She Who Must Not Be Named – and other parenting experts

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.

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8 thoughts on “She Who Must Not Be Named – and other parenting experts

  1. I am a mother of twins (they are now 5 years old) and I certainly agree that the baby books are often more a source of high anxiety than a tool for helping you cope. After 5 months of guilt and confusion about doing it all wrong, I decided “manuals, schmanuals.” I just started doing what I could do to get enough sleep and be present (as myself, warts and all) to the little beings themselves. All that rhetoric had got in the way of my being able to relax about it. And I am afraid that I have reached a point where I do feel that the writers of many of these baby books are so severely missing the point. Mothers need support to be confident that they can be themselves and can respond as needed to their new charge(s). There’s not a single twin book or baby book that I would recommend – and I have explored many of them. I do think that we need more real community to share our worries and concerns about parenting… How to make that happen? Therein lies the rub.

    • Hi Kath – when you talk about real community, do you mean in person, or virtually? There are lots of parenting sites on the internet that are more the voices of real experience than any kind of ‘top down’ authority, although you definitely have to sort the wheat from the chaff.
      Have you ever thought about launching your own website that did answer your need for community, reassurance, genuinely helpful advice, etc? I bet it’d be great.

      Totally agree with your point about needing support to be confident, but how can that happen, I wonder, especially if they weren’t confident before their children were born. I remember thinking that becoming a mother would change me, that I’d suddenly become more patient, more spontaneous, less highly-strung. But if motherhood was going to do anything, it would make my failings even more exaggerated. I wonder if what women need more than anything is help boosting their confidence in themselves as a whole person, not just a mother. The mothering would then follow and become, I suspect, much easier with a calmer and more confident atitude to life in general.

  2. I bought the Gina Ford book when I was pregnant. Of course I wanted a contented baby, and of course I wanted a baby that slept through the night. And predictably I got myself in a bit of a state about it. I would spend so long trying to get baby to sleep that nap time was over and he hadn’t napped, and then I didn’t know if I should let him nap or try and keep him going until the next nap time. He couldn’t keep going as long as he was supposed to between naps, so I didn’t know if I should let him sleep, or just put up with his screaming through tiredness. And it was restrictive when I wanted to be getting out and about, and he would fall asleep in the car when he wasn’t supposed to be asleep….and nearly 3 years later I have a toddler that still doesn’t sleep through the night!

    With my second baby I’ve tried to be much more relaxed (I no longer have the book). I’ve never bought any other help books, apart from a basic ‘how to look after your baby’ one. Although I’m doing no better with regard to sleeping, I do feel much happier!

    These books treat all babies as though they are the same, and if your baby isn’t doing what it is ‘supposed to’ then you can be left feeling very inadequate. The truth is that all babies are different, and although some things are true for all babies, many aren’t.

  3. Totally agree, Jennifer – and for that reason no single book could ever have the answers for all babies. Why then, thinking about it properly, do so many people buy her books? There are millions of intelligent women out there who get the guide because they want their baby to be ‘contented’, and feel that the only way to achieve that is by following a very strict routine. It’s bizarre.

    Our grandmothers brought our mothers up with Truby King and his ‘gospel’, our mothers in turn rebelled and invented the term ‘attachment parenting’ to describe their much more relaxed and child-centred approach. Why then do today’s mothers of babies seem to want to turn back the clock? Is it because we feel our own mothers’ parenting was lacking, or simply because we want our babies to be the same as other people’s?

    I obviously don’t know the answer to this, but there’s a great book called Dream Babies, which looks at parenting trends throughout the ages. i wonder if our children will react in turn to Gina and her gang?

  4. Hey Cat,

    I have to say favor “in person” community – the online thing did not do it for me. I did finally make a website for parents of multiples – http://www.twincircles.com – but I have not done much to publicize it.
    Two things we have here (in the USA) do really help: the “Fourth Trimester” group – new mothers meet once a week (with babies) for the first three months and make friends with other mothers with kids the same age; a “Good Beginnings” volunteer, who is usually an older woman whose kids have already left home, who comes in to your home and helps you (holds the baby, while you shower – etc) and listens to you.
    Actually I ended up needing a paid helper during the week – I tried to go to work part time in the first year but it was almost impossible due to breastfeeding two babies and to insane sleep deprivation. Having the helper was amazing – I didn’t have the isolation problem so much and I had support. I was lucky to have her but it did break the bank. Had to move, lost job, etc etc. Still feeling the effects. Ugh. No easy answers.

  5. Hi Cat,
    I have moved on (finally) from the small children stage now and find myself struggling with teens and emerging teens. So I bought the book of course. It’s so easy to write that it all comes down to love and boundaries, way harder to do. I would have loved and would still love to be part of a group of parents who are struggling with the same kind of stuff. I could imagine meeting monthly as a regular group and coming away renewed and recharged, comforted I am in the same boat as the rest. I’ve only had small bites of this informally with friends.

    One thing I have realised is how much courage it takes to parent. I have come across the general theory of ‘going with the consequences’ as a way of parenting and keeping some semblance of sanity. For example, get ready on time and we’ll go together, mess about and don’t be ready and I’m leaving for football training without you! This can be tough to do and I do not always have the courage to do it, or the mindfulness to say it calmly but I have seen positive outcomes. Coming back to your blog, this takes confidence. I do believe we can help each other more than we do.

  6. Hey there – are you talking about the “Love and Logic”? series? . I agree, it would be so nice to do something in person. You would probably get some cake and a cuppa out of it anyway, regardless of the parenting tips. I suspect it gets harder as they get older too. There are only so many ways to deal with a child who doesn’t want to nap, but many more to content with when you’re trying to shape behaviour/morals/social identity, etc.
    Blimey, I’ve just terrified myself there with a vision of the future.
    I think there is also a lot of pressure to ‘get it right’. So that we are so afraid of getting it wrong that it affects our communication with our children, who I suspect are more resilient than we think. The courage to make mistakes with the most precious thing in the world to you is probably the strongest weapon against total religious belief in parenting books, but it is a quality I realise I need to develop more myself.

  7. Hi Catdeanuk, can I talk to you some more? I’m writing a piece on EXACTLY this for The Times Mag. I’d love to include your views. And in fact, many of the views in the comments so far.
    Louise Carpenter

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