Right, Gina Ford, before you get all litigious on my ass (as is your wont), I just want to say right away that I don’t blame you for my PND. Or Tracey Hogg, or Penelope Leach, or any of the other authors of baby books I have read. I’m just saying that, for someone who like to take ‘How To’ books at face value, they have significantly added to my stress levels over the last three years.
No matter that they always add in some kind of disclaimer about ‘adapt it to your own baby’, or words to that effect, the general tone of the books is, ‘do what I say and your baby will sleep through/eat well/have impeccable manners/rarely tantrum, etc’. Or, the inverse scare tactic, leading you to worry that if you don’t follow the advice therein, your child will be maladjusted, socially inept, poorly attached to you and a future ASBO candidate.
No matter that they can’t ALL be right, as the advice tends to be different, if not downright conflicting. No matter that if they really had the answer, there would only ever be one parenting book available and it would work for everyone. I seized upon these books hungrily for each stage of my babies’ first months/years, looking for solutions to my problems.
I have always had a rather simplistic, literal view of the world (which is why I trained to be a life coach) – I love problems and finding solutions for them. And I love reading How To books. But the parenting ones have absolutely done my head in.
I can remember back two years ago, I would be rocking my son in his pushchair in a darkened bedroom, sobbing my eyes out, willing him to go back to sleep as he had only slept for 45 mins of his hour-long nap. If I’m totally honest, I would probably be doing the same now with number two, but I don’t have the time as I’m too busy with number one. It’s a good thing.
I’m sure a lot of people pick up parenting books through lack of other information, or not having mothers around or who were able to hand down their childrearing advice. But they tend to get you at your lowest ebb, when you’re chronically sleep-deprived, full of hormones, and desperate for someone to show you the way. It’s even worse when a friend recommends a book saying it ‘really worked for us’ – because you then feel even more of a failure when your child doesn’t conform.
Of course there is good advice within most of them, but for people like me who take things by the letter, they do your head in on a monumental scale. I found they undermined my confidence in myself, as there was a solution to every problem, I only had to turn to page 64, and there was a helping hand.
Even What to Expect, which is pretty helpful and practical in many ways, had me worrying about whether my first son was reaching the right milestones at the right time, and how to deal about it if not.
And don’t get me started on sleep books. Richard Ferber, Gina Ford, Elizabeth Pantley, and they’re only the ones that spring to mind. All full of authority and reassurance. All hugely contradictory.
You may conclude from this and the books in and of themselves are not the problem, rather my own dependence on someone else’s views as to how to raise my child. You’re probably right. But I’d love to hear from anyone else for whom baby books have been more a source of anxiety than comfort. And how to get that voice out of your head as you settle the baby for the third time at 3am telling you ‘if you carry on doing this, you’ll only be creating a rod for your own back’. Fine – but nothing else I’ve tried has worked.