8 August 2011

Set Up To Fail

Are parents set up to fail? Sometimes I think so. Or perhaps it's more like there are lots of things out there trying to trip us up or make us think we're failing. It isn't that these people or things are trying to make us fail. I try to think the best of others, so I imagine most are genuinely trying to help. Nevertheless, I think a lot of advice that is given to parents is flawed.

I think parents are also set up to fail by societal expectations of a baby's behaviour. A baby should sleep well, but parents mustn't bed-share. A baby should be quiet, but mustn't be carried/worn all the time or attended to quickly every time. A baby should be breastfed, but please don't show any skin or do that in here. Add to this the fact that many young parents live farther away from their own parents and extended family, and thus don't have the built-in support system that used to be commonplace. Even if they did, though, many of our parents were also sabotaged by bad (but well-meaning) advice. So what do parents do? Some at least read various parenting books that tell them to just follow this routine and your child will be good as gold; if that isn't the case, the blame is put on the parent, not the advice. Or they ask a medical professional, friend, or family member who tells them to do x, y, or z, and/or ignore their own instincts.

That's really the crux of it – we're discouraged from following our instincts, or we don't know how to follow them because we don't see it. Breastfeeding, whilst natural and instinctual to a degree, is also learnt. Our attitudes to it are heavily influenced by our society, meaning that our instincts in this matter are often eroded away long before the baby is born. After the birth, many are then given advice that conflicts with our instincts, thus damaging or completely sabotaging the breastfeedingrelationship. It's no wonder many women stop breastfeeding, for in many ways you really do have to be incredibly obstinate to breastfeed as you wish.

This is also true with baby-training. Because many of us were raised in the era of “Ferberising” and similar methods, where parents were told to ignore their own instincts, many haven't witnessed or experienced instinctual parenting. Then when a child is waking at night, as they do, parents are told to ignore their instincts and “train” the child to sleep. I understand the motivation behind it, I truly do, but I think we're failing ourselves and our children when we follow this.  

As a society, it seems we've forgotten what is normal, namely that babies are meant to wake at night and are meant to be close to mum. This won't lead to them being spoilt brats, they aren't trying to manipulate (even if they vomit or poo or stop crying when they hear you coming). We've forgotten that babies are meant to breastfeed on cue, including during the night, and doing so won't turn them into demanding hellions who expect to receive their every wish immediately. Thankfully this information is being rediscovered and disseminated, so even if parents don't see these behaviours, they can know about them. There's still a long way to go, though.

*Note: I do not think parents who follow that advice are bad parents, but I lament that they've been given incorrect info and undermined in that way.

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