Looking through some old notebooks, I found something that I wrote a few years ago. The ages of my children have changed, but my thoughts are still the same.
Trusting yourself as a parent
I am a mother of three children aged 2, 9 and 11. My parenting style has changed dramatically over the years that I’ve been a mother. When my daughter was born 11 years ago I had been trained and had worked for 8 years as a nursery nurse/early years educator and a nanny. When I went on maternity leave and after she was born I carried on in “work mode” doing everything by the book…that is, the mainstream book. I set my daughter routines to follow, I provided endless activities and trips out for her. She had set meal times and nap times and “messy play” times and was in bed at 7pm every night on the dot! By 3 months old she was in her own room and we occasionally went through the total trauma of trying to settle her to sleep when she obviously wasn’t tired!
When she was quite small I went back to education and did a Bsc (hons) degree in Early Years Education and Child health. At university I learnt how to be critical about everything I did concerning children. By the time I finished my 4 ½ year course I had 2 children aged 5 and 2 ½ and my whole outlook on how to raise and teach children had changed completely.
I’d gone from doing things like all the books told me to, to doing things my way. This wasn’t because my tutors told me what to do, but because they’d taught me to analyse and to question everything I was doing. Each time you analyse your actions you can make improvements somewhere. Life changes, personalities change and therefore so should the way you parent. Just because you do things a certain way now, doesn’t mean you can’t change it later on down the line.
My degree taught me to ask myself questions when things weren’t going how I thought they should. Why do I do what I do? What will it prove? Will it encourage the children to develop valuable life skills? Am I saying “no” for my benefit or for the benefit of my child? Would you treat an adult like that? When my children are adults would I want them to be passive and “do as they’re told” or would I want them to make the right choices based on knowledge and experience? Would I want them to not hurt others in fear of being in trouble? Or would I want them to not hurt others because they’ve grown up not wanting to hurt others as it feels wrong.
Before and while I was completing my degree I worked as a childminder and then on to a day nursery with under 2 year olds. When I finished my degree I went to work in a pre-school and continued to feel disillusioned by my new found knowledge and understanding of vital child development and psychology. Even though I had happily worked with children for the past 13yrs, I was suddenly disillusioned with it all. Why were 2 year olds made to sit down in a group and listen to a story just because an adult thought they should? Even though sometimes it was plainly obvious some children weren’t ready to sit for any length of time to listen to a story. Why were parents being made to believe that nursery is what your child needs to socialise and learn how to fit in to school? Why were parents made to believe that all children needed to go to school at all? Why were the other options such as Home Education not suggested as a perfectly reasonable alternative? Why do parents not get a fully informed choice as to how to raise and educate their children?
It appears to be the “norm” for professionals to encourage parents to mould their children into a “one size fits all” type of persona right from birth. Only the other day I overheard a health visitor telling a new mother to try “controlled crying” with her 6 week old baby! If another adult was trying to tell you something, would you tell them to go and sit in a room on their own until they learn to be silent? Do you think it’s ok to teach a child not to tell you something is wrong? Do you want them to grow up thinking what they need to tell you isn’t worth listening to? Would you like someone to tell you that what you are saying isn’t important?
It is thought that controlled crying encourages babies to sleep through the night and to not be clingy, but in actual fact it is telling them that if they need a cuddle they’re not likely to get it! If they need food and drink or they need comforting because they are scared of being in a room on their own, you’re telling them it is tough luck – no one will come to comfort you. It will teach them to keep their emotions to themselves regardless of how they are feeling. It will teach them to over eat at their set meal times because they don’t know how long it will be until their tiny tummies will get more food again and it will tell them that their cries (their opinion) is not valid in this big scary world that they know nothing about. The one person they thought they could trust. The one whose heartbeat they listened to for 9 months, is the one who is pushing them away and not listening to their cries. Why do health professionals feel it is ok to encourage that?
So through my experience of working in the early years, by being a parent and my learned ability to analyse and question what I do, I am now doing it my way. I will trust my instincts the way a mother should. I will have my baby sleep in my bed just because I want to and because I instinctively feel that is what he wants too. He was inside me for 9 months. He is used to the sound of my heartbeat and my voice and the rhythm of my breathing. That makes him know that it is me, the one who carried him. Most other mammals sleep with their young, why shouldn’t I? I will wear my baby in a sling because I love to hold him close. It’s not only him who has an attachment to my movements, I have an attachment to his too. When he wriggles while in the sling it is similar to the wriggling he did in my womb. As he grows older I will learn to trust that he will be safe away from me, just as he will learn to trust himself. Push him away too early and both he and I may not be confident in being apart.
Many people think that if you keep holding them and picking them up they will become a clingy child but in actual fact, the opposite is true. If your baby knows he gets regular cuddles and can come for a cuddle and a carry whenever he wants – be that all day in the early days – he will learn to be more confident as he always knows you’ll be there for a cuddle when he needs one. He won’t have to cry for it, or have a tantrum for it or show negative behaviour…he will know that he can be close to you whenever he needs the reassurance that you are still there and you still love him – because “I love you” are just words to him. It’s how you show it that matters.
I’m not claiming any of the above is the right thing to do for your family. I am claiming it is right for mine. I’m not claiming that my children are perfect or will turn out to be perfect adults but I am claiming that if a child, or in fact, an adult, feels loved and wanted they will find it much easier to face the challenges that life throws at them, whatever that may be.
So my message is this: Follow your heart and your instincts as a parent and you will know that you have done your best for your children. xx