I’ve often been accused of being too much of a textbook Mum and that I ought to listen more to my own instincts or to follow the age-old parenting advice that has been passed on from generation to generation. Well, here is where I get into a bit of a fix…
1. Listening to my own instincts
I used to have a real problem with this one because about three years back, my maternal instincts were probably about as good as a female fighting fish’s maternal instincts. In case you’re wondering, female fighting fish eat their babies. Okay, okay, maybe I wasn’t that bad. I was more like a leatherback turtle – the kind of Mum that would lay my eggs in the sand and disappear back into the water leaving my babies to fend for themselves.
Thankfully, I went through a 180 degree change – for which I should thank the pregnancy hormones because they made me more nurturing and more caring towards my baby. Well, I think it was the hormones. I never would have thought myself to be the type who would get jealous of the confinement lady for handling my baby too much and sleeping beside him. The whole idea of having the confinement lady was so she could help look after my son while I got some R&R. Instead, I found myself resenting her company and her invasion of my private time with my son.
So it turned out that I did have some maternal instincts after all – and some pretty strong ones at that. So what did my instincts tell me?
- Take the advice of others with a pinch of salt and double check everything that sounded questionable before applying it.
- Read parenting books for ideas and guidelines and follow what made sense, what works and what has been proven with science and backed by evidence.
- That some of the “age-old” parenting tactics didn’t agree with me, and though I could not back up my instincts with solid reasons why I didn’t agree with it, reading more widely on the topic of parenting helped me find the evidence to support my instincts.
2. Following Age-old Parenting Advice
Generally, most of the “age-old parenting advice” we are familiar with is usually the stuff that our parents have used to raise us. Frankly, I disagree with quite a number of the methods my parents employed while raising my brother and me. At the risk of sounding like an ungrateful brat, let me clarify this point. Although I don’t think my parents did too badly with regards to raising me (I didn’t do drugs, I don’t smoke, and I’ve never committed any serious offences against the law – the most serious being a speeding fine), there are still a number of things that they did which I felt has had a negative impact on my self-confidence leading to the fears and inadequacies that I have today.
I don’t blame my parents for the way they raised me. Back in the time when they were parents, there wasn’t a lot of information on the psychological effects that certain parenting styles had on the developing brain of a child. Back then, even the experts of the day were shouting advice that were at times questionable so how could they know? However, for me, being a parent in an era where information is so readily available, it would be a crime to plead ignorance and not to at least take a look at what the research is pointing towards.
In fact, for everyone who is critical of text-book Mums, this is what I have to say:
- being a text-book Mum does not mean we follow everything we read to the letter. It just means we read widely and we educate ourselves so that we can be better parents.
- to think that we know everything about being a parent without the need to read about it is sheer arrogance. We don’t allow people to practice medicine if they have never studied to be a doctor, and we don’t allow people to practice law if they have never studied to be a lawyer. And yet, when it comes to one of the most important jobs of all – raising the next generation – no qualifications are necessary. Where is the sense in that?
It is said that the way you were raised by your parents has a strong effect on how you raise your own child – regardless of whether you choose to utilise the same methods or completely different ones. Well, mine had such a strong impact on me that when I was a teenager, I swore I would not have children unless I could devote enough time and energy to raise them to the best of my abilities.
The sort of fears that plagued me was how I could raise a child so that when he went to school, he would not be influenced to do the wrong things because of peer pressure; that when he was in trouble, he would come to me for help rather than seek the possibly questionable advice of a friend who might lead him down the garden path.
How do you raise a child with the confidence to shirk off the peer pressure that leads them to do the wrong things? How do you raise a child whose bond with you is so strong that even during the rebellious teenage years, he can still come back to you with the important issues he faces in his life?
Although I knew that there was an abundance of parenting advice around, what I wanted was parenting advice that was supported by scientific evidence. And then it came, presented in a neat little package called “The Science of Parenting“, which has also been published under the title of “What Every Parent Needs to Know”. In fact, I find the information presented in this book so important that I have decided to summarise the key points of the book in a series of blog posts (to come), and I urge every parent who cares about the well-being of their children to read this book.
Being a text-book Mum doesn’t mean I follow everything I read (if that were the case, Gavin wouldn’t be watching TV or eating ice cream today). It offers a guideline to raising children that I find more reliable than listening to hearsay. Being widely read offers a parent more awareness and choices (if I had not read books, I would not have known about parenting practices like baby wearing, attachment parenting, extended breast-feeding, co-sleeping, etc. – parenting philosophies that I fully believe in and now practice with my son).
Unless you read about what the different parenting philosophies are, how will you know if you agree or disagree with these practices? Telling a text-book Mum she’s right or wrong for following certain recommended practices without having read the books she has read is like telling someone what you think of their cooking without having tasted what they have cooked.