Gina Ford v Gentle Parenting - The Real Truths Behind Parenting Books
It was 9am. Bleary-eyed, I was making my way towards the kettle. Baby up on my shoulder; unopened parenting book in hand. It had been another sleepless night, and it was time to finally read the book.
A contented little baby is what it promised me and that sounded like everything in the world at that moment. My first baby didn’t sleep during the day unless she was in my arms and was waking four times a night. I didn’t know that it was normal – I just knew that I wasn’t coping. I needed a fix that was stronger than coffee and my Gina Ford book was going to do it.
A routine. That’s what I wanted. I read the first few chapters and started making notes. I had very much been a routine-driven person before my baby was born – my work calendar was full of recurring meetings and my diary full of lists. If routines had worked before baby, surely that was the solution now too?
But it wasn’t so simple. Gina wanted my baby up early every morning. That meant I’d have to get up early. And that’s all very well after a full night’s sleep, but tough going when you’ve been up four times during the night. That last bit of sleep after the final night waking was critical to my ability to function each day. I couldn’t quite part with it.
I’d also have to get my baby to nap in her cot if I wanted to follow the book. This was something that I hadn’t figured out at all, but if I wanted to implement the routine, I was going to have to keep trying.
It also meant staying in the house – there didn’t seem to be time to go out in the car. This was the deal-breaker for me. I found maternity leave very lonely first time around. It was winter and only one other friend had a baby. We met up once or twice a week to save one another’s sanity; comparing notes on how badly we were doing, reassuring ourselves that it would eventually get easier and mostly medicating ourselves with cake.
The days we didn’t meet were harder, but even going to the shops was easier than staying in. A walk around the block was all very well, but I craved human contact and adult conversation – even if it was with the girl making my coffee or the man scanning my groceries. Giving all of that up was non-negotiable – in the choice between sanity and routine, I chose sanity.
I’m in awe of people who can get their lives into some kind of routine with a small baby, but I don’t seem to be one of them (and two subsequent babies proved that). So I took my scribbled notes – took the parts of the book that made sense to me – and put the rest aside, nonetheless feeling cross with myself that I had somehow failed.
I bought other books in those early years, in a bid to get my babies to nap for more than thirty minutes at a time (they never, ever did) and to get them to sleep at night (oh what a fool’s errand that was).
I was sure that if textbook babies were napping by day and sleeping at night, there was something wrong with mine. And if best-selling baby experts were saying that I should be able to get my baby to sleep, it must be true.
I read about controlled crying in a book. In desperation, I tried it for one night with my middle child when she was about eight months-old. It was my most awful moment as a parent and I never tried it again.
I assumed that this meant there was something wrong with me. I wasn’t able to do controlled crying – it was my fault, my weakness.
This was a revelation, though in hindsight it’s common sense. There are many, many different parenting styles, so, of course, all the experts can’t be “right”. And really, apart from safety concerns, there’s no one correct way to parent a child – it’s up to us to figure out what’s best for our own children. That may mean picking and choosing from a variety of books and experts and methods, or just following our own instincts.
Then, just as I had decided to eschew all parenting books, I found Sarah Ockwell-Smith and The Gentle Parenting Book.
Gentle Parenting isn’t about a precise set of rules, but rather a method of parenting that takes into account the needs of the child and the parent – it’s parenting with empathy and respect, but also with boundaries – it’s not permissive parenting.
I’m past the daytime napping stage and the little people in my house don’t wake at night so much either, but, of course, there are other challenges now – sibling arguments, sulks, and tantrums.
If I can learn to deal with these in a calm, gentle way; listening instead of shouting, empathising instead of dismissing, I believe I’ll have happier, calmer children and a happier, calmer me. Instinctively, that feels right.
Eight years in and many books later, I’ve finally found what works for me.
Andrea Mara is a shoe-obsessed, coffee-loving mother of three from Dublin. When she’s not working or looking after her three kids, she’s simultaneously making tomorrow’s school lunches, eating Toblerone and letting off steam on her blog.