Contributed by Abiola Okubanjo, Director of Tiger Lily Children’s Wear.
It’s a well-known fact that babies don’t come with instruction manuals. Even packets of peanuts give us some heads-up as to what to expect with their very informative ‘May contain peanuts’ labelling. As parents we are entrusted with one of the most precious responsibilities in the world, yet we are expected to just get on with it with little or no guidance. It’s a bit like buying flat packed furniture form Ikea, taking it home and seeing hundreds of pieces and a mountain of nuts and bolts in various sizes and then realising that there is no “how to assemble” instructions. Actually, if you’ve ever had to put together an Ikea Hennes wardrobe, you’re probably thinking that the enclosed “how to assemble” instructions was more cosmetic than useful. But I digress.
Never fear parents, because in the void where the manufacturers instructions should be, we have a host of self-styled experts, friends with children, celebrity childrearing gurus, hectoring health quangos and… mothers that ‘brought you up just fine using the old methods’. The problem with this maelstrom of well meaning advice is that it often clouds more than clarifies and is ALWAYS in contradiction to another bit of advice that we’ve been given.
Cry to Sleep
I know this because as a Tiger Mummy, intent on getting full marks in my ‘Successful Children Project,’ I read a stupid amount of child rearing books and avidly watched celebrity experts bully parents and children alike into submission. Childcare advice is a multi-billion pound industry with an avalanche of books, magazines, and television shows competing for credibility. You will come across the ‘Cry to Sleep’ method, the ‘Attachment Parenting’ philosophy, the ‘Norland Nanny’ way, and of course our very own Tiger Mummy’s Guide.
At this point I must point out that I haven’t made a single cent off my obviously carefully-researched and backed-up advice. But if there are any book publishers (or TV producers) looking for the next celebrity childcare advice guru, you know where to find me.
So, in advance of the record-breaking advice book that will launch my celebrity status, here is MY take on some of the parenting rules that are out there.
Breast vs. Bottle
I can’t think if there is a single topic that causes more heartache or induces more tears with new mums than how well they are nourishing their babies – after all, surely keeping baby alive is the single most important task. Believing fundamentally that ‘Breast is Best’ and determined to give my child this award-winning FREE formula for at least the first 6 months, I wasn’t quite prepared for the reality of breastfeeding.
It is painful.
It doesn’t come as naturally to mum and baby as the breastfeeding lobby would have us believe. When struggling with sleep deprivation, passing baby to Daddy (or ANY pair of willing hands) for a feed is an opportunity to be grabbed. If you have a very hungry baby or one that enjoys hanging off Mum for comfort, you don’t have a lot of time to express milk that can be stored for later. Maternity leave, which in most countries doesn’t stretch beyond 12 weeks, renders solely breastfeeding for 12 months a utopian idea. This leaves working mothers either wracked with guilt for hitting the bottle (the babies not the mothers!) or feeling like harried dairy cows constantly plugged into a suckling baby or a whirring breast pump (not a look that complements your tailored suit and kitten heels). Trying to practice what you preach is further undermined by well-meaning relatives that recommend ‘topping up’ baby with formula after your laborious attempt at doing things naturally or ditching breastfeeding altogether at the first sign of trouble.
Tiger Mum’s advice: You KNOW breast is best, but if bottles and/or formula save your sanity and fill baby’s tummy, give yourself a break and do what you have to do. And dads, this is where your ability to support your partner in the face of extreme pressure is really appreciated. Practice saying, “Thanks for your advice Mum, but WE have decided to do it this way”.
In some countries you are told that you are playing Russian roulette with your baby’s life if you keep him in bed with you throughout the night. You are brow beaten with ‘evidence’ that link sharing a bed with your baby to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) / cot death or squashing your baby flat as a pancake. So you find yourself staggering groggily across the hallway several times a night to dispense whatever comfort or food baby requires. However, a few years down the line, as you interrogate other parents on their toddlers’ sleeping habits, you realise that somewhere along the line most parents gave in to nature and their baby’s need to be close to them at night. Against the advice of the midwives and the ‘experts’, most parents co-sleep with their children at some point – and most children survive this practice intact. Actually, in most of the rest of the world (and for many centuries) there is no question that baby will sleep in the same bed as Mum and Dad.
Tiger Mum’s advice: I think this one is the preserve of societies that have ‘evolved’ to the state where we can afford fancy nurseries and state-of-the-art Moses baskets (that rarely get used – save your money pregnant mum!). So don’t get overly stressed about the sleeping arrangements. As long as you’re not drunk, on drugs or overly tired (errr, EVERY mum is overly tired in the early months!) and baby isn’t over-heated, you’ll be okay.
Watch out for Part 2 of the Parenting Rules Broken Down