Delving into the world of parenthood requires a PhD in trusting your own instincts. And a Masters in ignoring the opinions of anyone who believes they know your child better. As mother to two, I failed at the first test and allowed the world to bombard me with the do’s and don’ts of being a good mum. I believed that great big myth of parenting that you should follow the rules. As it turns out, there are quite a lot of “rules” on the table, all conflicting with each other.
The truth is there are no real rules and even the general guidelines are a bit blasé considering one size most certainly doesn’t fit all. That doesn’t stop your best friend or your neighbour divulging their personal parenting wisdom upon you. One says you shouldn’t co-sleep because you’ll never get them out of your bed, while another says it does no harm and to soak up the cuddles while you can. Soothers are apparently bad but wait, they’re also good. Breast is best and feed is best but remember that one brand of bottle is always better than another.
The proverbial rule book has been written a million times over but none of it may suit your child
You’ll spoil your baby by holding them every time they cry, rocking them to sleep will set up bad habits and you have to use a white noise machine otherwise no one will ever sleep. Never say no or raise your voice. You have to have a parenting style and, most importantly, a routine. God forbid you don’t have a routine.
It goes without saying that the proverbial rule book has been written a million times over but none of it may suit your child.
These rules or myths of parenting do one simple thing. They cause stress and anxiety for an already overtired, overwhelmed and worried parent. Advice is one thing, but often the confusion between differing opinions can be difficult for a new parent who is trying to figure out which end of the onesie is for feet and where the back of a pull-up is.
Portrait photographer Lucie Pouilly has recently had her first baby. She felt the onslaught of conflicting information with a lack of support for the choices she made. It was difficult during those first few months of babyhood. Lucie says, "Being a mum of a young baby, I heard so many things. I breastfed exclusively but I did have to give my daughter formula when she was a week old as it seems I didn't make any milk for 24 hours. I beat myself up about giving her formula thinking I was failing as a mum.
“I was told not to give a soother to her until six weeks old as it could create nipple confusion but at the hospital they had to give her a soother when she was two days old. It broke my heart as I was worried I wasn’t doing this right. It was only when a friend gave her breastfed son a soother at three weeks that I actually made peace with this. I wish I wasn’t told about the soother as it just gave me more anxiety than needed.”
Parenthood can be a war zone regardless of whatever phase our little ones are going through. The solutions, treatments, remedies, suggestions and guidance thrown at us from every corner of the ring makes winning this battle seem unlikely. As a result, we question and are hesitant about our choices leading to stress, anxiety and self-doubt which can leave a parent knocked for six after a sleepless night.
Erica Hargaden, a certified sleep consultant from Babogue Sleep Solutions, says, "I work with parents all the time who are very confused on what to do regarding their little one's sleep and how to solve any issues they are experiencing. They read so much conflicting information when they research online, that they don't know what path to follow and constantly doubt themselves.
“I like to coach parents to get to know their child and figure out what works well for them and their family unit. In doing this they will build up their confidence and feel comfortable with their decisions. Every single family is different and this needs to be respected.”
Confidence is a key word when it comes to walking down the path of parenthood. This alien world can be a shock to the system when it’s unknown territory. Trusting yourself is not often all that easy when a baby is crying and you have no idea why or when a teenager refuses to open up and talk to you about what’s going on in their world. We’re walking in the dark half the time but we tend to find our way out when our instincts kick in and we filter out the “should haves” and “would haves” from well-meaning friends.
Mother-of-two Eimear Kelly, who works from home running her own business, Darcy The Dingo, felt prepared and ready for the adventure of parenthood, earning her metaphorical parenting PhD quite early by listening but not upholding the guidance she received from friends.
She says, “We received lots of advice, some of which we listened to and some we nodded politely about and let it fly over our heads. One piece of advice though which has always stuck with us since our son was born seven years ago was from our public health nurse and it was to ‘follow our child’s lead and they won’t lead us off course’.
“Every child is different and will follow their own routine to settle into the world and I think if you are able to take as relaxed an approach as possible to it all and trust your gut, they really won’t lead you wrong.”
When we follow our gut instinct, we don't need to look to others for approval or judgment
There is one important factor to all of this – gut instinct. Dolores Andrew-Gavin, founder of Irish Health Hour, emphasises this as the most pertinent aspect of parenting.
She says, “A mother’s gut instinct is so much more accurate than a how to raise your child rule book! It’s our internal compass that connects us with our children. It is our feelings that get heightened when we just know that our child needs our help.
“It can discern which cry is real and deserves our immediate attention. When we follow our gut instinct, we don’t need to look to others for approval or judgment.”