhelmed with anxiety about whether her child was meeting set targets laid down in a book. It meant I became resourceful and flexible as I found a way of managing his difficulties. It also meant that I developed the confidence to challenge those who were trying to pressurise my son to conform. An example of one of these many early battles was my son’s toilet training. He simply didn’t do what was expected of a toddler in terms of toileting which I now know is a common difficultly with autistic children. Here is an extract from one of my very early posts regarding toileting. (You can read the full post here.)
“….The nursery teacher asked me why he was still in pull-ups and I answered something along the lines that he was becoming dry but he absolutely refuses to wear pants. In part, I felt that he clung to his pull-ups because he felt comfortable and secure, certainly while toilet training was becoming established. But the nursery teacher did not want her children in pull-ups, the school policy was that children had to be dry, so I was told. I was perplexed by this rigid attitude; could she not see that children were individuals that developed at different rates? This was my second child; I did have some idea of what I was doing and in any case I believed in following my child’s cues though, I admit, for my son, his readiness was clearly delayed in comparison to most children. I wasn’t overly worried about this delay as we had made some progress; it was just very protracted and required adults around him to be patient and encouraging. I ignored the nursery teacher and continued to send my son in pull-ups. I was not happy with the teacher’s rigidity and her unwillingness to work with me and I decided to respect my son’s development rather than the policy set by the LEA (Local Education Authority).
Things went quiet for a bit until one teatime in the autumn when I received an unexpected telephone call from a health visitor from one of the health clinics in town. This was not the clinic that my children were under and nor was the health visitor someone I was familiar with. Through the conversation that followed, it transpired that the nursery teacher had called the health clinic expressing concerns about my ability to handle my son’s toileting issues. The words of the health visitor were, “I understand from the school that you have problems toilet training your son”. “No” I replied “I don’t” and added that I was happy that my son was making progress, albeit slowly, and that the real problem was with the attitude of the school, not me. What upset me about this telephone call was the emphasis on my parenting, rather than my child’s development…..”
The point is that as parents we know our children more than anyone. We know their strengths, their weaknesses and we know when to seek help and advice. By all means read the books and stay ahead with current thinking but don’t be a slave to everything the so-called “experts” have to say. Trust in yourself and have confidence in yourself and never be afraid to question those who claim to know more than us.