Friday, 10 February 2012

One size fits all?

Families, as we all know, come in different shapes and sizes, so there can never be such a thing as “one size fits all” when it comes to parenting.  Yet the general assumption is that we will conform to the perceived norm.  

Alt.Father and I never set out to be deliberately different.  We are not revolutionaries, far from it, we both come from “ordinary” homes and live in an “ordinary” small town in the South West of the UK.  But then, one day, we met an extraordinary person – our first child.  Before pregnancy, the only experience we had of children was that of other people’s.  Which meant that our only experiences of parenting were what we had seen other people doing.  They all seemed to be doing the same things – it couldn’t be that hard to find your way, right?


From the moment we discovered a baby was on its way, we were bombarded with information.  As prospective parents, you are a marketing company's ideal... you haven't got a clue what you need, but you think you might need all of it! 

So the first thing we did was buy a book.  It was actually pretty good, albeit quite textbook-like in style:

So now we knew what was physically going on inside, how about emotionally?

This isn't a post to share all my experiences in intimate detail, so I'll spare you the specifics for now, but let's just say I'm not a fan of pregnancy.  More to the point, I'm not particularly a fan of my first pregnancy and the morning/afternoon/middle of the night sickness, high blood pressure and chronic backache.  Needless to say, it was a tricky time for both me and Alt.Father, and a time at which we were grateful for support and advice when it came.

Everyone seems to have advice for new parents.  My advice now would be "smile and nod".  That is to say, take on board the things that others say, and then make your own decisions about how to process the advice.

Take for example the hundreds of different morsels of advice we were given on sleep.  They varied from the extreme - "put the baby at the bottom of the garden" to the misinformed "give the baby water to drink at night, that'll teach her" (at two weeks old!), but the fact remained that our baby, my baby, hadn't read any of the books, or listened to any of the advice from well meaning friends and family.  She was just being herself, and as her parents, we needed to figure out how best to take care of her, as an individual, and find solutions to our problems that best met the needs of our family.

And so, we discovered (eventually) the revelation that was co-sleeping!  My own father had said to me while I was pregnant, "don't be afraid to take the baby into bed with you".  It's how I was cared for as a tiny infant, and it seems that my first daughter and I had more than a few things in common!

So there we were, bed sharing with our baby.  Not a piece of information I shared with others to begin with.  It was working for us, but I thought we were the only ones, and it wasn't something to broadcast.

As the months passed by, we made other parenting decisions that seemed to go against the grain, such as using washable nappies, full-term breastfeeding, baby-led-weaning, keeping our daughter barefoot, baby-wearing, rear facing car seats...

By the time my daughter was a few months old, I was pleased to have found other families who were making some of the same decisions as we were.  Maybe the alternative was not quite so alternative after all?  Probably there are more parents raising their children in a style that goes against the perceived norm than we first thought?

I hope that for my daughters, the legacy of the parenting decisions we make for them will be that they continue to question the norm throughout life, and if the alternative looks like it might just be the right path for them, that they have the confidence to try it.


Lucy said...

I definitely agree with the 'smile and nod, then find your own way' approach - it seems like everyone has a slightly different way of doing things, and they are all utterly convinced it's the only way. Finding a support group of people with open minds about being a bit alternative has helped me become the Mummy I am comfortable being. And in the end, it's me (and my husband and baby) who has to live with my decisions!

Caroline said...

Great blog, really please you've started one. I have had a similar experience so far parenting Ewan. Look forward to your future blog posts, good luck with it.

Caroline said...

In reply to Lucy, I agree that finding other people who support and understand your parenting decisions is fundamental to being able to live with them, without feeling alone and judged for what you do which others may deem strange or 'hippy'. I find support in La Leche League, attending local meetings, but have yet to find an attachment style parenting support group in my area, so much so that I am thinking about setting one up myself. Not sure as it'd be a lot of work, but it's a thought. There is definitely a need for it where I live.