Even before our first child was born I started to think about what sort of parent I would like to be. Once our son arrived – and with him the chaos that is the first few weeks – I rushed out to buy every parenting book my fellow new mothers mentioned. I read as fast as I could, all the while having no real clue what on earth I was meant to be doing.
In the end, and much to my surprise, having a clear routine that made me feel as though I had some control of the day ahead – and my life actually – was what I craved. I was very happy to follow Gina Ford’s advice on how to establish this but I envied the ‘earth mothers’ who appeared to be perfectly happy to go with the flow and have a fully baby-led on-demand approach. I had thought that that would be me – dedicated to attachment parenting. How wrong I was!
I’ve had countless conversations other mothers based around the subject of routine or non-routine parenting
The fact is, I would love nothing more than to decide on a whim that today all naps will be with me, in my arms and in my bed. But then I think about how it might affect their sleep tomorrow, and therefore affect my sleep, and I don’t allow it. I worry that this means I’m selfish and that I put my need for a good night’s sleep before the emotional demands of my children, and then I worry I’m missing out.
It’s something about which most first-time parents seem to fret and I’ve had countless conversations with other mothers based around the subject of routine or non-routine parenting. It is an intensely personal choice and, inevitably, everyone has strong feelings. One mother told me that she kept the fact that she had put her child on a Gina Ford routine a secret for fear of what her mainly attachment-parenting friends would think. Whichever route you choose, it has always seemed like such an important decision.
Imagine then my utter shock when I read in a newspaper article a few weeks back that Gina Ford herself, advocate of a strict parenting style and promoter of controlled crying, slept in her mother’s bed until she was 11. Furthermore, that Penelope Leach, who has written extensively on the benefits of on-demand child-centred parenting, grew up with a father who was overbearing and authoritarian.
Why shouldn’t we pick and mix? Why must we be restricted to either one route or the other?
What does this mean? That these endless debates on the drawbacks and benefits attachment parenting or parent-led routines are redundant? That, whichever path you choose, your children will still end up thinking you messed them up in some way – and end up taking the opposite path when it’s their turn to make that choice? The lesson is perhaps that any extreme will potentially have the opposite effect and, since the birth of my second child, I have definitely moderated my own approach.
Yes, I do still tend to veer on the strict side, especially when it comes to sleeping, but what is clearly important is that one must have a balance. So, while I still see enormous value in a reasonably consistent routine and would still apply the principles of controlled crying in the right situation, when my children aren’t well or seem anxious, I practise the basics of attachment parenting. After all, why shouldn’t we pick and mix? Why must we be restricted to either one route or the other? I have since had lunchtime naps in my bed with both my children. It certainly doesn’t happen every day, and nor do I want it to, but when it does happen I enjoy it immensely and cherish the experience.
We are constantly evolving with each generation, striving to correct perceived mistakes of the past – it’s how we learn. Invariably there will be aspects of our parenting that our own children will come to question. What I’ve taken from Gina and Penelope’s apparent extreme reactions to their own upbringings is that I really shouldn’t worry too much. We must do what makes us, my husband and I, happy as parents as I’m sure our children will one day complain of all sorts – whatever path we choose!