WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON PARENTING BOOKS?
Until recently I had been quite anti, and I’m not quite sure why.
When I first had Sally, I had no idea about how to parent, and why would I? I’d never had to do it before. I remember reading lots of little bits about pregnancy and following one of the daft websites which tells you how big your baby is that week measured in a random assortment of fruit. I was hungry for knowledge - perhaps because it was all unknown and it was happening inside. And also perhaps because pregnancy seems to take forever.
When I actually got this little baby in my hands there seemed little reason to go and look things up. Her arrival was a bit of a bumpy experience and I was in hospital with her for almost a week, it was a very strange experience. On one hand there was an attitude of “ok, you’ve just had a C-Section, which is major surgery and you can’t get out of bed, but we’ve put your baby in this cot here, this is the buzzer but don’t worry, you’ve got this.” I remember half dropping Sally back in the cot in the middle of the night because I couldn’t move and I didn’t want to disturb anyone. But at the same time as the “you’ll get the hang of it all fine” message, there were the conflicting ones about whether Sally was eating enough, whether she was sleeping too much, why hadn’t she done a poo yet. She wasn’t eating well, so at 3am one night I got a pump to express milk - the healthcare assistant in the middle of the night was the best - that morning the midwife was pleased to see how much she’d drunk from the bottle, then the next one came in and told me she wasn’t happy to let me go home until I could demonstrate that I could breastfeed properly. I think by this point I was crying. Of course all these messages came from different midwives in a week when even if you managed to sleep, you got woken up every couple hours for temperature checks and meds and all the other babies and mums on the ward moving about and crying. The utter relief when I got home and was allowed to sit in the quiet of the garden!
One midwife did say something that stuck with me. That after 24 hours, you will have spent the most time with your baby and you will know it the best. Sort of trust your instincts and it’ll all be ok. And I did, and it was all fine. Sally was a pretty easy baby and as she got bigger we sort of just adapted and did what seemed sensible in any given situation.
I guess the first major bump was when Pip was born. Sally was put a bit off kilter by this new arrival. I had been warned about potential behaviour regressions and there were a lot of battles over her eating dinner and putting her pyjamas on. As Pip got a bit bigger, I made a time out cushion for when she was acting up. And where you ask, did I know about time out? Well, that would be from watching episodes of Supernanny in my early 20s when I found it somewhat compulsively fascinating.
Fast forward a couple more years and we now have three little munchkins. They’re lovely kids, I think I do a pretty good job of raising them. I’m not fishing for compliments here, I could do better, but generally we have a happy home where our children thrive and are (mostly) kind to each other, eat vegetables and go to bed (again, most of the time). But lockdown was hard. It was a different kind of constant parenting without any changes of scenery or breaks. It challenged me to act differently, juggle more and it was exhausting. There were days when everything was pretty ok, but there were also days when I could feel myself massively over reacting and taking out my frustration on children that really hadn’t done too much wrong.
One day when it was quiet - it was after school and nursery had started up again. I thought, perhaps I need to be a bit more intentional about all of this. Maybe I need more of a plan and a strategy for dealing with the tricky situations. I’d heard the author of The Book You Wish Your Parent’s Had Read talking on the radio and thought that might be a good place to start. And it was, it encouraged me to look at how I parent and the impact of the decisions I make as well as why I made them in the first place. There was also a lot about really dealing with the emotions your children have and not trying to jiggle them out of something they’re feeling just because it doesn’t suit you at that point. There were a couple of examples of how we speak to kids transposed to adult problems, and truly if someone spoke to me like that when I was already feeling sad or annoyed, I’d probably want to punch them in the face! Ok, so I found elements of the book a little on the patronising side, but most of the time the messages were ones that made sense and I could see the importance of the changes in mindset that could be made.
She also recommended the books How to Speak so Your Children Will Listen and I decided to have a look at one of these. There’s one written by a daughter of one of the original authors and a friend, called the Survival Guide 2-7 years which I figured fit me just right. This is a great book. Lots of good ideas, clearly explained principles without being patronising or too repetitive. I read one section on how to deal with tantrums and upset children and then that evening Pip threw a fit at bed time. Normally I would have tried to calm him down or told him to stop being silly - things I now knew were counterproductive. Instead I told him I knew how grumpy he was and then came up with some ways to get the grumps off him. We brushed them off his legs (and my legs too) which immediately improved the mood, then when I asked him if there were any left and told me there were some in his tummy I suggested we blow them out with raspberries. We huffed and puffed and made lots of silly noises. Pip was happy again, we read a couple of stories, turned out the light and then he went to sleep. Huh, the advice works.
And it continued to work. We came up with problem solving sheets on holiday to deal with children not listening when we were out one day. Grumps and tantrums haven’t been so bad from either Pip or Sally, and I think everything might be just a little calmer. It is a long way off perfect though. Sally does wind Pip up a fair amount - they do play nicely a lot as well - but when he gets really frustrated if Sally takes it too far, he bites. She currently has a pretty good bruise on her leg as a reminder of what happens if you tease your brother too much. We are working on this problem - and I might go and find another book about sibling relationships to get some more ideas to help.
So, why - looking back at this - why was I so set against reading any parenting books? Where did I get all my information about raising kids and how to deal with problems? From half remembered Supernanny episodes from a decade ago, some advice from friends and a handful of internet pages I’d read whilst watching tv in the evening. This is nuts. I read books all the time. I look for information on things all the time. But why not how to raise my children? It is that I don’t want to be told I’ve been doing it wrong? It is some kind of backlash against the smash between the perfect mummy ideal and the slummy mummy counter culture and a refusal to try and be in either camp leading me to say I can make it up my own way and do what I think is best? I didn’t think "I know best and I’ll just work it out" when I learnt to drive a car. When I’m having trouble with my horse, I don’t read a couple of blog posts that the Facebook algorithm thinks I might be interested in and then just see - I get a lesson from an instructor I trust. Why the hell don’t I do that with parenting? After all, it’s one of the more important things in life not to mess up!
But if the new, and rather gentler, series of Supernanny has a message to impart - yes, I have watched a couple of episodes - its that you can always fix it if you’re willing to listen and try something different.
So, after that rather longer than anticipated blog post, what books do you recommend? Or are you in the there’s too much advice and it’s all conflicting camp?