Parenthood

Reading an article recently, the following words stopped me in my tracks: “Modern parenting is all about the child and that’s what I don’t like about it.”

They weren’t the words of a curmudgeonly bachelor, fed up having his morning stroll disrupted by racing, roaring toddlers. They weren’t the words of a publicity-hungry celebrity columnist, determined to stoke the flames of parental ire.

Nope. They were the words of maternity nurse and baby book author, Rachel Waddilove.

The parenting expert, who has helped famous mothers like Gwyneth Paltrow and Zara Philips, was being interviewed for the Telegraph about her new book.

But if parenting isn’t about children, then what exactly is it about? (In fact, to be pedantic, parenting doesn’t exist at all without children, but I know that’s not what Waddilove meant.)

Indeed, there’s a school of thought that says we’re all spending too much time pandering to every whim of our children, to the exclusion of all else, and that it’s doing kids, and future adults, untold damage.

No doubt, this is a very real problem in some families - just as it was when I was a child, and for generations before. There will always be children who are – to use the word we used as kids ourselves – spoiled. There will always be parents who are permissive and let kids run riot. But that has nothing to do with making “parenting all about the child” or paying kids too much attention – permissive parenting is arguably about lack of attention.

And of course, life after kids isn’t all about kids either. It’s about so many other things too – relationships, work, friends, extended family, wellbeing, physical health, outside interests, me-time. And shopping and wine and coffee and shoes, if you so choose (I do!) There’s no benefit in focusing 100 per cent on children to the detriment of other areas of life. But when we are involved in the act of parenting, I have to disagree with Waddilove – I think it should indeed be all about the kids.

At any given moment, that might include disciplining, soothing, consoling, feeding, hugging, guiding, steering, protecting or listening. It’s not about pandering – empathetic and permissive parenting are two different things.

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In her Telegraph interview, Waddilove says, “Babies mustn’t think the world revolves around them. They’ll grow up thinking the world owes them a living.”

She advocates controlled crying, according to the article, and also advises (contrary to public health guidelines) that babies only share a room with parents for two to three weeks. “Babies should be taught to wait. It’s good training, we all have to fit in.”

The reality is, that for the first six or seven months, babies don’t realise that they’re separate beings from their mothers at all, and there’s nothing you can do for a newborn that will cause her to grow up expecting the world to owe her a living. They need food and warmth and comfort to grow and develop – it’s as simple as that.

Of course, as children get older, there are lots of things we can do to prevent them turning into what Waddilove calls “tin gods”.

We can teach them empathy, through modelling it ourselves, through talking about how other people might be feeling in difficult situations, and through books – stories allow children to put themselves in someone else’s shoes.

We can do practical things, like getting kids to clear the table after meals, put away their own laundry, and tidy up toys.

We can reinforce the idea of family and helping each other from a young age.

We can help build independence and resilience by allowing them to explore the outside world.

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We can make house rules and have zero tolerance for hitting.

We can teach good manners and lead by example.

We can do all these things as children grow and develop, but we can’t do them with a newborn baby.

All I remember from the early days of my first newborn is a tiny bundle of Velcro stuck to my shoulder, every bit of her lodged into every bit of me. She didn’t know anything about the wider world and I can’t accept that responding to her needs trained her to presume that that world owes her a living. It helped build security and confidence, and taught her that the people closest to her would keep her safe – a good lesson for life, and eight years on, not a tin God in sight.

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.

 

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